A BLUE plaque has been placed on the site where the “first lady of navigation” was educated in Weardale.

She was Janet Taylor, whose astronomical work was appreciated by the kings of Holland and Prussia, the Pope and the British Admiralty, who was born in 1804 in Wolsingham.

Her father, the Reverend Peter Ionn, was headmaster of Wolsingham Grammar School, and he allowed her to sit in on lessons aimed at his older, male students. Very soon, her precociousness in maths became evident and somehow came to the attention of Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III who did much to promote the arts.

She funded a school for girls in London. Usually pupils started at the age of 14, but such was Janet’s advancement, that the Queen allowed her to start at nine.

She was there until she was 16, and then seemed destined to follow the usual career path for young women with an education: become a governess in a great house and help educate the next generation of males.

But in 1821, her father died, leaving her enough money to support herself and to develop her mathematical theories about navigation by the stars.

She was beginning to make a name for herself when, in Antwerp in the rain, she stumbled out of a bookshop, sending her pile of new purchases into the puddles. A passer-by, George Taylor Jane, helped her pick herself up and was so impressed by her choice of poetry that they got married at the British ambassador’s residence in The Hague on January 30, 1830.

They settled on the surname Taylor and Janet became stepmother to widower George’s three children. She also had eight children of her own in the next 13 years, while also producing the bulk of her books and theorems.

In 1833, she published Luni-Solar and Horary Tables which were unique because they took into account that the world was not a perfect sphere. They were initially dismissed as the work of an impudent woman, but their accuracy, and her perseverance meant that not only were they accepted but she received financial rewards from across Europe for her work.

Back in London, she started a navigational school for officers and opened a “navigational warehouse” selling, repairing and making sailors’ instruments.

She was operating at a time of great change in shipping. The era of timber vessels was ending, and new ones were made of rot-free iron. However, iron played havoc with magnetic compasses, but Janet’s new tables took the discrepancies into account, and her technicians recalibrated the instruments.

In 1853, her husband died, and then she suffered some business reversals, but in 1860 she received a £50-a-year pension from the civil list which was a small recognition of the country’s appreciation for her work for seafarers.

As her health deteriorated in the 1860s, she returned to County Durham to live with her sister, Joyce, and her husband, the Reverend Matthew Chester, who was the vicar of St Helen’s Auckland for nearly 50 years.

As she weakened from bronchitis, she asked for the curtains to be drawn so she could see Polaris, North Star by which sailors navigate, in the Auckland night sky.

She died in St Helen’s on January 26, 1870, and her headstone can still be seen in the churchyard.

Her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography concludes: “As a woman, Janet Taylor was unique in reaching such prominence in the nautical world. This was achieved not only by competence but also by exceptional determination, particularly in the bold promotion of her work in the highest quarters.”

The plaque has been placed on the Masonic Hall in Wolsingham, which is the site of the grammar school where Janet learned her first lessons from her father, by Durham County Council. The council has also recently placed plaques to commemorate Spennymoor’s First World War nurse Kate Maxey, Lady Bella Lawson of Beamish, the Fighting Bradfords of Witton Park, and, as regular readers will know, astronomer Thomas Wright of Byers Green.