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
Baxendell, Joseph [Snr.](1815-1887), born at Bank Top, Manchester, later lived at the Observatory, Birkdale, Southport. Largely self-taught, he became a very competent mathematician. After years at sea, he came ashore and became an estate agent. His observing logs showed that he observed regularly throughout the period 1836 to 1888. First with his friend Robert Worthington of Crumpsall Old Hall, they erected the Crumpsall Observatory, where the speculae for the 13″ With reflector he cast, ground and polished himself. He observed there until 1877 with two reflectors and with smaller achromats available. In 1859 he was appointed Astronomer to the Manchester Corporation, his responsibility to give time to the city.
In 1865 Baxendell married Mary Anne, the sister of Norman Pogson, astronomer, and they had one son. They lived in Birkdale, Southport. In 1871 he was appointed Superintendent of a Meteorological Observatory built in Hesketh Park, Southport, given by John Fernley.
In 1877 Baxendell erected his own observatory at his home 14 Liverpool Road, Birkdale, and resumed his observations of variables with a 6″ Cooke refractor. This instrument, a transit, sidereal chronometer, were loaned by Thomas S. Bazley of Hatherop Castle, Fairford, Gloucestershire, who also paid for the removal and for the new Observatory. For some years he was assisted by his son Joseph. Baxendell’s observations of 23 long-period variables were published in 1912. Altogether he discovered 18 new variable stars, and observed many others with reflecting telescopes. Also a meteorologist of some renown, in 1884 he was elected FRS without having sought that honour.
After his death Joseph’s son (also Joseph Baxendell F.R.Met.Soc.) became Superintendent aged only 18 and remained in post until his retirement some 60 years later. Joseph was well known in meteorological circles and was a Vice-President of the Royal Meteorological Society.
After his father’s death Joseph Jnr. and the Baxendell family agreed to donate the Cooke observatory and Baxley telescope to the Southport Department of Education and placed it in the Hesketh Park Observatory where it is still in use to-day by school children and members of the public from time to time.
[As a result of an unfortunate refurbishment a year or so ago the observatory is not in use at present (2011). When operational it is managed by members of the Southport Astronomical Society]. Note by Michael Dow BA, 18 January 2012 on ‘Listed Buildings: Astronomy Observatory, Southport’ website (See: ‘The Late Joseph Baxendell’. Observatory, 10, 129 (Nov. 1887), 399-400; and ‘Joseph Baxendell’, MNRAS, 48, 4 (Feb. 1888), 157-160; Turner 1907; Wikipedia; ODNB).
Burgess, Eric (1920-2005), born Stockport he joined Manchester AS in 1935. He was involved in setting up several interplanetary and astronautical associations. He became a distinguished author and journalist, and a pioneer in the promotion of rocketry & space exploration. In 1952, he coined the term “interplanetary probe”. He created the idea of placing plaques on spacecraft for extra-terrestrial intelligent beings. This was done on Pioneer 10 in 1972, & Pioneer 11 in 1973.
In 1956 he emigrated to the US, where he gained citizenship in 1962. He remained there until his death in 2005. Among his many books are:
– “Rocket Propulsion, with an Introduction to the Idea of Interplanetary Travel”, 1952
– “Frontier to Space”, 1955
– “Satellites and Spaceflight”, 1957
– “Long-Range Ballistic Missiles”, 1961
– “To the Red Planet”, 1978
Carlisle, William (1842-1910), born London, astronomer and brother at Stoneyhurst College Observatory Augustin (see Udias 2003).
Copeland, Ralph (1837-1905), born near Wood Plumpton (see Midlothian).
Cortie, Aloysius Laurence (1859-1925), born in London, educated at Stonyhurst College and entered the Jesuit Order. He joined the teaching staff in 1885 and was from 1919 the Director of the Observatory (Obituary Notices: Fellows:- Cortie, Aloysius L, MNRAS, 86, 175-7; Wikipedia).
