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


Dawes, Rev. William Rutter (1799-1868), See below for Cranbrook Observatory, and Wateringbury Observatory – see County of London.

Darwin, George Howard (1845-1912) son of the famous biologist, Charles Darwin was born at Downe July 9 1845 and was educated at Cambridge. He became Professor of Astronomy there in 1883, working mainly on tidal theory. Knighted in 1906 he died December 7, 1912.

Herschel, Sir John (1792–1871) lived at Collingwood House in Hawkhurst for thirty years prior to his death there (see Buckinghamshire; Kent).

Hussey, Revd. Thomas J. (1792-1854) – had an observatory at Hayes, Kent, which he sold in 1841 to the new Durham Observatory.

Lynden-Bell, Donald (1935- ), born Dover (see Cambridgeshire).

Main, Robert (1808-78) was born at Upnor, Kent. From Queen’s College, Cambridge, he graduated sixth wrangler in 1834, and took holy orders. Appointed Chief Assistant at the ROG 1835, served there for 25 years, then in 1860 became Radcliffe Observer in Oxford. (see ODNB; County of London; Oxfordshire)

Markwick, Ernest Elliott (1853-1925), born in East Acton, Kent, an original member of the BAA, President 1912-14, Director BAA Variable Star Section 1899-1909. FRAS 1879. On his 21st birthday 19 July 1874 his parents gave him a 2.3/4″(8cm) refractor which remained a favourite instrument, later mounted on a Wray equatorial mount and tripod. Observatories at Devonport 1898-1903; Boscombe, Hants, 1905-14, where he added an 8.5-inch (21.6cm) altazimuth Calver reflector and 4-inch Grubb equatorial refractor; lastly ‘The Beehive Observatory’ in 1919 at his retirement home in West Moors, Dorset, just north of Bournemouth, Hants, where a Romsey Observatory housed his Grubb refractor while he observed variables with the reflector. His first recorded variable star observation was 1883, and regularly from 1888 until 1924. He was also a regular solar observer. “A very distinguished astronomer”, his Calver is on view at the Auckland Observatory, New Zealand (see Shears 2012).

Nasmyth, James Hall (1808-90), born Edinburgh, built his business in Eccles, Lancashire, retired in 1856 to Penshurst, Kent, and established an observatory at his new home (see ODNB; Lancashire).

McClean, Frank (1837-1904), born Glasgow, educated at Cambridge, inherited money and built an observatory at Ferncliffe, 1875 (see ODNB).

Peek, Bertrand Meigh (1891 -1965), as a teacher who taught at Canterbury (see Warwickshire).

Wilding, Richard (1842-1930) [FRAS], born Preston, a Lancashire cotton producer with an interest in astronomy who to Bromley around 1900 (see Lancashire).


Chatham Observatory, 1841-?
Established by Captain (later Sir) William Denison, within the fortifications, for instructing Woolwich cadets as candidates for the Royal Engineers. He lent an azimuth instrument, and a transit. General Pasley ordered the addition of an 18″ repeating circle, and a 2¾” Jones equatorial. (see Main/Weale, 1851, p. 56).

Chatham Observatory (1841)
Established within the fortifications for instructing Woolwich cadets as candidates for the Royal Engineers. Captain (Sir William) Denison proposed adding a course of practical astronomy. He provided an altazimuth instrument and portable transit. General Pasley added an 18″ repeating circle, and a 2¾” Jones equatorial refractor.

Dawes’s  Observatory [1] (1844-50) at Camden Lodge, Cranbrook, established by William Rutter Dawes, with a 2¾-inch Simms transit circle, clock.  Having remarried in 1842 a lady with wealth, was able to leave Bishop’s Observatory and move to Cranbrook near his friend John Herschel at Hawkhurst. In 1846 he purchased a 6½-inch Merz refractor on a Dorpat type mount, to which clock drive was added.  With this instrument he discovered Saturn’s crepe ring (See: Howse 1986).

Dawes’s  Observatory [2] (1850-7), at Wateringbury Observatory, established by Revd. William Rutter Dawes.  Later he tried a 7½-inch Alvan Clark object glass (See: Howse 1986).

Mc Clean’s Observatory (1875), Fercliffe nr. Tunbridge Wells.  The country home of Frank McClean (1837-1904), a Cambridge wrangler who inherited wealth. He built an observatory to house a 15-inch reflector, and studied solar spectra and prominences. At his nearby Rusthall House in 1884 he built a laboratory and heliostat… from 1887 he was a regular contributor to MNRAS. In 1895 he installed a twin 10/12-inch Grubb photo-visual refractor, and became a pioneer of objective prism spectroscopy. A major benefactor of astronomy (MHS Oxford has photos).

