Astronomers: Durham

Backhouse, Thomas William (1842-1920), born in Sunderland, educated at London University, retired from business in early life to devote himself to astronomy  He built an observatory at attached to his house in Sunderland. In 1911 he published a catalogue of 9842 stars visible to the naked eye, constructed in collaboration with Pack. Thomas Backhouse’s accurate meteorological observations were complete from 1857-1919, and his work was recognised by the Royal Meteorological Society, who appointed him as Vice-President in 1918 and 1919 (Obit., MNRAS; 81 (1921); 254-5).

Bird, John (1709–1776), the great mathematical instrument maker, was born at Bishop Auckland. He worked in London for Jeremiah Sisson, and by 1745 he had his own business in the Strand. Bird was commissioned to make a brass quadrant 8 feet across for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, where it is still preserved. Soon after, duplicates were ordered for France, Spain and Russia .  He supplied James Bradley with further instruments – to Bradley’s specification – of such quality that the commissioners of longitude paid him £500 (a huge sum) on condition that he take on a 7-year apprentice and produce in writing upon oath, a full account of his working methods. (Wikipedia). Thomas Hornsby founded the Radcliffe Observatory in 1772 and immediately commissioned Bird for what would clearly be his last major suite of instruments. He persuaded Bird to fit them with achromatic telescopes, thereby ensuring that the Radcliffe was the finest European observatory for nearly half a century (ODNB).

Chevallier, Temple [Rev.] (1794-1873), born Badingham, Suffolk, home educated he graduated as 2nd Wrangler at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1817.  In 1820 he took holy orders and was appointed Curate, then Vicar at St. Andrew the Great Church, Cambridge.  From 1834 he taught divinity at Durham University before accepting a professorship of mathematics at the university the following year. Through his interest in astronomy he had founded and raised public subscriptions to build an observatory.  As director (), he supervised rountine observation that include sunspot monitoring.  He was also parish priest at St. Michael and All Angels, Esh from 1839 until death at Harrow Weald, North-West London (ODNB; Obit., MNRAS, 34 (1874), 137-9); Suffolk

Emley, Edward Frederick (1917-1980), of 18 Alderley Road, Low Fell, Gateshead, County Durham. A research and development metallurgist, he served as Librarian for the Circle. He used a 16cm With reflector. A member of “Mr Barker’s Circle”, an observing group of eight men active from April 1934 to December 1938 and May 1946 to May 1948. See: Robert Barker in Hertfordshire, and for an excellent article see: McKim 2013.

Espin, Thomas Henry Espinall Compton [Revd.] (1858-1934), in 1876 he met Revd. Thomas Webb, and helped him compile his Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, and he later edited the 5th and 6th editions. He discovered many nebulae, variables, and more than 2,500 double stars. After graduating at Oxford University he was appointed curate in West Kirby on the Wirral. In 1888 he became vicar of Tow Law, a few miles south of Conset, County Durham, and built his observatory there (ODNB; Obit., JBAA; 45 (1935), 128).

Farrar, Adam Storey (1826-1905), born in London. Educated at the Liverpool Institute and St Mary Hall, Oxford.  After academic posts at Oxford he took religious orders in 1853 with posts as tutor at Wadham College (1855) and then a professorship at Durham University and canon at Durham cathedral.  A naked eye observer and historian of astronomical works, he was elected fellow of the royal astronomical society in 1858 (ODNBObit., MNRAS, 66 (1906), 174).

Goldney, Gabriel Alphonsus (w.1874-85), astronomer who worked at the Durham University Observatory (Wikipedia).