Dawes, Rev. William Rutter (1799-1868), born Christ’s Hospital, London – see County of London page. In 1831 took up an Independent ministry in the village of Ormskirk, 15 miles from Liverpool. His Observatory mounted a 3¾” Dollond on an Old English mount that bore powers of 225, 285 and 625. With this instrument he made very precise micrometrical measurements of 222 binary stars, and also observed the planets and occultations (ODNB).
Hartnup, John (1841-1892), was born in Somerset House, by the Thames, but his whole life was lived in Liverpool. In 1863 he became Assistant at the Liverpool Observatory shortly before it was moved from Waterloo Dock to Bidston, and there he followed his father as director. He was killed by falling from the roof of the Observatory while making some meteorological observations there (see Scoffield 2006) – see County of London page.
Hindle, John (1869-1942), born in Edenfield, Lancashire, he became an electrical engineer and textile machinery manufacturer. He was nominated for membership of the Manchester AS and later became vice-president. He built several substantial telescopes, both for his own use and those of other MAS members. On his numerous trips abroad he visited important observatories, especially in the US.
Holden, Moses (1777–1864), astronomer, was born at Bolton, Lancashire, on 21 Nov. 1777. As a youth he worked in a foundry at Preston, until disabled by an accident. On his recovery he occupied himself first as a landscape gardener, then as a weaver. Early in life he possessed a strong love of astronomy, and he collected a library that was remarkable for one in his station. In 1814–15 he constructed a large orrery and an ingenious magic-lantern. These were made for the purpose of illustrating his astronomical lectures, which were first given in the Theatre Royal, Preston, in 1815, and afterwards in many towns in the north of England. In 1818 he published ‘A small Celestial Atlas, or Maps of the Visible Heavens, in the Latitude of Britain,’ 3rd edit. 1834, 4th edit. 1840. It was one of the earliest works of the kind published at a low price. He also compiled an almanac, published in 1835 and later. In 1826 he devoted the proceeds of one of his lectures to the erection of a monument in St. Michael’s Church, Toxteth, Liverpool, to the memory of Jeremiah Horrocks the astronomer. He assisted in establishing the Preston Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge, and in 1834 the freedom of the borough was conferred on him. He died at Preston on 3 June 1864, aged 86 (ODNB).
Horrocks, Jeremiah (1610-41), born in Lower Lodge, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, was the only person to predict, and one of only two people to observe and record, the transit of Venus of 1639, which was the first transit of Venus to be predicted and observed.
He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1632-35, but did not graduate, perhaps for lack of means, more likely because he was a non-conformist. There he became familiar with the works of Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and other work. He was the first to demonstrate that the Moon moved in an elliptical path around the Earth, he wrote a treatise on Keplerian astronomy and began to explore mathematically the properties of the force that later became known as gravity. Isaac Newton in the Principia.
After leaving Cambridge he lived at Carr House, within the Bank Hall Estate, Bretherton, Much Hoole, where he was tutor to the children of the Stone family. After studying and criticizing astronomical tables, and making many observations of Venus over a number of years, Horrocks predicted the transit of Venus. From an upstairs window of Carr House on Sunday 23rd November 1639 (O.S.), Horrocks became the first astronomer to see a transit of Venus for about half an hour. The transit was also observed by his friend and correspondent, William Crabtree, from his home in Broughton, near Manchester.
Horrocks’ observations allowed him to make a well-informed guess as to the size of Venus (previously thought to be larger and closer to Earth), as well as to make an estimate of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. His figure of 59 million miles (0.63 AU) was far from the 93 million miles that it is known to be today, but it was a more accurate figure than any suggested up to that time. The observation was published by Hevelius in 1662. Horrocks died suddenly at the age of only 22. The Jeremiah Horrocks Institute for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, was established in 1993 at the University of Central Lancashire (ODNB).
Jeans, Sir James Hopwood (1877-1946), born Ormskirk, Lancashire. Educated Trinity College, Cambridge, second wrangler 1898, physicist, mathematician, cosmologist, author of many books on astronomy. He made fundamental contributions to the theories of radiation and stellar evolution, and with Hoyle and Gold proposed the Steady State theory of the universe (ODNB).
