Astronomers: Sussex

Blacklock, Arthur Woolsey (1840-1934) born in Brighton, he became a doctor after studying medicine at Aberdeen University , gaining his MD in 1872. By 1875 he had set up in practice in Gateshead, where he remained for several decades. Prior to this he lived in Manchester and whilst there joined and became a committee member of The Observing Astronomical Society. He was never a fellow of the RAS or a BAA member. He contributed correspondence to both the Astronomical Register and the English Mechanic. He owned and made several telescopes including a 5¾-inch Newtonian (Chapman 1998, 215&8).

Brodie, Frederick (1823-1896), born Eastbourne, privately schooled he attended Edinburgh University and had a career as a civil engineer. With a life-long interest in astronomy he erected his first observatory at Wadbury House, Somerset, then moved it to Eastbourne on the death of his first wife (1854). After re-marrying he moved to Uckfield (1859) along with the observatory. Later in the late 1870s he sold it to his friend, C.L. Prince,  and moved his family to Fernhill on the Isle of Wight as the Sussex climate ill-suited his wife.  Later in the early 1880s he established a new observatory equipped with an 8-inch Cooke refractor. He is remembered as mentor of George F. Chambers and advisor for his Handbook of Astronomy series of works.  He provided modified plans of his portable observatory and images of his telescopes (Obit., MNRAS, 58 (1896), 131-3; Chambers 1890, 221-8, fig.53&64).

Chambers, George Frederick [FRAS] (1841-1915), born Upton-on-Severn, Worcester, who trained and practised law as a barrister.  He had an early interest in astronomy inspired by his uncle, Frederick Brodie (1823-96).  he was a a founder member of the BAA, who had an observatory at his home in Eastbourne.  He is best remembered for re-issuing an updated version of  Smyth’s  Bedford catalogue and his Handbook of Astronomy book series.  He built a Romsey type observatory on top of his home, ‘Northfield Grange’ in Easbourne (Chambers 1890, 228-9 & Pl.X; Obit., MNRAS, 76 (1916), 258-9).

Franks, William Sadler [FRAS] (1851-1935), photographic assistant to Isaac Roberts at his Crowborough Observatory who became unemployed on the death of hios employer in 1904. Prof. H.H. Turner wrote to Frank Dyson of his fate: ‘Poor little Franks [Franks was a man of diminutive stature, but charm and energy] has had a hard time. Isaac Roberts used him of course, and left him stranded. He has struggled on one way or another … His pay is small and his means are suffering; he is selling his telescopes etc to get along – we have [at Oxford] brought one from him’. (HHT to Dyson, letter 27 Sept. 1915, RGO 7, 243, RAS corr). He then obtained the positionof observer the nearby Hanbury Observatory at brockenhurst where he stayed until his sudden death (Obit., MNRAS, 96 (1936), 291-2).

Fuller, John [FRAS] (1757-1834), a member of the Sussex gentry and reactionary figure who was known locally as ‘Mad Jack’. A generous benefactor of the sciences (Royal Institution), he later took an interest in astronomy. He established an observatory at his estate at Brightling designed by the architect Sir Robert Smirke. Although the building survives with a later dome, little is known about its instruments or how it was used (ODNB; Johnson 2021, 35).

Greenwood, John Anderton (1864-1941), born Morton, Bingley, Yorks., who practised as a solicitor at Funtington House nr. Chichester. With a lifelong interest in astronomy, he had a 5 ¼-inch refractor on an equatorial mount in his garden.  However, he never published any of his observations (Obit., MmRAS, 102 (1942), p.64; Stroobant 1907, 61).

Hanbury, Frederick Jansen (1851-1938), born Stoke Newington, London, a millionaire and Chairman of Allen & Hanbury, the Pharmaceutical manufacturers. A keen amateur botanist he had an interest in astronomy, establishing an observatory within the garden of his extensive Brockhurst Estate, East Grinstead. He employed both W.S. Franks and Sir Patrick Moore as observers (Mobberley 2013, 11-3).

Hole, George (1912-1986), born Canterbury, amateur astronomer and self-taught optician who formed a partnership with  Mr Thomson – Cox, Hargreaves & Thomson. In 1950 he acquired the subsidiary trading as G. Hole & Son Ltd. Living in Patcham, Brighton he built and erected a series of large open-air reflectors in his garden, the largest a 24-inch telescope. It made an appearance on the Sky at Night (1961), the weather thwarting the attempt at nighttime observations from his Brighton garden in Patcham (Feist 2003).

