Astronomers: Essex

Airy, George Biddell, FRS, FRAS (1801–1892) – see County of London

Birt, William Radcliff, FRAS (1804–1881), born in Southwark, Surrey.  A British amateur astronomer and selenographer. A very able individual, but lacking independent means, he struggled to find a patron and make his way in the scientific community. He worked for Sir John Herschel for a while, and for the British Association. Elected FRAS in 1859, he borrowed a 2¾-inch refractor and started systematic observations of sunspots and lunar features, but he lacked a good stand and micrometer. He was scraping a living as a minister at a church in Bethnal Green, and by lecturing. In 1862 John Phillips (1800-1874) renewed his proposal to the BAAS to have observers with 6-inch telescopes cooperate in observing the Moon to produce a better map than Beer and Madler’s 37-inch map of 1836. The Royal Society backed the proposal. Birt was promptly given free access to Admiral Smyth’s famed 5.9-inch refractor at Hartwell, and from 1863 as secretary of the Lunar committee for Mapping the Surface of the Moon, collated observations of eleven regular and 24 other observers and issued annual reports 1864-69, but he proposed the scale to be 200 inches. Birt used a borrowed 13-inch Newtonian reflector at his home, and the 5.9-inch for fine detail. After Lee died in 1866, the BAAS enabled Birt to build a small observatory for £90 to house a borrowed 4½-inch refractor, but in withdrew their support in 1870 due to the slowness of mapping. Nevertheless, in the 1871 census he described himself as ‘Astronomer and selenographer’. His observatory was probably located at his rented home, Cynthia Villa, Clarendon Road, Walthamstow. In poor health since 1873, Birt had to stop observing in 1877. By 1881 he had moved again, to Leytonstone, completed his census form ‘Astronomer, FRAS’, and died there on the 14. December 1881. Chong, Lim & Ang (2002) say that in 1865, Birt ‘began an attempt by the British Association to map the Moon in great detail. The map was a complete failure as its complex scheme and line drawings were meaningless’.[http://www.plicht.de/chris/b01.htm]. However, by his selenography, and particularly by his observations which stimulated a debate on observed changes on the floors of craters Plato and Linne, Birt left a lasting mark on astronomy. A lunar crater is named in his honour (ODNB).

Boreham,William Wakeling (1804-1886), born Haverhill, Suffolk.  Educated in Saffron Walden he showed great talent in mathematics and Music.  Later he followed his father’s occupation becoming a brewer first in London then Manchester and then returned to Haverhill.  Here he erected an observatory to make observations of comets and minor planets.  An admirer of science, later in life, he promoted it locally along with higher education.  In addition to being a member of the Royal Astronomical Society he was also a fellow of the Anthropological Society (See Obit. MNRAS, 47 (4 ), 135; ).

Bradley, James, Rev, (1693 -1762), established an observatory using the 12½-inch 12½-feet zenith sector by Graham of London was used here. It was moved to the ROG in 1749 – see James Pound’s Observatory (1727-47), Wanstead (ODNB).

Calver, George (1834-1927), born in Walpole near Halesworth. In Yarmouth in the 1860s he became a professional mirror maker in Widford, near Chelmsford, Essex. There until 1904, then back in Walpole, with one or two assistants he made or refigured nearly 4,000 mirrors (see Dall, H.E., ‘George Calver – East Anglian telescope Maker’, JBAA, 86 (1) 1975, 49-51; also Ken Goward, ‘George Calver, Master Mirror Maker’) – see Suffolk page.

Challis, James (1803-1882), born Braintree. Astronomer and physicist, elected Plumian professor and director of the Cambridge Observatory (1836-60). He was a skilled observer, but failed to find Neptune albeit in difficult circumstances (ODNB).

Gregory, Christopher Clive Langton, FRAS (1892–1964), British astronomer, who established the University of London Observatory.

Hall, Chester Moor (1703–1771), an English gentleman of Moor Hall, Essex, who in 1729 appears to have been the first to construct, or cause to be made, an achromatic telescope, using flint concave and crown convex lenses. He made several, but did not make publicize his invention, now generally ascribed to Dollond. Hall was born Dec. 9, 1703, Leigh, Essex, died March 17, 1771 at Sutton, Surrey. English jurist and mathematician who invented the achromatic lens, which he utilized in building the first refracting telescope free from chromatic aberration (colour distortion). Convinced from study of the human eye that achromatic lenses were feasible, Hall experimented with different kinds of glass until he found…(See King 1955, 144-6 & 154-5; ODNB).

Pound, James, Rev. (1669–1724), an experienced observer who mentored James Bradley as his observatory at Wanstead, c.1710 See: Howse. On 16th November 1724, Rev. James Pound died and was buried in the chancel of the old parish church, where his grave can still be seen today. His widow left the rectory and moved to a small house on her brother’s estate, the Grove. This house stood on the site of the Corner House in the High Street. Bradley resided with his aunt for some years in this house, hence the green plaque on the Corner House today. In the upper room of this house in 1727, he had a zenith sector of 12½ feet radius mounted for him. He moved to Oxford with his aunt in 1732, but still returned to Wanstead to make observations with this instrument, until it was moved to Greenwich Observatory in 1749 (ODNB).

Rogers, Norman (1922-2012), born in Southend-on-Sea on 9th February 1922 and in the early thirties his family moved to North Hillingdon. He left school in January 1938 for an insurance firm and this remained his profession until he retired in 1983. Norman died on the 24th August 2012. Norman’s house in Ruislip had 2 telescopes (sorry, but there are currently no details of them) in the garden through which he studied the moon and sunspots. He was the 3rd oldest member of the British Astronomical Association after TV astronomer Patrick Moore. Norman enjoyed the music of Tchaikovsky and Mozart but also supported the local amateur dramatic and operatic societies. He was a member of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society.

Talmage, Charles George, FRAS (1840–1886)

Tomkins, Herbert Gerard,  FRAS (1869–1934), born Streatham, London, educated both in England and India. Tomkins followed a career as an Indian Civil Servant finally becoming the head of the Financial Department of the Indian Government.  Whilst in India he founded the Astronomical Society of India, a group that did not survive his removal back to Britain when he retired to East House, Dedham near Colchester.  Here he established an observatory first equipped with a 24-inch reflector and later with a larger 30-inch instrument.  The telescope was used to take detailed images of the Moon – the instrument was offered to Kyoto University Japan (see Obit., MNRAS, 95, 332-3; Obit., JBAA, 45 [2], 80-2 ).

Rendell, Robert Fermor, Revd. FRAS (1873–1954)

Rowe, Cecil Charles Hilton, FRAS

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