Lassell, William (1799-1880), born in Bolton, educated in Rochdale, a brewer with a love of engineering and planetary astronomy. In 1839 he built his own 9″ refractor in a cast iron tube, which he mounted beneath an observatory dome. He established his Starfield Observatory near Liverpool with a 24″Reflector for which he made the mirror, mounted on his own experimental equatorial mount. In Lassell moved further out of Liverpool to Bradstones. In 1855, he built a 48″ reflector, which he installed in Malta 1861-65 because of the better observing conditions compared to England, and made discoveries in Orion’s Trapezium cluster.
“It was William Lassell who first overcome the problems involved in figuring large mirrors by means of steam-powered machinery, for while it is true that Lord Rosse had steam-powered a mirror-making machine before Lassell, it was the Lassell-Nasmyth arrangement which formed a prototype. And without doubt, it was to be the Liverpool brewer who first solved the engineering problems that were inherent in mounting a large speculum metal mirror upon a smooth roller-bearing controlled, iron equatorial mount. The modern equatorial tracking of objects across the sky, with a large optical aperture, therefore, is very much a Lassell contribution”. (Allan Chapman, ;William Lassell and the discovery of Triton (1846)’, 1996).
Lassell demonstrated the quality and power of his own large reflectors by discovering in 1846 Triton, the largest moon of Neptune, in 1848 independently co-discovering Hyperion, a moon of Saturn, and in 1851 discovering Ariel and Umbriel, two moons of Uranus (ODNB).
Leadbetter, Charles (1681-1744), born in the village of Cronton, who briefly practised as a government excise officier in the West Midlands. A writer on astronomy and mathematics, his output included works on positional astronomy and the use slide rules and gauging for the purpose of excise calculations (ODNB).
Perry, Stephen Joseph (1833-1889), born London, but became a Jesuit priest and educator, always associated with Stonyhurst College from 1860, and as Director of its Observatory from 1868 (see below). His main contributions were in the fields of magnetism and solar physics. He took a leading part in two Transit of Venus expeditions, and four eclipse expeditions, and lost his life in the 1889 solar eclipse expedition to the Salut Isles. See; George Bishop, ‘Stephen Perry, Forgotten Jesuit Scientist and Educator’, Journal BAA, 89, 5 (1979), 473-84 (Wikipedia; ODNB).
Porthouse, William (1878-1964), born Burgh-by-Sands, Cumberland, who worked for the Manchester Cororation on sewage and river management. A populariser of astronomy he lectured widely and made broadcasts. An important member of the Manchester Astronomical Society, he was active observer using a 13-inch reflector once owned by N. E. Green (Obit., QJRAS, 6 (1965), 249-50).
Roberts, Isaac (1829-1904), born at Groes, near Denbigh, North Wales, but at the age of 6 moved with his family to Liverpool. He amassed a fortune from building and contracting. In 1879 at his home in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead he obtained a 7-inch Cooke refractor. In 1882 he moved to ‘Kennessee’, Maghull, seven miles from Liverpool and there in 1883 began photography. See Maghull Observatory (below), and Sussex, Crowborough Observatory (see Wikipedia; ODNB & Sussex).
Sidgreaves, Walter (1837-1919), born in Grimsargh, near Preston, of a family with strong Jesuit connections. Walter taught at Stonyhurst College before being ordained in 1871. He was director of the Observatory there from 1863 to 1868, and during that time established the meteorological equipment and work for the Board of Trade. He worked closely with Father Stephen Perry, accompanied him on several expeditions, and upon Perry’s death in 1889 succeeded him as Director. He concentrated on stellar spectroscopy, and photography, and gained international recognition and honours (Wikipedia; ODNB).
Weld, Alfred (1823-1890), born Ludworth, England, educated at Stoneyhurst College. Science teacher who studied theology in 1851 and became director of the Observatory (1856-60) at Stoney College (Udias 2003; List of Fellows and Associates deceased Weld, Alfred, MNRAS, 51 (1891), 198-9).
