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

If you would like to adopt this county please contact me – see below

13-Inch Astrographic telescope, Herstmonceux


Blacklock, Arthur Woolsey (1840-1934) born in Brighton, he became a doctor after studying medicine at Aberdeen University , gaining his MD in 1872. By 1875 he had set up in practice in Gateshead, where he remained for several decades. Prior to this he lived in Manchester and whilst there joined and became a committee member of The Observing Astronomical Society. He was never a fellow of the RAS or a BAA member. He contributed correspondence to both the Astronomical Register and the English Mechanic. He owned and made several telescopes including a 5¾-inch Newtonian. For a more complete history see …  Blacklock by SHA member Bill Barton

Franks, William Sadler (1851-1935), assistant to Isaac Roberts at Crowborough Obs (see obit; H.H.Turner to Dyson, letter 27 Sept. 1915, Cambridge University Library, RGO 7, 243, RAS correspondence) and later F.J. Hanbury at his Brockhurst Estate (see below).

Hanbury, Frederick Jansen (1851-1938), millionaire associated with the pharmaceutical company Allen & Hanbury. He established an observatory with a 6 1/8-inch Cooke refractor at his extensive gardens at his Brockhurst Estate, East Grinstead (see below), where both W.S. Franks and Sir Patrick Moore were employed to operate the telescope (Mobberley 2013, 11-3).

Howell, Charles (1783-1867), a gentleman of independent means.  An observer of the plants and double stars he established a well-appointed observatory at Hove, Brighton (see Obit. MNRAS, 28, 2; 1861 OS Map).

Knott, George (1835-1894), established the Cuckfield Observatory, using a powerful refract tor on doubles, variables, and planets. The value of his meticulous observations were that they were continuous by one observer using the same instrument, doubles until 1873, and variables 1859-73 and 1875-93 (see obit, MNRAS, 55 (1895), 195-7).

Levin, Everard Arthur  [Major] (1872-1939), born Leicester and trained as an electrical engineer.  Enlisted in the army in 1899 and served in South Africa during the Boer War.  Through his interest in computational work he was involved in setting up of the Computing Section of the BAA (1920-1921), of which he was the second director. He retired in 1928 and moved to Selsey where most of his astronomical work was undertaken, partly with a 6-inch refractor – later given to the BAA. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1921 (see obit. MNRAS, 100, 253-4).

Noble, William [Capt.](1828-1904), established his observatory at Forest Lodge Maresfield, Uckfield, in 1857 and owned a 4.2-inch Ross refractor. He regularly observed occultations, sunspots, and reported on the Mercury transit of 1868. He co-operated closely with his neighbour M.C. Lesson-Prince who opened his own observatory in 1857 with a much more powerful 7-inch Tully refractor (see ODNBobit., MRAS, 65 (1905), 342-3).

Pether, Abraham (1756-1812), born Chichester, landscape painter of moonlight scenes in which the astronomical detail is always correct; he constructed telescopes. He died in Southampton, leaving his widow and nine children destitute (see ODNB).

Prince, Charles Leeson (1821-1899), born Uckfield who trained  and practised as a physician in the local area as his father before.  With an interest in astronomy and several other areas, he had an observatory erected at his home in Crowborough.  This housed his favourate instrument, a 6.8-inch refracting telescope by Tulley that was formerly owned byDr Pearson (Obit., MNRAS, 60 (1900), 321-3).

Knox-Shaw, Harold (1885-1970), born St Leonards-on-Sea. Trinity College, Cambridge, sixth wrangler 1907. In 1908 he became assistant at Helawan Observatory in Egypt. He returned as Radcliffe Observer, Oxford, in 1924, and, despite ill-considered opposition from the University at last managed to move the Observatory in 1935 to South Africa (see Obit., QJRAS, 12 (1971), 197-201; Oxfordshire.

Moore, Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell- [CBE FRS., Hon. Vice-Pres. SHA] (1923-2012), born in Pinner, Middlesex.  Patrick became interested in astronomy at the age of 6 and joined the BAA at age 11 and became director of the Hanbury Observatory in 1937 aged 14. He served as a navigator with the Royal Air Force (1942-45). In the 1950s while teaching at Langton Green in Surrey, he set up an observatory with a 12½-inch reflector, and made the Moon his speciality. In 1968 he discovered transient lunar phenomena.

Writer, broadcaster, astronomer, he has published nearly 100 books, and presented more than 700 editions of the Sky at Night since 1957, the longest running series on BBC. Apart from a brief period at Armagh, Northern Ireland he lived in Selsey for most of that time at ‘Farthings’. In 1968 he moved to Selsey, and the observatory operated continuously until 2012. He is credited with having done more than anyone else to raise the profile of astronomy among the British public. In 1982 asteroid 2802 Moore was named to honour him (see ODNB; Mobberley 2013Middlesex page.