Howell, Charles [FRAS](1783-1867), a gentleman of independent means.  An observer of the planets and double stars he established a well-appointed observatory at Hove, Brighton (Obit. MNRAS, 28 (1867), 77; 1861 OS Map).

Hunter, Alan (1912-1995), see County of London

Knott, George [FRAS](1835-1894), established the Cuckfield Observatory, using a powerful refractor on doubles, variables, and planets. The value of his meticulous observations were that they were continuous, by one observer, using the same instrument, double stars until 1873, and variables 1859-73 and 1875-93 (Obit, MNRAS, 55 (1895), 195-7).

Knox-Shaw, Harold [FRAS](1885-1970), born St Leonards-on-Sea. Trinity College, Cambridge, sixth wrangler 1907. In 1908 he became assistant at Helawan Observatory in Egypt. He returned as Radcliffe Observer, Oxford, in 1924, and, despite ill-considered opposition from the University at last managed to move the Observatory in 1935 to South Africa (see Obit., QJRAS, 12 (1971), 197-201; Oxfordshire.

Levin, Arthur Everard  [Major; FRAS] (1872-1939), born Leicester and trained as an electrical engineer.  Enlisted in the army in 1899 and served in South Africa during the Boer War.  Through his interest in computational work he was involved in setting up of the Computing Section of the BAA (1920-1921), of which he was the second director. He retired in 1928 and moved to Selsey where most of his astronomical work was undertaken, partly with a 6-inch refractor in an observatory – later given to the BAA. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1921 (Obit. MNRAS, 100 (1940), 253-4); Obit., JBAA, 50 (1939), 78-80; Stroobant 1931 ).

McCance, John [FRAS] (1859-1893), born Newry, Ireland, attended Trinity Hall Cambridge but did not complete his degree due to ill health. After moving to London, he emigrated to Australia (1882) where he married. He returned to England in 1890, settling in Southwold, Suffolk before moving to Worthing. His interests in astronomy like his brother, James, lay in lunar observations, contributing observations to the Selenographical Journal.

Meares, John Willoughby [FRAS; CIE] (1871-1946), born Barnet, London, educated at Winchester College, he trained as an electrical engineer, working at the Hove Electric Lighting Company (1890s), owned by Crompton & Co, and later followed a career in India. A founder member of the BAA and fellow of the RAS, he observed planets with a modest 3.25-inch Wray refractor, mounted on the roof of his place of employment in Brighton. In 1896 he observed the solar eclipse visible from Darjeeling with a 9-inch With reflector and viewed Comet Halley from Calcutta in 1910 (Obit., JBAA, 56 [3] (1946), 56; Chapman 1998, 253, 256 & 296 & 326-7).

Moore, Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell [CBE FRS., Hon. Vice-Pres. SHA] (1923-2012), born in Pinner, Middlesex.  Patrick became interested in astronomy at the age of 6 and joined the BAA at age 11 and became director of the Hanbury Observatory in 1937 aged 14. He served as a navigator with the Royal Air Force (1942-45). In the 1950s while teaching at Langton Green in Surrey, he set up an observatory with a 12½-inch reflector, and made the Moon his specialty. In 1968 he discovered transient lunar phenomena. Writer, broadcaster, astronomer, he has published nearly 100 books, and presented more than 700 editions of the Sky at Night since 1957, the longest running series on BBC. Apart from a brief period at Armagh, Northern Ireland he lived in Selsey for most of that time at ‘Farthings’. In 1968 he moved to Selsey, and the observatory operated continuously until 2012. He is credited with having done more than anyone else to raise the profile of astronomy among the British public. In 1982 asteroid 2802 Moore was named to honour him (ODNB; Mobberley 2013) – see Middlesex).

