Astronomers: Somerset

Ashley, Mary (c.1843-1903), born Shirehampton,Somerset. Lived at 19, New King Street, Bath, just along the road from Herschel’s house. She was an active observer of the Moon and Jupiter in particular during the 1870s and 1880s, using 3¼-inch and 4-inch Wray refractors. It is not known if she had an observatory. She was a member of the Selenographical Society and of the Liverpool A.S. in 1884 (Kinder 1998).

Barron, Robert Percy [Rev.] (c.1853-1926), a clergyman who retired to Monkton Combe where he established an observatory in his garden housing a 7-inch refracting telescope that was gifted to Monkton Combe School in 1925 (Sidders 1926).

Corder, Henry (1855-1944), born Ipswich, Suffolk and was educated at Bootham School in the city where he developed his interest in astronomy. Moving to Bridgwater, Somerset he set up business as a seed and nurseryman.  An avid collector and naturalist he was an original member of the British Astronomical Association with many of his observations using a 6-inch reflector from his home, ‘Silver Birch’ in Bridgewater (Milligan 2006; Stroobant 1907, 44).

Cottam, Arthur (1836-1911), born Camberwell, London who from the age of 17 to retirement worked in government service in wood and forestry.  His interests lay in botany, microscopy and astronomy.  A founder member of the BAA who worked closely with N.E. Green who was involved with the Jupiter section.  He is best remembered for his drafting of star charts for the north polar region of the sky.  He used a 4 1/2-inch refractor by Merz and a 12 1/2-inch reflector by Calver, later own by Henry Hepburn (Obit., MNRAS, 72 (1912), 248-9; Obit., JBAA, 22 (1911), 103; Stroobant 1907, 44).

Denning, William Frederick (1848-1931), born Redpost near Radstock, Somerset.  Little is known of his early education and career, but his interest in astronomy was inspired by viewing the Great Leonid storm of 1866.  A renown observer of meteors he was the first to recognise meteor radiants and their stationary nature in the sky.  Denning was also a skilled observer of the terrestrial planets and Jupiter, using a 12-inch Browning/With reflecting telescope from his home at Bishopston housed in a run-off observatory (?).  He was a section leader for both meteors and comets with the British Astronomical Association (Obit, JBAA, 42 (1931), 36-40; ‘Obit., MNRAS, 92(1932), p.248Hockey 2007; Stroobant 1907, 45; Stroobant 1931).

Foote, Alexander [FRAS] (1850-1917), born Rosehill, Forfarshire, Scotland, he graduated from Trinity College Oxford intending to follow a career in Law.  However, his interest in music diverted his attentions, studying in Italy, but ill health also thwarted his ambition.  Always interested in astronomy his hobby developed from 1900 when living in London he acquired a portable telescope and Zollner spectroscope. Later he established an observatory at his Lansdown home, Bath – later lent to the nearby Royal School for Officer’s daughters. He also observed from Newton House, Melcombe-Bingham (Obit., MNRAS, 78 (1918), 246-6; Stroobant 1907, 75).

Fry, Agnes [FRAS] (1869-1958), born in Highgate, north London, a daughter of the prominent Quaker jurist Sir Edward Fry. Of independent means she pursued the study of bryology, astronomy and collecting textiles. Agnes joined the BAA (Nov. 1905) the RAS (Feb 14 1919). She lived later at ‘Failand House’, Bristol where she wrote an introductory astronomy text, Stars and Constellations: A Little Guide to the Sky (J Baker & Son, 1911). There is a possibility that she was deaf. Her twin sister Isabel (1869-1958) also made some astronomical observations (WIKI).