Roberts, Isaac (1829-1904), established an observatory at Crowborough (see below), for earlier details (see Lancashire; Denbighshire)

Vallance, Philip (1803-1897), born Brighton, a timber merchant and the first person to write an astronomical article for the English Mechanic. Lived at Cobb Court, Storrington, Sussex, where he used a 12-inch reflector and a 6-inch refractor.

 Williams, Arthur Stanley (1861-1938), born in Brighton, was considered an unusually gifted observer of planets and variable stars, all made with a 6½-inch Calver reflector which had no clock drive. His very shy disposition led him to abandon his career as a solicitor apparently in about 1884 – and move to Mawes, Cornwall, where he became almost reclusive. He lived on a barge in the harbour, that in the winter was beached, and his observatory was a short way from the harbour. In 1936 he sought a more gentle night-time climate, and moved to Feoch, near Truro.

Williams was a founder member of the BAA, and of the RAS since 1884. Contemporaries ranked him with Dawes, Denning and Espin. But he also had methodological (using transit times for features, but without the use of a micrometer!) and analytical skills. Other distinguished observers had followed spots on Jupiter’s surface. But it was Williams who collected their results of two centuries, added his own, and established the existence and positions of a number of definite currents in the Jovian atmosphere, and demonstrated that despite some drift, they were permanent features. His method and results gave a great impetus to the BAA’s Jupiter section, and the current nomenclature of the belts and zones is generally his. Williams also observed Saturn, and Mars – but was not deluded by the claims of canals. He also made photometric observations of stars, made a visit in 1885-86 to Australia, and published A Catalogue of the Magnitudes of 1081 stars lying between -30° and the South Pole (London, 1898). Among these he discovered the first of a number of variable stars. He was the first British observer to apply photography to the search for variables, using a 4.4-inch portrait lens mounted on his equatorial. Williams recorded some 10,000 magnitude estimates of variable stars during an era when coverage was sparse (see: Obit, MNRAS, 99 4 (1939), 313-16).


Chambers’s Observatory, (1873), Eastbourne, established by George F. Chambers (1841-1915).  Born in Upton-on-Severn, Worcester, and became a barrister, author of astronomy books, a keen observer, and in 1893 a founder of the BAA. As a boy he frequently observed with his uncle Frederick Brodie (1823-96) who at his home in Eastborne had a 6.4-inch Merz refractor. At his home, Northfield Grange, Eastbourne, Chambers in 1873 built a Romsey-type observatory on top of a tower of his house. The dome rotated on three cannon balls. He had a 4-inch Cooke, and later a 6-inch Grubb refractors.

Hanbury’s Observatory (1905-39), Brockhurst, East Grinstead. Established by Frederick J. Hanbury who was very wealthy and set up an observatory with a 6⅛-inch Cooke refractor. He employed William Franks as observer, in part to host Hanbury’s many guests on visits to the observatory. During seven years Franks made micrometer observations of wide double stars (published 1914-20). When Franks died at the age of 85, Hanbury invited 14 year-old Patrick Moore to take charge of the Observatory. This he did until the outbreak of war, when the Observatory was dismantled.

Crowborough Observatory (1890-1904), Crowborough.  ‘Starfield’ Observatory, was established by Isaac Roberts (1829-1904) who when he retired from work and moved to Crowborough Hill, which had an elevation of 800 feet. He installed his new 20-inch Grubb photographic reflector of 1886 on a dual mounting devised by Huggins to carry a 7-inch Cooke as guide scope. In 1888 he replaced the Grubb mirror with one by Calver, and mounted a superb quality 5-inch Cooke camera. In 1890 he engaged William S. Franks as photographic assistant, and he took the thousands of negatives images – all in duplicate sets – from which Roberts worked tirelessly to select the finest images. Franks’s photographic skill was essential to the project. Roberts’s work gained him the RAS Gold medal in 1895.

In 1896 at the Vadso Eclipse, Roberts met the astronomer Dorothea Klumpke (1861-1942) of the Paris Observatory, and married her in 1901. After Roberts’s death she took charge of his plates and published two photographic atlases and a catalogue. However, they had closed the Crowborough Observatory and moved to London. Franks was left unemployed, and Professor H.H. Turner wrote to Frank Dyson: “Poor little Franks [Franks was a man of diminutive stature, but charm and energy] has had a hard time. Isaac Roberts used him of course, and left him stranded. He has struggled on one way or another … His pay is small and his means are suffering; he is selling his telescopes etc to get along – we have [at Oxford] brought one from him”. (HHT to Dyson, letter 27 Sept. 1915, RGO 7, 243, RAS corr. Cambridge Observatory Archive, Cambridge University Library). Roberts had a thorough understanding of engineering and chemistry, and was able to specify his instrumental requirements for his instruments, and devise experiments to prove his research. He was an early advocate of reflectors for photography, and proved the potential with his magnificent plates, while having the portrait lens used to amass the finest atlas. (W.S.F. [Franks], Observatory, 27, Aug. 1904, 300-03].

