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Ralph Greatorex (c.1625–1675),[1] was a mathematical instrument maker. He was an apprentice of London clockmaker Elias Allen.[1]

Greatorex is mentioned in John Aubrey's Brief Lives as a great friend of William Oughtred the mathematician.[2] He is also briefly referred to in Aubrey's 'Natural History of Wilts', and in the 'Macclesfield Correspondence'.[2] John Evelyn met Greatorex on 8 May 1656, and saw his 'excellent invention to quench fire.'[2] His name appears in 'Pepys's Diary.'[2] On 10 October 1660, when several engines were shown at work in St. James's Park, 'above all the rest,' says Samuel Pepys, 'I liked that which Mr. Greatorex brought, which do carry up the water with a great deal of ease.'[2]

On 24 October Pepys bought of Greatorex a drawing-pen, 'and he did show me the manner of the lamp-glasses which carry the light a great way, good to read in bed by, and I intend to have one of them. And we looked at his wooden jack in his chimney, that goes with the smoake, which indeed is very pretty.'[2] On 9 June and 20 September 1662 and 23 March 1663 ('this day Greatorex brought me a very pretty weather-glasse for heat and cold') Pepys met the inventor; the last entry, 23 May 1663, refers to his varnish, 'which appears every whit as good upon a stick which he hath done, as the Indian.'[2]

As well as Pepys, Allen, Oughtred and Evelyn, others that Greatorex worked or corresponded with included Samuel Hartlib, Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, Edward Phillips and Jonas Moore.[1] He also attended meetings of the Royal Society, and did horticultural experiments at Arundel House.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Sarah Bendall, 'Greatorex, Ralph (c.1625–1675)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 6 Feb 2011
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Greatorex, Ralph, Lydia Miller Middleton, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23

 Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1890). "Greatorex, Ralph". Dictionary of National Biography 23. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

1893 text

Ralph Greatorex, the well-known mathematical instrument maker of his day. He is frequently mentioned by Pepys.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

5 Annotations

Andrew Boniface  •  Link

I found this page:

under the heading:
"Chapter Four; Friends of the Diarists"

it says this of Ralph Greatorex:

At the same time as the Anglo-Irishman, Valentine GREATRAKES was in London, Ralph Greatorex lived in St. Martin's Lane ad had a shop in the Strand. They may well have been distant relatives, but at about that time, the spelling of the name had generally become the now familiar 'Greatorex', the Anglo-Irish branch retaining the old spelling. And, of course, they met.

Ralph Greatorex came from Derbyshire and married Ann Watson in Derby at All Saints Church. He was a maker of mathematical instruments, an inventor and man of ideas. He was a member of Gresham's College, which in AD 1662 became the Royal Society, founded by King Charles II. Ralph was a friend of Samuel Pepys, and both Pepys and John Evelyn mentioned him in their diaries. Ralph took Pepys to Gresham's College on 23.01.1661. It was his first visit and Pepys recorded that he 'saw the house and a great company of persons of honour there. Ralph Greatorex, he said, was intending to go to 'Tenariffe' to try experiments there. Pepys records various items and projects of scientific interest in which Ralph Greatorex was engaged. Their friendship recorded in the diaries, lasted for years. Pepys records seeing the first sphere of wire that Ralph made, a drawing pen, a revolutionary lamp glass, a demonstration of how levers work, plans to drain the Fens and make fire extinguishers. 'Esquire' Ashmole is mentioned in the diaries on 28.10.1660. (The Elias Ashmole who founded the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) Ralph may have specimens of his early scientirfic instruments in the Old Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

We know that John Evelyn was treated by Valentine GREATRAKES but he also mentioned Ralph Greatorex. On 08.05.1656 saying ' I went to visite Dr. Wilkins at Whitehall, where I first met Sir P. Neale famous for his optic glasses: - Greatorex the mathematical instrument maker, shew'd me his excellent invention to quench fire and returned home.'

David Gurliacci  •  Link

Greatorex and the scientist Robert Boyle

Greatorex may have died in 1712 and he certainly had a wide range of mechanical interests, according to a website devoted to Robert Boyle (1627-91), the famous chemist and natural philosopher who came up with Boyle's Law ("The pressure and volume of gas are inversely proportional.")

Boyle's "work-diaries," now online (at ), mention information he received from Greatorex in the 1650s on various topics (Boyle spells Greatorex with 17th century casualness for names):

-- 17-22 January 1655 (XII, Entry 45): "The mettall the Concave Glasses are made off, is made of (antimony), tinne & copper. Gratrix."

-- same time period (XII, Entry 46): "Gratrix takes filings of iron, & dissolves them in Aq. Fortis; which he powres off all but a little which he leaves with the residence in the Bottom; to this residence [residue?] he addes about an equall quantity (not weight) of chalke; & of this mixture makes a moist Cement or Past with whites of Egges, & with this past he mends Crackt Iron Furnaces, Kettles or other vessels, (filling up the chinkes with the past) so well that he hath afterwards, even boyl'd sope in them."

-- same time period (XII, Entry 47): "To take the copperish tast from Copper vessels, before they be us'd the first time draw off in them Lees of Wine. Gratrix."
These past three entries are found here:

-- Sometime after 5 December 1655 (XIII, Entry 40): "Mr Gratorax" told him how he puts ginger in barrels of beer.

-- January 1655/6 (XIII, Entry 4): "The way of makeing pot=ashes here in London is as Gratorax tells me . . ."

(Another reference to is at XXIX: Entry 298 and Greatorex may be the "Mr Gr" in XXI: Entry 714.)

Edwin Shaw  •  Link

Gresham College still exists, and provides public lectures on a range of subjects, and is based in what remains of Barnard's Inn, near Staple's Inn.

The Irish reference is very interesting: I understand from Latham that Pepys had Irish relatives. Has anybody ever looked into this?

vincent  •  Link

from Bill Gremillion on Wed 29 Oct 2003, 9:02 pm | Link
I use “Wednesday a week” etc. all the time. (San Antonio, TX, USA)

I would think “Ethyll” (var. “Aethyl”) was definitely a man. The Saxons had kings or nobles with names like Ethelred, Ethelwulf and Ethelbert.

“Luellin” I would guess to be Pepys’ version of the common Welsh name we would spell Llywellyn.

“Greatorex” seems to have roots in Derbyshire. See

Great site! I’ll be back.

Pedro  •  Link

Greatorex, Ralph

Was also refered to as Grettrick by Samuel Hartlib.

(John Evelyn by Gillian Darley)

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.







  • Feb