Buckinghamshire Astronomers

Atkinson, John Jepson (?), barrister-at-law of ‘Cosgrove Priory, Stony Stratford’, he was proposed for election as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society by A.A. Common in 1898 (RAS, 1898) and was elected FRAS in 1899 (RAS 1899) – Note: Cosgrove is in Northamptonshire, across the River Great Ouse from the nearby Buckinghamshire town of Stony Stratford.


Clark, (Josiah) Latimer  (1822-1898), amateur astronomer, was born in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Initially employed as a chemist, his professional interests became more related to various aspects of engineering. A Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, his interests also included astronomy and photography. He invented in 1853 a camera that enabled stereoscopic pictures to be taken with a single lens. In 1857, he provided assistance to George Biddell Airy in the introduction of Greenwich Mean Time across the country (ODNB).

Dawes, William Rutter [Rev.](1799- 1868) was resident at Haddenham in Buckinghamshire from 1857 until his death in 1868 (Sheehan 1996). Dawes’ work on double stars and on Mars was recognised by the professional community [Hurn, 25 July 2006]. Dawes made a detailed study of Mars during the opposition of 1864 while at Haddenham (Sheehan 1996, p53). An exceptional observer, Dawes was noted for the keenness of his eyesight. In 1864, using an 8-inch (20 cm) Cooke refractor, Dawes prepared detailed drawings of Mars, which greatly improved on anything hitherto available (Sheehan 1996). Dawes is possibly best remembered nowadays for working out the Dawes Limit, the aperture of a telescope just necessary to separate the components of close double stars (Sheehan 1996English 2009ODNBSharp 2006).

Sites and artefacts associated with Rev William Rutter Dawes: Dawes’ former house still stands in Haddenham village (Sharp 2006; Rose) and Dawes’ burial place is also in Haddenham [Rose]. Haddenham Museum has much general information about the village, though does not hold any artefacts specifically associated with Dawes [Rose]. Dawes was the original owner of the Thorrowgood Telescope, which is now at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge – see also observatories (Davenhall; Hurn, 25 July 2006; Hurn, 7 October 2007; County of LondonKent & Lancashire).

Epps, James (1773-1839) was employed as an assistant at Dr John Lee’s observatory at Hartwell House from 1838 (ODNB; RAS 1840].

Glaisher, James (1809-1903), astronomer and meteorologist, was employed as an assistant at Dr John Lee’s observatory at Hartwell House [McConnell].
NOTE: Some sources state that it was John Glaisher, brother of James, who worked at Hartwell House (see  Hartwell Observatory; County of LondonCambridgeshire & ODNB).

Glaisher, John (1819-1846), brother of James Glaisher (see above), was employed at Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire (Hunt 1996, 318 & 322-3ODNB).

Grover, Charles (1842-1921), born in Chesham, he was the second of two sons of John Grover, a shoemaker, and Elizabeth nee Birch. Apprenticed to a brushmaker at the age of 12 he made his own 3-inch refractor in 1861. During 1865 he had three letters published in the English Mechanic magazine, giving his address as Red Lion Street, Chesham. In February 1866 the English Mechanic reprinted his article ‘A Substitute for the Position Micrometer’. John Browning, instrument maker, of London offered him a job in 1869, and with his wife and son, George Charles, he left Chesham.
He left Browning in 1882 and went to Queensland, Australia to observe the transit of Venus. On his return to England in 1883 he became the resident astronomer to Cuthbert Peek in Rousdon, Devon. His work was primarily observing long period variable stars, but he also produced meteorological records, and was Curator of Peek’s private museum. He died on 16 February 1921, having completed a recorded total of 14,994 variable star observations over a period of 35 years, using the same Merz 6.4-inch refractor throughout. He was buried in the graveyard of St Pancras church, Rousdon.
The Merz telescope, and Grover’s books and papers, were acquired by the Science Museum, London in 2001 and 2004 respectively. [Grover; Slater 2005]

Hall, John James (1845-1941): An employee of the London and SW Railway, London and resident at Observatory Cottage, Datchet Road, Slough, Bucks [Kelly, 1899] at the time that he was proposed for election as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society by W H Walmsley in 1898 (RAS, 1898). He was elected FRAS in February 1899 (RAS 1899; RAS, 1942). Among his many writings, he contributed a short letter ‘Driving clocks’ to the English Mechanic in 1903 (Hall 1903) and a paper on The Berthonian System of Standardizing Eyepieces for the British Optical Journal, which was reported in an issue of the Observatory [Observatory] (see Obit., MNRAS102 (1942), 65-6).