Cuckfield Observatory (1859-93), established by George Knott (1835-1895), first at ‘Woodcroft’ until 1873, then from 1875 at Knowles Lodge. Equipped with his newly purchased 7.3″ Alvan Clark object glass of 9.4-feet focal length on a Merz mount, acquired from W.R. Dawes. Upon Knott’s death it was purchased by Edward Turner Whitelow (see Lancashire page, Birkdale Observatory). Upon Whitelow’s death in 1932 the observatory and telescope were donated to Stonyhurst College Observatory.

Knott was a real ‘amateur’, a specialise in variable stars. He corresponded with Joseph Baxendell and Espin among other leading observers. His results were fewer, but important and specific additions to the earlier work of celebrated astronomers. His 34 years of observations were edited by Professor H.H. Turner at Oxford, and published by the RAS in 1899.

Noble’s Observatory, (1857) Uckfield, Sussex, established by Captain William Noble (1828-1904).  Born in London, borrowing a 2¾-inch Dollond telescopeat the age of 14 and applying it to the Moon and planets ignited his passion for astronomy. For a time until 1853 he owned the 6.8″ 12-foot refractor previously owned by Dr William Pearson, another founder of the RAS. After 1856 he purchased a new 4.2-inch Ross refractor of 5-feet focal length of ‘unsurpassed excellence, equatorially mounted, driven by clockwork, and equipped with micrometer’. He housed it in a wooden observatory with zinc-covered rotating dome. He also had a 2¾-inch Simms transit and a siderial clock. A very accurate and precise observer, he regularly observed occultations, including the Mercury transit of 1868, and made an excellent series of drawings of Jupiter. He observed in close co-operation with his neighbour Mr M.C. Lesson-Prince, who owned his own observatory also set up in 1857, but with a 7-inch Tully refractor (Andre, 1874, vol. I, p. 165). A popular member of the RAS, and continuously a Council member from1866-80, his pertinent witticisms in debates endeared him to some, but he could become controversial, and became an implacable opponent of Norman Lockyer’s Solar Physics Observatory and its benefit of a government grant. See: Observatory, 27, 347 (August 1904), 298-300. A generous mentor of young observers, he was selected to be first President of the BAA. The amusing obituary in the Observatory by H.P. Hollis, an appreciative colleague, is complemented by his own autobiographical note JBAA, 15, 6 (1904-5), 228-9.

Patrick Moore’s Observatory, (1968-2012) ‘Farthings’, Selsey, Sussex. The principal instrument is his 12½” reflector which he acquired in the 1950s, and moved to Selsey in 1968. He specialised in lunar and planetary observations. The observatory operated continuously until 2012, when Patrick announced that arthritis prevented him making further observations. The instruments have been his original 3-inch Broadhurst Clarkson brass refractor acquired in 1934; a 12.5-inch reflector acquired 1945 with a Henry Wildey mirror on a Ron Irving altazimuth mount; a 8.5-inch With-Browning reflector of 1908 in a Broadhurst Clarkson tube, acquired in 1953 from the RGO, and in 2006 given to Bruce Kingsley who restored it by 2008 for his Maidenhead Observatory, Berkshire; a 5-inch Cooke refractor on a Charles Frank equatorial mount, restored by Steve Collingwood; a 15-inch reflector, the mirror of unknown origin but re-figured by George Hole, on a Fullerscopes fork mount.

See: Middlesex, Moore, Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-, CBE FRS., Hon. Vice-Pres. SHA (1923-2012); and Wikipedia for a comprehensive biography celebrating his eccentricities.

Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO), Herstmonceux (1948-1990)

By World War II the ROG at Greenwich had been engulfed by urban pollution, and disturbance of the telescopes by underground trains. Harold Spencer Jones, tenth Astronomer Royal, supervised site surveys and then the move of the staff and instruments of the ROG from Greenwich to become the RGO in Herstmonceux Castle, south-west Sussex. Spencer Jones moved to the castle in 1948, but the scientific staff could not move until the completion of new observatory buildings in 1957. There the RGO was near the University of Sussex and could benefit from the very desirable collaboration with a university physics department. After long delays, the 100-inch Isaac Newton reflector was completed in 1967, but in 1979 it was transferred to the much better observing conditions of the new Northern Hemisphere Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

By the early 1980s the RGO had developed great expertise in telescope and observatory design, and made a great contribution to building the twin 8 metre Gemini telescopes on Mauna Kea and in Chile. Altogether the RGO employed some 230 staff. But as completion neared, the government wanted to cut the engineering staff and divert scarce resources to fund the astronomers and PhD students who would use them. By a decision that Patrick Moore castigated as “scientific vandalism”, the RGO was closed in 1990. The Observatories telescopes were left on site as the Observatory Science Centre, taken over by an educational charity Science Projects. A much reduced staff was moved to a new building adjacent to the Institute of Astronomy on the Cambridge Observatories site, and on 31stOctober 1998 that too was closed – truly the end of a 323 year long era of astronomy.

As stated above, we have what is now known as ……..

The Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux

Following the closure of the RGO in 1990, a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has allowed the buildings of the Equatorial Group to come back to life as The Observatory Science Centre, an innovative and exciting hands-on experience for “children of all ages”! This work has been undertaken under the aegis of Science Projects Limited, an educational charity devoted to the promotion of science and technology to the all. Three of the sixtelescopes abandoned when the site was closed in 1990 have been restored to working order and are used on public viewing evenings arranged during the year. Also on the Herstmonceux Castle estate is the Space Geodesy Facility, operating under the auspices of the National Environmental Research Council.

The principal attractions include the 13” Astrographic Refractor, acquired by the RGO at Greenwich for the Carte du Ciel project, the lens of which was later taken to Brazil to validate Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity in 1919; the Yapp 36-inch Reflector, used for stellar photography and spectroscopy and later as a test-bed for the Isaac Newton Telescope; and the Thompson 26-inch Refractor, still one of the largest working refractor telescopes in the world. This telescope was largely used as a powerful camera between 1897 and 1988 taking over 60,000 photographs of the night sky. The Thompson 30-inch Reflector (1896) was used in 1908 to discover the eighth moon of Jupiter and later, when at Herstmonceux, to collect the light from stars and beam this into a high resolution spectrograph to investigate the chemical composition of the stars. Two other domes at the Observatory contain telescopes which were not at Greenwich, the 38-inch Congo Schmidtand the 34-inch Hewitt Camera. The Congo Schmidt was originally destined for the Belgian Congo but civil war prevented its installation there, and after arrival at Herstmonceux was found to be unsuitable for astronomical research here. The Hewitt Camera was designed for tracking the Blue Streak missile, but when this project was cancelled the 2 cameras constructed for this purpose were used for satellite tracking, a function continued today by the Space Geodesy Facility.

Other notable artefacts housed at the Centre include an Aluminising Plant for recoating the telescope mirrors (still in occasional use); the original INT mirror – not taken to La Palma; and a 13-inch lens from the Oxford telescope which was used in West Africa to observe the eclipse central to the validation of Einstein’s New Theory of Relativity. One of the domes also houses an exhibition, ‘Domes of Discovery’ which traces the history of the Royal Observatory from its inception in 1675 .

Currently the Equatorial Group houses over 100 themed exhibits demonstrating a wide variety of scientific principles and discoveries. In early September each year, the Centre hosts an Astronomy Festival to raise funds for the essential maintenance of the telescopes. Over the course of the weekend, keen amateurs and families camp on the lawns in front of the building and enjoy a programme of lectures, trade stalls, activities and even occasional viewing! A variety of science workshops for children, adult evening courses and structured programmes for schools are also offered. The Centre is open to the public seven days a week from February to November, with Open Evenings arranged regularly during the longer evenings and private hire by special arrangement. Full details about the Centre can be found on the website

Societies and Organisations

Adur Astronomical Society (AdAS), founded 2008 in West Sussex to encourage astronomy, for both beginners and the more experienced.  The members (50) meet at the Southwick Christian Community Centre (BN42 4TY).

Worthing Astronomical Society (WortAS), founded 1965 in West Sussex originally as the Astro Circle, then Newtonian Observatory Astronomical Society (NOAS) in 1966, before adopting its current name in 1982. The members meet at the Highdown Room at the Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Worthing (BN11 4SD).  Since 1969 the club had access to an observatory that was located originally in the garden of founder member Graham Boot until it was moved to Windlesham House School in 2005.

Would you like to adopt this county?

Contact Kevin Johnson at or complete this APPLICATION FORM

Can you add names and places to this county?

Astronomers, Observatories and anything appertaining to the History of Astronomy.

You can use this FORM to submit your information. Many thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s