Shropshire

Astronomers

Blunt, Henry(d.1853) a chemist of Shrewsbury, presented two models of the lunar crater Eratosthenes to the Royal Astronomical Society, these are dated 1848 and 1849 and still exist in the RAS Library. Blunt, who died in 1853, also wrote a letter on 22 September 1835 to the Salopian Journal giving details of a Comet, probably Comet Halley (Hingley 2000).

Clive, Margaret [née Maskelyne](1735-1817), born London, sister of Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne,  was interested in astronomy like her brother. Margaret (1735-1817) the wife of Robert Clive ‘of India’ retired to Oakly Park in Shropshire after the death of her husband in 1774. She is said to have had an extensive collection of telescopes, globes and cats! (ODNB).

Laurie, Stephen (fl.1995), an amateur astronomer based in Church Stretton discovered a supernova in 1997.  has a Meade LX200 and discovered supernova 1997BQ in NGC3147 on 7 April 1997 (10). He also has discovered many minor planets and one, 7603 Salopia, discovered in 1995, is named in honour of Shropshire (11).

Pritchard, Charles (1808-1893), born Alderbury, but the family moved to Brixton, London. Educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. An established teacher with a great reputation, ordained in 1834, in that year he opened his only school in Clapham, packed it with scientific apparatus, added an observatory and a swimming pool, and presided there with great success until retirement in 1862. His lectures maintained his reputation. He had joined the RAS in 1849, served continuously on its Council 1856-77, and was President 1866. Through the influence of his RAS friends, in 1870 at the age of 62 he was appointed Savilian professor of Astronomy in the University of Oxford, the last cleric to be appointed to a chair of natural science there (see Oxfordshire; ODNB; Hutchins 2008).

Torporley, Nathaniel (1564-1632) born in Shropshire and went to school at Shrewsbury Free Grammar School before studying at Oxford. He was later ordained and was an associate of Thomas Harriot (an early telescopic observer of the Moon). Torporley was a Copernican and in 1602 published a book Diclides Coelometricae which he hoped to demonstrate improved methods for compiling astronomical tables. He also designed sundials and other astronomical instruments (ODNB).

Rees, Martin (1942- ) the current Astronomer Royal, was educated at Shrewsbury School. In 2005, when he entered the House of Lords, he took the title ‘Baron Rees of Ludlow’ (see Cambridgeshire).

Senex, John (c.1678-1740) was baptized at Ludlow on 24 November 1678, but his career was in London as a publisher and maker of maps and globes. He published Edmond Halley’s ‘A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets’ in 1705 (ODNB).

General astronomical observations

In the 19th century lecturers would tour the country with popular talks on astronomy, this is evidenced in Shropshire with a Lecture Bill for: ‘Mr Franklin on Astronomy’ 21 & 22 September 1835 (3) and with: Music Hall, Shrewsbury, ‘Illustrations on Astronomy, by Dr. Owens, March 1849. (4) also, Theatre Royal, Shewsbury 28 October 1850 ‘Astronomical Illustrations’ (5). Sadly, I have not been able to identify Mr Franklin or Dr. Owens.

It would be fascinating to know whose property was auctioned at this sale: Lion Hotel, Shrewsbury ‘Minerals Books Astronomical and Philosophical instruments curiosities etc. to be sold by auction by Messrs. Smith and Preece’ Friday 11 March 1853 (7).

On 20 April 1876 at 3.40 pm on a cloudy rainy day a meteorite fell on Shropshire at Rowton near Wellington. A rumbling noise was heard and then an explosion, an hour after Mr George Brooks found a still-warm Iron meteorite weighing 7 ¾ lbs in a hole 18inches deep. It was later presented to the British Museum (8).

In 1968 planning application was filed for an Observatory by R. Pugh, of High Trees, Bishop’s Castle (9).

The village of Knockin has a 25 metre radio telescope forming part of the MERLIN network. This robotic facility was installed in 1976.

(1) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online)
(2) IoA Library and Ludlow Library website.
(3) Shropshire Archives/Eyton Family/665/4/203
(4) Shropshire Archives/Eyton Family/665/3/855
(5) Shropshire Archives/Eyton Family/665/4/1109
(6) P. Hingley: ‘An unrecorded Shropshire model1er of the Moon’ Astronomy & Geophysics Vol. 41
(2000) p. 6.
(7) Shropshire Archives/Eyton Family/665/3/433
(8) Walter Flight : Phil. Trans. 173 (1882) p. 885
(9) Shropshire Archives DA31/710/155
(10) Hermes, newsletter of SAS May 1997.
(11) JPL Small-Body Database (online)
(12) BBC Shropshire website

By Mark Hurn

This paper was originally published in: Publications of the Astronomical Society of Lower Dinchope
Vol. 2 No. 1 (October 2009) pages 3-5.

Archaeo-Astronomy

Shropshire: the start of an archaeo-astronomical survey

Mark D. Hurn

As promised in an earlier issue of this journal (1) we will now look into the possibilities of pre-historic astronomy in Shropshire.