Herschel, William (1738-1822), lived at 19, New King Street, Bath (1773-1782) – now Herschel Museum of Astronomy.  It was from the garden of this modest terrace house that William discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, using a reflecting telescope that he had designed and made himself in the basement there. His discovery doubled the known size of the Solar System . Born in Hanover, crossing to England at age 19 as a musician, Herschel taught himself to make the best telescopes of his day, and with them became perhaps the greatest observer of all time. He began observing in 1773,and used a 6.2″ aperture Newtonian of 7-foot focal length.  The founder of modern stellar astronomy, he made innumerable discoveries of double stars, nebulae and clusters of stars. He found that many double stars orbit each other as binary systems, and he was the first to give a reasonable idea of the shape of the galaxy. He received many honours, including being appointed King’s Astronomer (not Royal Astronomer).
In 1782 he moved to Datchet, then in Buckinghamshire. There from 1782 to 1785, and afterwards at nearby Slough until 1802, Herschel assisted by his sister Caroline undertook a systematic “deep sky” survey of the northern skies. Excluding duplicated and “lost” entries, Herschel ultimately discovered over 2400 objects defined by him as nebulae. But divided in to eight categories. Caroline added 11, and his son John 1,754 objects, which whole John published as the General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters in 1864. This catalogue was later edited by John Dreyer, supplemented with discoveries by many other 19th century astronomers, and published in 1888 as the New General Catalogue (NGC) of over 7,840 deep sky objects. The NGC numbering is still the most commonly used identifying label for these celestial landmarks. This work is the lasting legacy of the three Herschels. His sister Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was his constant assistant, and herself discovered eight comets and eleven nebulae. His only child John Herschel, born at Observatory House, Slough, extended William’s and his own survey to the southern skies, and brought the whole to completion.  William Herschel was that rarest of combinations, an extremely able and enormously productive observer, who also had the intellectual curiosity and skills to hypothesise and to explain and derive the maximum interpretation of his data. Herschel’s many discoveries include two moons of Saturn, and two of Uranus. From studying the proper motion of stars, he was the first to realise that the solar system is moving through space, and he determined the approximate direction of that movement. He also studied the structure of the Milky Way and concluded that it was in the shape of a disk (See: Berkshire, Datchet Observatory, Observatory House Slough and John Herschel).

Hippisley, Clare (1843-1918), 3rd son of John Hippsley, a coffee planter and trader in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) who later retired to England where he established an observatory at 4-5 Belgrave Terrace, Camden Road, Bath.

Hippisley, John [FRAS] (1804-1899), born Lambourne Place, Berkshire, educated at Rugby School and Oriel College, Oxford. Possessing mechanical skills he constructed a 9-inch speculum mirror telescope and an observatory to house it at Ston Easton Park, Somerset.  A skilled artist he made an oil painting of the Orion Nebula that was presented to the RAS. He resided both at Bath and Ston Easton (Obit., MNRAS, 59 (1899), 225-6).

Jacob, William Stephen (1813-1862), born Woolavington who pursued a career in India. Using a 5-feet Dollond equatorial at Poonah, he produced a catalogue of 244 double stars, and made several discoveries. From 1848-59 he was director of the Madras Observatory, but his health suffered (ODNB).

Jones, John Harvey (1859-1896), born Corsham nr. Bath, he took up an interest in astronomy after joining his father’s organ and musical instrument business in Bristol.  An observer of the Moon and planets he was a founder member of the British Astronomical Association  (Obit., MNRAS, 57 (1897), 213-4).

Lawson, Henry (1774-1855), born Greenwich, lived in Hereford, and then from 1841 in Bath where he established a splendid observatory (see Lawson Observatory below). He intended to give his entire valuable collection to Nottingham to establish a Midland Observatory for astronomy and meteorology, but although the money was raised by subscription, the committee challenged the value of the instruments, and the plan failed. His telescope and instrument were then presented to the Royal Naval School at New Cross near Greenwich (Obit., MNRAS, 16 (1856), 86-90; ODNB).

Saxton, C. A. (fl.1913-1931), amateur astronomer based at Frome, observing planets and occulations with a 10-inch Calver reflecting telescope with observatory founded in 1913 (Stroobant  1931).

Staples [nee Warner], Irene Elizabeth Toye [FRAS] (1882-1954), born Barton Regis, Glouc., an active amateur astronomer.  A member of  the BAA and  an early female fellow of the RAS, contributing observations to the former and other amateur institutions. Married  Bristol 1920 before emigrating to South Africa.

Waterfield, Reginald Lawson (1910-1986), born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, educated at Winchester school and trained as a doctor at Guys Hospital, London (see Surrey).

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