Herschel, Alexander Stewart (1836–1907), born Feldhausen, nr. Cape Town, the 5th child of Sir John Herschel.  After 1886 he moved to Observatory House, Slough where he remained for the remainder of his life (see County of LondonLanarkshireODNBObit., MNRAS68 (1908), 231-3).

Herschel, Caroline (1750-1848): Astronomer, she assisted her brother, William Herschel (see below), with his observations. However, she was also an observer in her own right, particularly of comets (Moore, 1988ODNB)

Herschel, Sir John Frederick William[FRAS] (1792-1871), the only child of William and Mary Herschel, was born in Observatory House, Slough (see Chapman 1993ODNBMillar 1996Moore, 1992; O’Connor and Robertson; Observatory House & Somerset).

Herschel, William (1738-1822), following the discovery of Uranus in March 1781 Herschel was appointed ‘The King’s Astronomer’ and moved from Bath to Datchet in 1782 (ODNB).

Kahn, Franz Daniel (1926-1998), astrophysicist and mathematician, died in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire on 8 February 1998 (ODNB).

Lax, William (1761–1836), astronomer, he was presented to the livings of Marsworth, Buckinghamshire (see ODNBCambridgeshire & Hertfordshire].

Lee, John [Dr] (1783-1866) was a founder member of the Astronomical Society (which became the Royal Astronomical Society) and treasurer of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1831 until 1840. He was also president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1861 – 1862. He employed James Epps (see above), Norman Robert Pogson (see below) and James and John Glaisher (see above) at his astronomical observatory at Hartwell House (see Observatories below). Dr John Lee was also a member of many other learned societies, including a founder member of the British Meteorological Society, for whom he also served as Treasurer and President as well as the Royal Geographical Society .
Sites associated with Dr John Lee: Hartwell House near Aylesbury, the former home of Dr Lee and site of his astronomical observatory (see observatories below) is now a hotel [Hartwell House Hotel, Restaurant and Spa; see also Historic House Hotels Ltd] (Obit., MNRAS, 27 (1867), 109-110; ODNB).

Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena (1900-1979), born at Wendover, Buckinghamshire [Mullay & Mullay, 2002]. After studies at Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1923 she moved to Harvard to begin research under Harlow Shapley. She became a full professor of astronomy at Harvard in 1956. Her principal research interest was variable stars and she co-wrote Variable Stars (1938), a book that became the standard reference (ODNB).

Pogson, Norman Robert (1829-1891) was employed as an assistant at Dr John Lee’s observatory at Hartwell House (see McConnell; ODNBNottinghamshire & Oxfordshire).

Reade, Joseph Bancroft [Rev.](1801–1870), microscopist and experimenter in photography, he became vicar of Stone, Buckinghamshire in December 1839, under the patronage of Dr John Lee of Hartwell, Buckinghamshire, and the Royal Astronomical Society (who owned the right of appointment. He subsequently became vicar of Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, from 1859 to 1863. His interests in astronomy were strongly influenced by Dr Lee and the Meteorological Society at Hartwell House a few miles from Stone (See John Lee and Observatories, Hartwell House below). He contributed a series of observations of comets to the Royal Astronomical Society from 1844 to 1850. He also received a medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851 for his design of a ‘solid eyepiece’. Reade is listed as resident in Stone in 1854 (see Yorkshire: West RidingReade 1854; Post Office; Sherwood; ODNB ).

Smyth, William Henry (1788-1865), naval officer, surveyor and amateur astronomer, died at St John’s Lodge, Stone, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire on 9 September 1865. He was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and contributed numerous papers to the Proceedings of the RAS and many other journals. He was the author of The Cycle of Celestial Objects for the Use of Naval, Military, and Private Astronomers (2 vols., 1844), which led to the award of the Royal Astronomical Society’s gold medal. He built and equipped an astronomical observatory at Bedford, parts of which were eventually moved to Buckinghamshire; the “Smyth equatorial” was moved to Hartwell House Observatory (see Observatories, Hartwell House above) and the revolving roof was used in Rev Reade’s observatory at Stone (see Observatories, Rev Joseph Bancroft Reade’s Observatory, Stone above). About 1850 he moved from Bedford to St John’s Lodge, Stone. Smyth is listed as resident in St John’s Lodge, Stone in 1854 [Post Office]. His son, Charles Piazzi Smyth, who was born in Naples, was the astronomer royal for Scotland (see Obit., MNRAS, 26 (1865), 121-9;  ODNB; Sherwood).