With pre-history we have no written record and we have to interpret remaining structures however we can. This mostly falls into the category of orientation, that is, the direction which structures point towards. Of directions the most important are the solstices and equinoxes. There is also the possibility of artistic depictions of astronomical bodies, or of calendars, but these tend to be extremely rare.

In this article we will look at stone circles, the circle being naturally an astronomical shape. Stone circles also lack any obvious practical use and so point us towards either ritual or astronomical purposes, or some combination of the two. The combination of astronomy and religion is not strange, think of the connections with the full moon, the equinox and Easter.

Stone circles are difficult to date but are associated with the bronze age 2500-800 BC, or possible earlier in the Neolithic. In his book on stone circles (2) Aubrey Burl lists five for Shropshire:

1. Hoarstones (3) SO324999 / 23.2×19.8 CA /S/ Chitty (1926); Lewis A.L. (1882); Grimes (1963) 127; Thom (1967) 65, D2/2 (Black Marsh).
2. Mitchell’s Fold (3) SO304983 / 28.4×25.9 CA /O,S? / Grimes (1963) 125; Thom (1967) D2/1
3. Druid Castle (4) SO305981 /?/?/ TSNHAS 16 (1931-2) 203
4. Pen-Y-Wern Hill (5) SO313788 / 27.4 / O/ Chitty (1963) 178
5. Shelve (4) SO335992 /?/?/ O.S. Southampton, SO 39 NW 13

Where (3) means ruined but recognisable, (4) means destroyed or unrecognisable, (5) uncertain status. CA is a flattened circle in Thom’s classification. O is outlying stone. S is central stone.

Of these, the last three are in a destroyed state and not suitable for taking alignments. Most probably there were once many more circles in the county. All those listed have suffered from vandalism and neglect. Druid Castle is located near Mitchell’s Fold and with the Hoarstones these can be viewed as a connected ritual landscape.

Hoarstones
A ring of 37 small stones with a central stone (3). They are also known as Black Marsh. Burl suggests an alignment of stones from the central stone on the ‘major southern setting of the moon’, he also notes that alignments on nearby hills have been found from this circle(4)

Mitchell’s Fold
This is the most impressive of stone circles in Shropshire, with 14 of a possible 30 stones remaining (3). The Wikipedia entry(5) claims the tallest stone, at the south-east end of the major axis is close to the line of the southern moonrise. This is the southernmost point of the horizon that the moon would rise at.

Where is Moonrise?
At the latitude of Britain over a 18.6 year lunar cycle, the full moon will rise at a point on the horizon from 124°(minor southern moon) to 148°(major southern moon), this is degrees in azimuth, so roughly in the south east(4). Critics might point out that this is quite a wide range and that it also includes the rising of the midwinter sun. Obviously, the rising of the full moon is a wonderful event, and one which our ancestors might have wished to commemorate in stone.

Other archaeological remains
It is possible that we might extend our survey for the further study of the archaeology of Shropshire may reveal astronomical evidence, such as the orientation of tombs, burials and early churches could have religious-astronomical significance? The orientation of hut entrances or field boundaries might have practical astronomical significance? There is not scope to go into these at present, but we might hope to examine these in the future.

References
(1) Pub. Ast. Soc. Low. Dinch. v.2, n.1 (2009) p.3.
(2) Aubrey Burl ‘The Stone Circles of the British Isles’ Yale Univ. Press (1976) p.347.
(3) http://www.shropshiretourism.co.uk/south-shropshire/mitchell_fold/ (accessed 14 July 2011)
(4) Aubrey Burl ‘Prehistoric astronomy and ritual’ 2nd. Ed. Shire Archaeology (2005) p.36-37.
(5) http://em.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitchells_Fold (accessed 13 July 2011)

This Paper was originally published in : Publications of the Astronomical Society of Lower Dinchope
Vol. 4 No. 1 (October 2011) pages 5-6.

Societies and Organisations

Shropshire Astronomical Society (ShrAS1), founded 1981 by a small group of enthusiasts that meet first at the College Hill House, then the Albert Hotel, both in Shrewsbury.  The group continued to the 1990s when the group was re-constituted (see ShrAS2 ).

Shropshire Astronomical Society (ShrAS2), is a county wide astronomy group  of about 130 members.  Observing meetings, supplemented by monthly talks (approx. 40 members),  take place at Rodington Village Hall, Rodington, Shrewsbury (SY4 4QX).  An annual lecture, given by an eminent speaker, is held at Meole Brace School Science College, Shrewsbury, one of several collaborations that aim to bring astronomy to a wider general public.  The society was re-constituted on 11 Nov. 1994, an amalgamation of two groups: the Shropshire Astronomical Society (1993), previously the Whittington Astronomical Society (1990) and Shrewsbury and District Astronomical Society (1993), which evolved from the original Shropshire Astronomical Society (1981).

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