SHA County Co-ordinator: John Chuter FRAS
No of SHA Members resident in this County (incl. Bristol): 3
Ashley, Mary (c.1843-1903), born Shirehampton, Gloucestershire. Lived at 19, New King Street, Bath, just along the road from Herschel’s house. She was an active observer of the Moon and Jupiter in particular during the 1870s and 1880s, using 3¼-inch and 4-inch Wray refractors. It is not known if she had an observatory. She was a member of the Selenographical Society and of the Liverpool A.S. in 1884 (see: Anthony Kinder, ‘Another Victorian lady astronomer’, JBAA, 108 (1998), p. 338).
Herschel, William (1738-1822), lived at 19, New King Street, Bath (1773-1782) – now Herschel Museum of Astronomy. It was from the garden of this modest terrace house that William discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, using a reflecting telescope that he had designed and made himself in the basement there. His discovery doubled the known size of the Solar System .
Born in Hanover, crossing to England at age 19 as a musician, Herschel taught himself to make the best telescopes of his day, and with them became perhaps the greatest observer of all time. He began observing in 1773,and used a 6.2″ aperture Newtonian of 7-foot focal length. The founder of modern stellar astronomy, he made innumerable discoveries of double stars, nebulae and clusters of stars. He found that many double stars orbit each other as binary systems, and he was the first to give a reasonable idea of the shape of the galaxy. He received many honours, including being appointed King’s Astronomer (not Royal Astronomer).
In 1782 he moved to Datchet, then in Buckinghamshire. There from 1782 to 1785, and afterwards at nearby Slough until 1802, Herschel assisted by his sister Caroline undertook a systematic “deep sky” survey of the northern skies. Excluding duplicated and “lost” entries, Herschel ultimately discovered over 2400 objects defined by him as nebulae. But divided in to eight categories. Caroline added 11, and his son John 1,754 objects, which whole John published as the General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters in 1864. This catalogue was later edited by John Dreyer, supplemented with discoveries by many other 19th century astronomers, and published in 1888 as the New General Catalogue (NGC) of over 7,840 deep sky objects. The NGC numbering is still the most commonly used identifying label for these celestial landmarks. This work is the lasting legacy of the three Herschels.
His sister Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was his constant assistant, and herself discovered eight comets and eleven nebulae. His only child John Herschel, born at Observatory House, Slough, extended William’s and his own survey to the southern skies, and brought the whole to completion. William Herschel was that rarest of combinations, an extremely able and enormously productive observer, who also had the intellectual curiosity and skills to hypothesise and to explain and derive the maximum interpretation of his data. Herschel’s many discoveries include two moons of Saturn, and two of Uranus. From studying the proper motion of stars, he was the first to realise that the solar system is moving through space, and he determined the approximate direction of that movement. He also studied the structure of the Milky Way and concluded that it was in the shape of a disk.
See: Berkshire, Datchet Observatory, Observatory House Slough, and John Herschel.
Jacob, William Stephen (1813-1862), born Woolavington who pursued a career in India. Using a 5-feet Dollond equatorial at Poonah, he produced a catalogue of 244 double stars, and made several discoveries. From 1848-59 he was director of the Madras Observatory, but his health suffered (see ODNB).
Jones, John Harvey (1859-1896), born Corsham nr. Bath, he took up an interest in astronomy after joining his father’s organ and musical instrument business in Bristol. An observer of the Moon and planets he was a founder member of the British Astronomical Association (see ‘Obit.’, MNRAS, 57 (1897), 213-4).
Lawson, Henry (1774-1855), born Greenwich, lived in Hereford, and then from 1841 in Bath where he established a splendid observatory (see Lawson Observatory below). He intended to give his entire valuable collection to Nottingham to establish a Midland Observatory for astronomy and meteorology, but although the money was raised by subscription, the committee challenged the value of the instruments, and the plan failed (‘Obit.’, MNRAS, 16 (Feb 8, 1856), 86-90; ODNB).
William Herschel’s Observatory (1776-82), established by William Herschel at NewKing Street Bath with portable instruments (see Howse 1986).
John Pond’s Observatory (c.1806-11), established by John Pond (1767-1836) at Westbury-sub-Mendip, equipped with an altazimuth instrument, ‘the Westbury Circle’ by Edward Troughton. Dismantled in 1811 when was appointed Astronomer Royal succeeding Nevil Maskelyne at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (Howse 1986).
Societies and Organisations
Wells and Mendip Astronomers (WMA), established 2013, to enable local astronomy and space enthusiasts to enjoy, share and develop their interests and skills. The group holds monthly meetings at Wells & Mendip Museum.
Local History Centre
Taunton TA2 7PU
Tel 01823 337600 (appointments),01823 278800
Fax 01823 325402