SHA County Coordinator : George A. Wilkins (NLO Society)


No of SHA members resident in Devon: 2

General Reviews

G A Wilkins, 2004, ‘Astronomy in Devon: Past and Present’, Rep. Trans. Devon Ass. Advmt. Sci., 136, 175-196.  This contains a bibliography of 58 published references as well as notes on unpublished references.


Adams, John Couch (1819-1892), was born and lived in Cornwall, but went to school in Devonport who independently predicted the position of Neptune (see  ODNB; Cornwall; Cambridgeshire)

Ball, William (c. 1627-1690), made observations of Saturn and below for observatory at Mamhead house (see ODNB ).

Barber, Donald Robert (1901-2000), lived and educated in Exeter. Superintendent of the Norman Lockyer Observatory (NLO), 1956-1961. (A&G 42, 1.35).

Edwards, Donald Luther (1894-1956), director of NLO, 1936 –1956 and also photographer. (Barber, D.R., MNRAS, 117 (1957), 252-253).

Ellis, H. S. (1825-1878). See note below on his observatory.

Gallant, Rene L. C.  (1905-1985), author, 1964, of Bombarded Earth: an essay on the geological and biological effects of huge meteorite impacts.

Goodson, Howard (b.1881-w.1911), born Armley, Leeds, Yorkshire, astronomer at Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington, London and then Norman Lockyer Observatory, 1913-6 (see 1911  English census and Sic Itur AD Astra: A history of the Norman Lockyer Observatory, JBAA, 25, 25-8).

Grover, Charles (1842-1921), assistant to Peek (see below) in Australia and at his home at Rousdon (Slater 2005).

Langdon, Roger (1825-1894), stationmaster, self-taught astronomer who made telescopes and had two papers published by the RAS (Langdon 1909).

Lindemann, Adolph Freidrich  (1846-1931),  retired engineer; to Sidmouth in 1884; bought small observatory (see below); designed and made accessory instruments (see Anon, MNRAS 92 (1932), 256-257).

Lockyer, Sir Joseph Norman (1836-1920), moved to Sidmouth c.1909 and director of NLO, 1912-1920 . Before moving to Devon he was director of the Solar Physics Observatory (1879-1911) in South Kensington, London.  He also published studies of Stonehenge and other ancient monuments and on links between astronomy and meteorology (see ODNB; County of London; Surrey; Warwickshire).

Lockyer, William James Stewart (1868-1936), fifth son of Norman Lockyer and director of NLO 1920-1936 (see Anon, Nature 138, 153-154.; ‘Obituary Notices: Fellows:- Lockyer, William James Stewart’, MNRAS, 97 (1937), 275; Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington) .

Lockyer, Winifred Lucas (1873-1934), second daughter of Norman Lockyer. Asst. Hon. Sec. and Librarian of NLO. Various observations reported in ‘letters to Nature’.

Lockyer, Lady (Thomazine) Mary (1852-1953), second wife of Norman Lockyer, 1903, ‘Vacation student’ at Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington, in 1882. Participated in 1905 eclipse expedition. FRAS, 1923. Gave financial support for NLO; Asst. Hon. Treasurer.

McClean, Sir Francis Kennedy (1876–1955), he helped Norman Lockyer establish the Hill Observatory at Sidmouth (later NLO) by donating a twin Grubb telescope and dome (‘Obituary notice: Sir Francis McClean, A.F.C’., MNRAS,  116 (1956), 152).

Peek, Sir Cuthbert Edgar. (1855-1901), established an observatory at Rousdon (see below) after return from a transit-of-Venus expedition in Australia. Observations of variable stars published in Memoirs RAS 55 and 56 (see ODNB).

Pope, John D. (1924-2001), telescope engineer, formerly at Royal Greenwich Observatory, Hersmonceux [Sussex]; later member of the NLO Society.  

Robinson, J. Hedley (1905-1991), prominent member of BAA (JBAA 102, 51). Started the Torbay Astronomical Society and the Devon Astronomical Association (see below).

Observatories (former)

Dartington Hall

Miniature Observatory, at 200 High Street, Exeter, in upper floor of Messrs Ellis and Son (See ‘Description of Miniature Observatory’, MNRAS, 14 (1853), 44-5 & 255.) 20-inch transit instrument and meteorological instruments.

Heles Boys’ School, (Lockyer telescope), 1964-1970

Exeter Astronical Society, near Exeter: , (Lockyer telescope), 1971-19XX

Mamhead House, William Ball (c. 1665). 38-foot telescope acc. to DNB.

North Devon, referred to in Lockyer correspondence, but no information.

Rousdon Observatory, Lyme Regis. with meteorological station.  Housed a 16-cm Merz refractor; meridian instrument. The Merz refractor was purchased by the Science Museum in 2001?.
1884 – 192x: Sir Cuthbert E. Peek, assisted by Charles Grover (see above)
192y – 2000? then All Hallows School

Sidholme Observatory2Sidmouth: “Sidholme”,

Home of A. F. Lindemann (see below)

Sidholme Observatory

Silverton, former observatory of Roger Langdon (see above)

Teignmouth, former observatory of J. Hedley Robinson (see above)

Observatories (active)

Glynn Observatory at South Zeal, near Dartmoor, is used by Exeter AS.