Whitelow, Edward Turner (1854-1932) was born at Elland, Yorkshire. He became a civil engineer in Manchester, was elected FRAS 1893,sometime President of the Manchester Astronomical Society, member Liverpool Astronomical Society, Council member of the North West Branch of the BAA. In 1894 Whitelow purchased from George Knott’s estate the Alvan Clark 7⅓-inch OG which upon a Mertz mount had belonged to W.R. Dawes at his Haddenham, Bucks, Observatory; see Whitelow’s Birkdale Observatory, below (see Obituary Notices: Fellows:- Whitelow, Edward Turner, MNRAS, 93 (1933), 232-3).
Wilding, Richard (1842-1930) [FRAS], born Preston, a Lancashire cotton producer with an interest in astronomy. A founder member of the British Astronomical Association he was a keen on astrophotography and in 1898 was the society’s section director for the new discipline. To photograph the sky he used a 19-inch reflector with a 6-inch refractor as guide telescope and a 5-inch lens. After 1900 he moved from Lancashire to Kent where he lived for the rest of his life (see Kent).
Whittaker, Edmund Taylor (1873-1956), born at 7 Virginia Street, Southport. Educated at Manchester Grammar School, then Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating second wrangler in 1895 (see Dublin).
Wolfendale, Sir Arnold W. [FRS] (1927- ) born Rugby, astronomer who graduated from manchester University (see Durham; Warwickshire; Wiki; ‘Profile: Prof. Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS’, A& G, 49 (2008), p.4.11).
Alston Observatory (1950s- ), Alston Lane, Longridge, near Preston, part of the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute for mathematics, Physics & Astronomy, UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire). The principal Historic instrument includes the Wilfred-Hall telescope, formerly at the Hepplewoodside Observatory, Northumberland. Donated to the Royal Astronomical Society by Dr Wilfred-Hall executors the telescope was transferred to Preston council (‘The Wilfred Hall Telescope’,Nat., 172 [Aug. 1, 1953], p.186).
Birkdale Observatory, Southport (active c.1910?-1932) In 1894 Edward Turner Whitelow (1854-1932), a leading Manchester astronomer, purchased the Alvan Clark 7⅓” object glass commissioned by W.R. Dawes in 1857, used at his Haddenham Observatory and then sold in 1859 to George Knott of the Cuxfield Observatory, Sussex, a leading double-star observer of his day. After his retirement in the first decade of the new century, Whitelow built his Observatory at Birkdale with a 14-foot diameter dome, and he also owned 5″ and 3.5″ Cooke refractors. He observed double stars from Burnham’s Catalogue, but encouraged by and in correspondence with Jules Janssen of the Meudon Observatory, he became a specialist in observing and photographing sunspots and active areas on the solar surface. Upon Whitelow’s death in 1932, his Observatory and valuable equipment was donated to Stonyhurst College Observatory.
The Godlee Observatory, Manchester (1903- )
Established for the Manchester Municipal Institute of Technology by the gift of Francis Godlee, the splendid observatory cost £10,000, and opened in 1904. It was located on top of the north-east wing of the Whitworth Street façade of the School of Technology. The principal instrument was/is a 8″ Grubb refractor and 10″ Newtonian with 6″ photographic doublet, mounted on a dual axis (per the Thompson Telescope for the ROG). Annual reports were issued 1905-29, but there was no significant astronomy after 1916, and the observations were principally meteorological. In 1926 the Curator died, and the Observatory was increasingly neglected until 1946. It has been wonderfully restored and is currently the home of the Manchester A.S.
Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory, Moor Park, Preston (1927- )
The Observatory in Moor Park was built by Preston Council and opened on June 29th 1927, the day of a total solar eclipse. The new observatory lay in the path of totality and some 30,000 people thronged on Moor Park to witness the event.
The main instrument in the observatory is an 8 inch Thomas Cooke refractor c.1867, originally acquired for the Deepdale Observatory in 1912.
The Observatory now belongs to the University of Central Lancashire, and is one of the 500 synoptic weather stations around the UK that forms the climatological network of the Met Office. It is home to the Preston & District A.S.
The Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory, Moor Park.