Herschel, Alexander (1836–1907), born Feldhausen, nr. Cape Town, the 5th child of Sir John Herschel.  After private education and tuition at Clapham Grammar School he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge graduating in 1859.  Later he studied at the Royal School of Mines, London (1861-5), then natural philosophy lecturer at Anderson’s College, Glasgow (1866-71) and the chair of physics and experimental philosophy in the University of Durham College of Science, Newcastle upon Tyne (1871-86).  During this time he pursued his lifelong interest in meteors, using spectroscopy to determine their composition.  After 1886 he moved to Observatory House, Slough where he remained for the remainder of his life (see Buckinghamshire; County of London; LanarkshireODNB; Obit. MNRAS, 68 (1908), 231-3).

Hornsby, Thomas (1733-1810), born in the parish of St Nicholas, Durham. He became Bradley’s pupil and successor, and was founder of the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford (ODNB; Oxfordshire).

Marth, Albert (1828-1897), born Kolberg, Pomerania, educated  at Berlin University he gained a position at Konigsberg Observatory.   Later in 1855 he succeeded Rumker as  the University Observatory, Durham a post he held until 1862 (ODNBObit., MNRAS, (1898), 139-42; see County of London; Sligo)

Milburn, William (1896-1982), graduate of Durham University, was employed as assistant astronomer by T.H.E.C. Espin at Wolsingham Observatory at Tow Law, County Durham.  He became observatory director after Espin’s death in 1934 and continued full-time observations until until 1939 (ODNB; Stroobant 1931).

Newall, Hugh Frank (1857-1944), born at ‘Ferndene’, Gateshead, where his father had already established his observatory, so that Hugh grew up with the great 25-inch refractor. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1886 he became assistant to J.J. Thompson and demonstrator in the Cavendish Laboratory. His interests was in physics. When his father bequeathed the 25-inch Cooke Telescope of 1871 to Cambridge University on condition that it be used, the University could not afford it. Hugh stepped in, contributed to the move and to building the new tower on the existing observatory site, then worked the telescope for years without stipend. His work, subsidies, and his example attracted several key benefactions to the Cambridge Observatory, and enabled it to gain leadership in British astrophysics (ODNB; Obit., MNRAS, 105 (1945), 95-102 Cambridgeshire).

Newall, Robert Stirling (1812-1889), born in Dundee. In the early 1840s at Gateshead on the north bank of the River Tyne opposite Newcastle, established his wire-drawing and cable making business from which he made a fortune. Half of the first trans-Atlantic cable was made there. In 1871 at his residence ‘Ferndene’ in Gateshead he set up a 25-inch Cooke refractor (ODNB; Obit., MNRAS, 50 (1890), 164-6).

Pattinson, Hugh Lee [FRAS] (1796-1858), born at Alston, Cumberland. He perfected a process for extracting silver from lead, and in 1844 started his own chemical works near Gateshead. In 1858 he retired from business , and in order to master astronomy devoted himself to studying mathematics and physics. At his home Scott’s House he erected an observatory to house a 7½-inch equatorial refractor, but he died at the end of that year (Obit., MNRAS, 19 (1859), 124-5).

Peacock, George (1791-1858), born at Denton, in Gainford, near Darlington. Educated at trinity college, Cambridge, he graduated second wrangler and second Smith’s Prize man in 1813 – in both he was second to John Herschel. With Robert Woodhouse, Charles Babbage, and Herschel, a member of the Analytical Society in 1812, they made the founding of the Cambridge Observatory a means to introduce reform to the University. He was also a founder of the Astronomical Society of London. Dean of Ely, he retained much influence upon his friends in the RAS, and was a mentor of George Biddell Airy, who seems to have resorted to him for advice during the Neptune debacle of 1846 (ODNB; Obit., MNRAS, 19 (1859), 125-8; Hutchins 2008).

Wolfendale, Sir Arnold W. [FRS] (1927-2020) born Rugby, astronomer who graduated from manchester University.   After a career at Durham University and he became Astronomer Royal (1991-5), then professor Emeritus at Durham University (see Warwickshire; LancashireWiki; ‘Profile: Prof. Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS’, A& G, 49 [4] (2008), p.4.11).

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