Noble, William [Capt.; FRAS] (1828-1904), born London, he spend a career in the army before he  moved to Cuckfield in Sussex.  His passion for astronomy was ignited at age 14 when he borrowed a  2¾-inch Dollond refractor to observe the Moon and planets. His first telescope was a 6.8-inch Tulley refractor (fl 12-foot) previously owned by Dr William Pearson.  This hat he kept until around 1853  when it was sold it to his friend, C. L Prince due to his foreign posting during the Crimean War. Later he purchased a new 4.2-inch Ross refractor (fl 5-feetl) with equatorial mount that he housed in domed observatory at his home at at in Uckfield in 1857. A very accurate and precise observer, he regularly observed occultations, including the Mercury transit of 1868, and made an excellent series of drawings of Jupiter in coperation with his neighbour Prince at Uckfield. Popular with the RAS, and council member (1866-80), he could be controversial and was an ardent opponent of the government funding of Lockyer’s Solar Physics Observatory in South Kensington. A generous mentor of young observers, he was selected to be first President of the BAA – their obit. being drawn from autobiographical notes found after his passing (ODNBObit., MNRAS, 65 (1905), 342-3 ; Obit., JBAA, 15, 6 (1904-5), 228-9).

Pether, Abraham (1756-1812), born Chichester, landscape painter of moonlight scenes in which the astronomical detail is always correct; he constructed telescopes. He died in Southampton, leaving his widow and nine children destitute (see ODNB).

Prince, Charles Leeson [FRAS](1821-1899), born Uckfield who trained  and practised as a physician in the local area as his father before.  With an interest in astronomy and several other areas, he had observatories erected at his homes in Crowborough.  This housed his favourate instrument, a 7-inch refracting telescope by Tulley (1823) that was formerly owned by Dr Pearson. Later in 1858, he puchased the building and mounting from Frederick Brodie’s observatory in Uckfield and erected it nearby. He also published on the discovery of the features of the rings of Saturn (Obit., MNRAS, 60 (1900), 321-3).

Roberts, Isaac (1829-1904), established an observatory at Crowborough (see below), for earlier details (Obit., MNRAS, 65 (1905), 345-7)-  see Lancashire; Denbighshire.

Ryle, Reginald John [MD] (1854-1922), grandfather of Sir Martin Ryle, a physician practicing in Brighton. He observed the moon from his home at 15 German Place, Brighton with a portable 2-inch refractor (see in Ryle, John Alfred (1889–1950) ODNB; Stroobant 2007, 44).

Vallance, Philip (1803-1897), born Brighton, a timber merchant and the first person to write an astronomical article for the English Mechanic. Lived at Cobb Court, Storrington, Sussex, where he used a 12-inch reflector and a 6-inch refractor.

Williams, Arthur Stanley [FRAS] (1861-1938), born in Brighton, was considered an unusually gifted observer of planets and variable stars, all made with a 6½-inch Calver reflector which had no clock drive. His very shy disposition led him to abandon his career as a solicitor apparently in about 1884 – and move to Mawes, Cornwall, where he became almost reclusive. He lived on a barge in the harbour, that in the winter was beached, and his observatory was a short way from the harbour. In 1936 he sought a more gentle night-time climate, and moved to Feoch, near Truro. He was a founder member of the BAA. Contemporaries ranked him with Dawes, Denning and Espin. But he also had methodological (using transit times for features, but without the use of a micrometer!) and analytical skills. Other distinguished observers had followed spots on Jupiter’s surface. But it was Williams who collected their results of two centuries, added his own, and established the existence and positions of a number of definite currents in the Jovian atmosphere, and demonstrated that despite some drift, they were permanent features. His method and results gave a great impetus to the BAA’s Jupiter section, and the current nomenclature of the belts and zones is generally his. Williams also observed Saturn, and Mars – but was not deluded by the claims of canals. He also made photometric observations of stars, made a visit in 1885-86 to Australia, and published A Catalogue of the Magnitudes of 1081 stars lying between -30° and the South Pole (London, 1898). Among these he discovered the first of a number of variable stars. He was the first British observer to apply photography to the search for variables, using a 4.4-inch portrait lens mounted on his equatorial. Williams recorded some 10,000 magnitude estimates of variable stars during an era when coverage was sparse (Obit, MNRAS, 99 (1939), 313-16).

Woolley, Sir Richard van der Riet (1906-1986), Senior Assistant and JCA Astronomer at Cambridge Observatory (1937-39), later Astronomer Royal (1956-71) (ODNBDorset; County of London; Cambridgeshire).

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