Norman Lockyer Observatory, Salcombe Hill Road, Sidmouth, Devon EX10 0QY
Several telescopes (esp. Victorian refractors); planetarium; amateur radio station; meteorological station. Owned by the East Devon District Council and operated by the NLO Society. Programme of public open afternoons and evenings. Group visits by arrangement. Educational courses. Founded in 1920 as the Hill Observatory by Sir Norman Lockyer, later part of Exeter University and then an educational trust.

Tiverton: Blundell’s School.
Several telescopes, including an 20-cm Newtonian reflector (1910). Used by Tiverton AS.

Torbay Observatory at Torquay Boys Grammar School.
Principal telescope is a 50-cm reflector. Used by Torbay AS.

University of Exeter, Physics Department.
There is a new telescope that was purchased from a bequest by Donald R. Barber (see above), formerly Superintendent of the Norman Lockyer Observatory.

Details to be found for:
North Devon AS
Plymouth AS
Tavistock AS

Societies and Organisations

Exeter Astronical Society (ExAS), inactive (2011).

Norman lockyer Observatory Society (NLOS), formed from the joining of the Sidmouth and District Astronomical Society with the Sidmouth Amateur Radio Society in 1995; the radio group moved to a new site in 2014.

North Devon Astronical Society, (NDAS), founded 1973.  Members meet at the Methodist Church Hall, Barnstaple (EX31 2DJ) with access to society observatories.

Plymouth Astronomical Society (PiAS), founded 1965 by Lawrence Harris who earler helped establish an observatory and club at Widey Technical School with an old 10-inch reflector (Calver?).  Member meet at Plymouth University and hold observing sessions locally.

Sidmouth and District Astronomical Society (SiDAS), active from 1974 to 1995 at the Norman Lockyer Observatory site – now defunct see Norman lockyer Observatory Society above.

Tavistock Astronomical Society (TaAS), meets at Kelly College.

Tiverton and Mid Astronomical Society (TMAS), founded 1985 by Graham West.  Member meet and observe Blundell’s Prep School, Tiverton (EX16 4NA).

Torbay Astronomical Society (ToAS), founded  1956.  Members meet and observe at Torquay Boys Grammar School, Torquay (TQ2 7EL) with access to the school’s observatory. 

The South West Astronomical Association, appears to be defunct – formerly the Devon Astronomical Association

Acedemics and associated professionals

Prof. Chris A. Jones, University of Exeter, Mathematics Department

Prof. Tim Naylor, University of Exeter, Physics Department

Dr. Andrew Shaw, University of Exeter, Chemistry Department

Prof. K. Zhang, University of Exeter, Mathematics Department

(Position at University of Plymouth is not known.)

Academics (retired)

William Nicholson, formerly at RGO, now NLO Society.

John D. Pope, engineer, formerly at RGO, now NLO Society.

Dr. David M. Schlapp, formerly at University of Exeter, Physics Department

Dr. Percy A. H. Seymour, formerly at University of Plymouth (now living in Cornwall.)

Dr. David V. Thomas, formerly at RGO, now NLO Society.
Dr. George A. Wilkins, formerly at RGO, now NLO Society

RAS Fellows

Iris Allison, formerly a Dartington Hall and active in DAA.

Anthony R. Hutchings, campaigned to save NLO in 1980s. Exeter AS, then Plymouth AS.

Authors, lecturers and broadcasters

Brian Byng, author: Dartmoor’s mysterious megaliths, 1979.

James Muirden, author. The amateur astronomers handbook, 1983; and others.

Planetaria & other sites

James Lockyer Planetarium at the Norman Lockyer Observatory. (see above)

William Day Planetarium at the University of Plymouth. (current position not known)

Exeter Cathedral Astronomical Clock, dating from around 1484, the orginal clock mechanism is displayed in the north transept of the cathedral.  The mechanism was restored by the famous horologist John James Hall in 1910 (see Buckinghamshire).  

Other notes
Some of the stone rows and circles on Dartmoor may have astronomical significance.

There is an astronomical clock in the parish church at Ottery St. Mary.

The earliest sundial in Devon is at Bampton and is dated 1586.

Suggestions for additional names and other items for inclusion in this first draft survey would be welcomed. Copies of, or references to, published papers or of unpublished notes would also be useful as sources of more detailed information.

G. A. Wilkins


Useful addresses
Local History Centre:
Devon Studies Centre, adjacent to Exeter Central Library
County Record office:
Devon Record Office, Castle Street, Exeter EX4 3PU, England
Tel 01392 384253 Fax 01392 384256



2 Responses to Devon

  1. pjxii says:

    Hello, I am looking for information regarding author James Muirden, who has written a number of my most beloved astronomy books, and was wondering if you can help me. I wanted to contact him to say thank you for all that he has done for the field of amateur astronomy. All I can find online is that he lives in Exeter, but this information may be long outdated. Thank you for your help!

    • Dear enquirer

      At the SHA we do not have any priveledged access to James Muirden if he does not wish to post on the internet. I will pass your request onto colleagues to see if anybody has any leads on this matter.

      All the best

      SHA Survey Co-ordinator

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