The Society would be delighted to hear from anyone with more information about this county’s links with astronomy. Can you add anything to the names of the people and places listed below? Please contact me if you have anything however small.

Email: Survey Officer


Barker, Robert [FRAS] (1873-1966), of ‘Brendon’, 168 Crossbrook Street, Cheshunt, Herts. Barker was a composer of church music, and by profession a music critic. An active observer since the early 1920s and until 1957, a mentor to several youngsters, he befriended Patrick Moore when he joined the BAA in 1934. Barker was founder in 1934 of “Mr Barker’s Circle”, an observing group of eight men active from April 1934 to December 1938 and May 1946 to May 1948. He owned the largest instrument of the group, a 32cm (12.6″) which he had brought direct from Calver. It was a very heavy instrument, resting on his lawn and covered by a tarpauline.  In 1934 the English Mechanic ceased publishing observations. Barker, a lunar observer, wrote to BAA members Leslie Ball (1911-92),  Ben Burrell (1903-1983), Robert Edward Diggles, Edward Frederick Emley (1917-1980), Hugh Simmons (1891-1962), Charles O. Smith (died 1949), and Henry Ewart Wooldridge (1913-2006), and started a group which compared observations. Each member issued illustrated circulars from time-to-time, passed alphabetically around the group for comment. In the 1930s there was much lunar work still to be done. They also observed and made drawings of Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and photos of the Sun. The group published a large number of good papers in the JBAA. For a definitive and well illustrated article (see McKim 2013).

‘Members of Barker’s Circle’

Leslie Ball (1911-1992) FRAS of ‘Auriga’, 27 Parkbrook Road, Northenden, Cheshire. A civil servant, he started with a 16cm Calver reflector, and later had a 25cm reflector which he built to mount a Slater mirror in 1935. His superb lunar drawings were much appreciated, and he did a lot of book illustrations. He continued observing until 1990.
Ben Burrell (1903-1983) of 93 Woodhouse Road, Doncaster, South Yorks. A railway porter who became a railway fitter, then photographer. He made his own glass slides, and coloured them skillfully for astronomical talks. He made parts for the others. He started with a 7.5cm refractor, and by the early 1930s used a 22cm reflector with mirror by With. At one time he owned a 16cm Calver reflector which had once been used by Arthur P. Norton to compile his famous star atlas. Later Burrell built a 25cm reflector. In November 1938 he took the first successful colour photos of a total lunar eclipse. He made wonderful drawings of Saturn. He served as President of the Leeds A.S.
Robert Edward Diggles, BSc.,FRAS, of ‘Colwyn’, Bucknall, Stoke on Trent. A school teacher, and calculator for the Circle’s observations, he used an 18cm refractor.
Edward Frederick Emley (1917-1980), of 18 Alderley Road, Low Fell, Gatesgead, Northumberland. A research and development metalurgist, he served as Librarian for the Circle. He used a 16cm With reflector.
W.E. ‘Bill’ Fox of 49 Milner Street, Newark, Notts., had a 75mm refractor, later a 15cm Browning reflector, and later still he borrowed a 25cm reflector from the BAA. Unemployed during the Depression, he was an engineer who during WWII worked on silent pumps for submarines. He went on to direct the BAA Jupiter section for more than 30 years, and became BAA President.
Hugh Simmons (1891-1962) of ‘Solaris’, Edlesborough, Dunstable, Beds. He worked at Whipsnade Zoo. He used a 10cm refractor for solar work, mostly drawing sunspots and prominences.
Henry Ewart Wooldridge (1913-2006) of ‘Lyndhurst’, Stoke Road, Aston Fields, Bromsgrove, Worcs. Like Ball he started with a 16cm reflector, but later had a 22cm and a 25cm reflector (photo, JBAA, 123, 2 (2013), p. 119). A foreman engineer, like Burrell, he made parts for the others. Wooldridge was a superb artist, and produced many coloured planetary and lunar drawings.
Charles O. Smith (died 1949) of Edinburgh, had a 16cm Newtonian reflector, but later obtained a 15cm Wray refractor housed in a run-off shed. After 1946 he published excellent papers on Jupiter.

Beaufoy, Mark (1764–1827), astronomer and physicist (for observatory see below and County County of London page; ODNB).

Blair, Archibald (1752–1815), naval surveyor and lieutenant in the Bombay Marine. After an active career in the Far East he retired to Bayford, Hertfordshire in 1800, pursuing his interest in astronomy by designing an observatory and telescopes.  Appointed director of  works for the Porthleven Harbour in 1814, he was resident at Treleven when he died in 1815 whilst survising the building of a new habour wall at Portleven (see CornwallWiki; SHA Bulletin, Issue 25, 46-9).

Lax, William (1761-1836), astronomer, was presented to the living of St Ippollitts, near Stevenage where he built an observatory (see ODNBCambridgeshire & Buckinghamshire).

Knott, George (1835-1895), born at Bohun Lodge, East Barnet. A specialist variable star observer – See, Cuckfield Observatory (Sussex page).

Parr, William Alfred (1865-1936), born in Hampstead, London.  Educated in both Britain & Germany and fluent in Italian, he followed a career in banking then re-trained to become a professional musician.  With a life-long interest in astronomy, he was involved with the British Astronomical Association, as honorary librarian and president (1932-4) and was elected fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1913.  Having retired to St Albans in 1927, he re-erected his observatory (originally at Hampstead, London) with a 4-inch Cooke refractor and 2-prism Evershed spectroscope – donated to St. Albans High School for girls (see obits. MNRAS, 59, 197 & Observatory,  97 (4), 279).

Seth Ward (1617–1689), born Buntingford 1617.  astronomer and bishop of Exeter and Salisbury (see ODNB).


Beaufoy’s Observatory, (1818-27), Bushey Heath, established by Colonel Mark Beaufoy (1764-1827), with a 3″ Cary transit, an altazimuth, and two clocks- The instruments were loaned by the Astronomical Society to Captain William Smyth (See Howse 1986).

Bayfordbury Observatory,  University of Hertfordshire’s  teaching observatory located in the relatively dark countryside of Bayfordbury, Hertfordshire, 6 miles from the main university campus in Hatfield. The first telescope was built in 1969, and since then has been used as a teaching observatory for undergraduate students, staff and student research as well as for public outreach activities (see website).

Societies and Organisations

Hertford Astronomy Group (HeAG), established from an evening class in 2009 who regularly meet at the Fairway Tavern, Penshanger Golf Complex (AL7 2ED )

Letchworth And District Astronomical Society (LDAS), established in 1985 and formerly known as the Stevenage & District Astronomical Society.  The group meets monthly at Letchworth Free Church Hall, Letchworth.

South West Hertfordshire Astronomical Society (SWHAS), founded in 1968 with the aims of promoting the science of astronomy and encouraging popular interest in the subject.  The group meet monthly in the Cadogan House Hallat the Royal Masonic School, Rickmansworth.


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