Lassell’s Starfield Observatory (1840-61)
Established by William Lassell at his home on the West derby Road, near Liverpool. His first telescope was a 9″ reflector he made himself, on a forked mount of his own design – which proved weak, but was the first equatorially mounted reflector in the world. He then built a 24″ reflector (1845) which he took to Malta in 1852-53, and a 48″ (1859) which he took to Malta in 1861-64.
Lassell’s peers knew that “The discovery of the satellite of Neptune, the final observations of Colla’s Comet, those of the satellites of Uranus, and of the interior satellite of Saturn, show that his personal skill and instrumental means place his Observatory at Starfield in the same line with the Imperial Observatory at Pulkovo, or the Harvard College Observatory. It must not be forgotten that Mr Lassell has to struggle with a very different atmosphere and somewhat delicate health; that the construction of the instrument is original, the large mirror the work of his own hands, aided by machinery of his own creation, and placed in a building of his own architecture; that he has had no assistance of any kind, and not much sympathy nor countenance, except from this Society”. (MNRAS, 8 , 88-89; Howse 1986).
Leighton Observatory (1994- ), established by the Liverpool Astronomical Society at Cronton, near Widnes at the Pex Hill visitor Centre to house a 16-inch reflector donated by Mr Reg. Platt. Renamed the Leighton Observatory it now house a 12-inch LX200 Meade SCT.
Liverpool Observatory (1844-1866), Waterloo Dock, Liverpool, established by the by the City Council and Dock Board with J.C. Hartnup (1806-85) appointed as first director. The observatory was moved in 1866 to the Wirral, Cheshire and renamed the Bidston Observatory (Scoffield 2006; Howse 1986).
Maghull Observatory (1882-1890), Liverpool. At his new home in 1883, Isaac Roberts began his photography, and with an 18-inch Grubb reflector (later presented to Dunsink Observatory) and 5″ and other portrait lenses. he achieved results on the M42 Orion nebula equivalent to Common’s with his 36-inch Calver mirror reflector.
In 1885 he took delivery from Grubb of a 20-inch Grubb photographic reflector made to his exacting specification on a mount designed by Huggins with the 7-inch Cooke as a finder scope. The instrument at first proved unsatisfactory, but to his great credit Howard Grubb put everything right. Roberts planned a chart of the sky with 15 minute exposures. In November 1886 a 3-hour exposure produced a superb photograph of the Pleiades Cluster, revealing is nebulosity. In December 1888 a four-hour exposure on the Andromeda Galaxy M31 revealed exquisite and previously unseen detail. These successes largely restored Grubb’s reputation after the debacle of the Great Melbourne Reflector.
In 1888 Roberts retired, and began using a Calver instead of the Grubb mirror. In 1890 he moved to Crowborough in Sussex.
Pex Hill Observatory (see Leighton Observatoy above)
Stonyhurst College Observatory (1838- ), established in 1838 with small instruments. In 1868 rebuilt and re-equipped with an 8″ Troughton & Simms refractor suitable for micrometer and spectroscopic work. In 1893 added the 15″ Perry Memorial refractor by Grubb. This is an important observatory with a considerable history. See Stephen Perry, above (Howse 1986).
Whitworth Park Observatory (1892) Manchester. A small meteorological observatory was given to Owen’s College (later Manchester University) by the Whitworth Trustees, for the use of the Physical Department, in 1897 endowed by the Trustees, and in 1905 moved to Whitworth Park near the MMIT building, and supervised by the Curator of the Godlee Observatory. In the 1920s undergraduates took the daily readings.
Separately, in about 1895 Sir Thomas Bazley gave his 10″ Cooke refractor, and in 1898 it was mounted on top of the Physical Institute in Coupland Street, together with a 3″ Cooke transit of 1866, and a small spectroscopic laboratory, to form the Physics Institute Observatory. The refractor was placed at the disposal of the North Western Branch of the BAA, but only limited use was made of it before the branch was dissolved in 1903, and the new Manchester A.S. used the Godlee Observatory.
Dawes’s Observatory, (1831-9), Ormskirk, Dawes established the observatory in 1830-1 with his 3.8-inch Dollond refractor (5-feet focal length). In the autumn of 1839 he moved to become Observing Assistant at the Regent’s Park Observatory (Howse 1986).