Freeman’s Observatory (1888), Murston, Sittingbourne, established by Alexander Freeman (1838-1897), see Surrey page . An observatory with a 6-inch telescope. In 1891 he was appointed dean of Sittingbourne, and moved it there. From 1893 he was director of the Saturn section of the BAA, and by 1893 contributed twenty papers.

Hussey’s Observatory (1825-37), Hayes, established by Revd. Thomas J. Hussey with a 6½-inch Fraunhofer refractor, a small Simms transit, and clock by Hardy of London. Hussey used these instruments to create one of the star maps published by the Berlin Academy (See: Howse 1986).

Nasmyth’s Observatory (1856-90), Hammerfield, Penshurst, established by James Nasmyth (1808-90), who made his fortune making machine tools, and retired to Kent in 1856.

By 1845 he had constructed his now famed 20-inch‘comfortable’ reflector for which he had a seat at the focus he contrived through the trunnion, now known as the Nasmyth focus, and widely used for mounting the large ancillary instruments for giant reflectors. In 1851 he had won a prize at the Great Exhibition for a drawing of the Moon. Now he concentrated on many years of lunar observations. In 1874 with James Carpenter he published The Moon considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite. The illustrations were beautiful photographs of plaster models. In 1860 he was the first to discover ‘willow leaf’ patterns on the solar surface. A crater on the Moon is named after him.
Nasmyth’s 20-inch reflector is in the store of the Science Museum, London.

Snow’s Observatory (1834-54), Ashurst, established by R. Snow.  He purchased a magnificent Molyneux regulator clock new in 1834, determined the longitude of his observatory, and then compiled a catalogue of Right Ascensions of 125 stars
(See: Howse 1986).

Wilkins’s Observatory (1918-1960),  Bexleyheath, established by Hugh Percy Wilkins (1896-1960) who was born Carmarthen. He began observing in 1909. After service during World War I he settled in Kent. In 1918 he joined the BAA, became a selenographer, and Director of the Lunar Section 1946-56. From his garden in Bexleyheath he observed at first with 12½-inch reflector; later with a 15½-inch reflector. He also made observations using the telescopes at professional observatories in Europe and the United States.
He produced in 1924 a 60″ map of the Moon, which included new names for a number of features. In 1951 he published a revised 300″-diameter map of the Moon, considered by some as the culmination of the art of selenography prior to the space age. However his maps were dense with detail, some of which was fictitious, making them less useful.

Wollaston’s Observatory (c.1770-c.1820), Chiselhurst, established by Revd. Francis Wollaston, FRS (1731-1815). In his privately printed autobiography The Secret History of a Private Man, he explains that his pursuit of astronomy was intended to separate him at a “distance from the misrepresentations of narrow minded biggots”. He had a Peter Dollond refractor with a triplet object glass(See: Howse 1986).

Useful addresses
Local History Centre
Kent Libraries and Archives HQ
Royal Engineers Road
Maidstone ME14 2LH
Tel: 01622 671411
fax: 01622 696450

Societies and Organisations

Ashford Astronomical Society (AsAS), founded 2007.  Members (70-2016) meet first at Stanhope in Ashford but have now moved to Woodchurch Memorial Hall, Woodchurch, Ashford (TN26 3QB)

Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society (CMHAS)

Edenbridge and District Astronomers (EDA), founded 2010 to encourage astronomy, for both beginners and the more experienced.  Members (20-2016) meet at Lingfield Community Centre (RH7 6AB).

Mid-Kent Astronomical Society (MidKAS)

Orpington Astronomical Society (OrpAS)

South East Kent Astronomical Society (SEKAS)


3 Responses to Kent

  1. Robert Baird-Trotter says:

    Note on Cranbrook Observatory of Dawes.
    Dawes ordered a 6 Paris inch (6.3 English inch) refractor and mount in 1845 from Merz and Mahler. The telescope was delayed by Mahler’s death in 1845 and was not delivered until late 1846 by which time the firm was trading as Merz and Son. Dawes telescope was signed Merz und Sohn in Munchen.
    Bob Trotter
    Western Australia

  2. Bernard de Neumann says:

    Are you aware of the observatory that was in the grounds of the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich, the buildings of which are now used by the National Maritime Museum? The observatory was there for almost 100 years I believe, although I don’t know the finer detail. It is said that it was constructed in about 1840, and extended in 1864. It was demolished after 1933, after the school moved to its present site in Suffolk. In its final form it had three “domes” and housed, amongst other instruments, a Dollond 11′ achromatic refractor telescope that was given to the school by Henry Lawson. The observatory was situated in the south-east corner of what is the curtilage of the NMM, just east of the south end of the eastern wing; I.e. as close to the Greenwich Meridian as it could be placed on the school’s land.

    • I was not aware of the observatory at the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich, but it does not surprise me as there is long tradition of school observatories. I am happy to add it to our site, but I would be grateful if you could indicate the source of your knowledge as I would like to follow-up on this lead.

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