Societies and Organisations
The Astronomy Centre (AC), founded 1982 for the futherance of amateur astronomy and promote its interest in the general public in the NW of England. Built on the site of a former clay pipeworks the centre has a large selection of telescopes for use by members and visitors.
Bolton Astronomical Society (BoAS), founded (?), a local group of enthusiast who meet regularly (bi-monthly) at Ladybridge Community Centre (BL3 4RZ). A former astronomy group has meet in Bolton – associated with Bolton Field Naturalists society (1911).
Blackpool & District Astronomical Society (BlaDAS), founded 1986 who meet monthly at the Blackpool Cricket Club (FY3 9EQ).
Earby Astronomical Society (EarAS), founded (?). Members meet monthly (4th Fri.) at All Saints Church, Earby, Lancashire (BB18 6JL).
Euxton Astronomy (EA), founded (?). Members hold meetings at Euxton Memorial Club, Chorley (PR7 6JG).
Furness and South Lakeland Astronomical Society (FSLAS), founded by Eddie Dixon in 1973, originally as the Furness Astronomical Society. The members (25 – 2016) meet at Trinity Church, Barrow -in-Furness (LA14 5HT) with access to the society observatory at Newton-in-Furness.
Heaton Park Astronomy Group (HPAG), founded (?). Members meet at the Bwls Pavilion in Heaton Park, Prestwich, Manchester (M25 2GT).
Lancaster and Morecambe Astronomical Society (LMAS), founded in 1978 to provide a friendly forum for local amateur astronomers and people interested in astronomy. The members (50 – 2017) meet monthly (Sept.-June, first Wed.) at theChrurch of the Ascension meeting room, Torrisholme, Morecambe.
Liverpool Astronomical Society (LAS), founded Liverpool in 1881 to promote and further amateur astronomy. In 1893 the society acquired a 5-inch Cooke refracting telescope that used to be located in a observatory on the roof of the William Brown Library and Museum building in the Liverpool city centre. Today the Society has an Observatory – Leighton Observatory – at Pex Hill, Cronton, Merseyside, formerly known as Pex Hill Observatory and Visitors’ Centre (see History of Liverpool Astronomical Society-Booklet_1996_G_Gilligan).
Manchester Astronomical Society (ManAS), founded 1903, preceded by the NW Branch of the BAA, when the Godlee Observatory was established at the Manchester Municipal Institute of Technology. Members met weekly at the Godlee Observatory (M13 9PL) and monthly for lectures at the John Dalton Building, Manchester Metropolitan University, Oxford Road (M1 5GE).
Preston and District Astronomical Society (MSAS), founded 1982 as an offshoot of the Preston Scientific Society to encourage astronomy, for both beginners and the more experienced. The members (30 – 2016) meet at St Andrew’s Parish Hall in Ashton-on-Ribble near Preston – formerly at the Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory, Moor Park, Preston.
Salford Astronomical Society (SalfAS), founded before 1971 (?) the group hold monthly lecture (University of Salford) and observatory meetings. The Salford observatory houses an 18-inch reflecting telescope, built by the members in 1971, which was first housed at Jodrell Bank, but is now located at Chaseley Fields, Salford (M6 7DZ).
Southport Astronomical Society (SouthpAs), founded 1927 from the Southport Scientific Society. The new group took possession of the Blaxendell Observatory with its 6-inch Cooke refracting telescope at Hesketh Park, a gift to the Scientific Society from Joseph Blaxendell (Jr). Regular meetings are held at both Hesketh Park and Scarisbrick bowling club.
West Didsbury Astronomical Society (WeDAS), founded 2001 (?), formed to bring people together who have an interest in Astronomy. Regular monthly meeting (2nd Mon.) are held at William Hulme’s Grammar School, Spring Bridge Road, Manchester, (M16 8PR).
Wythenshawe Park Stargazers Club (WPSC) founded 2012 (?) – inactive website, defunct? Meetings were held at Horticultural Centre, Wythenshawe Park, Wythenshawe Road, Manchester.