Co-ordinator: Anthony Kinder Email:
Topographical Information etc.
‘Know this thy countie, Wiltshire, look up and thank God.’
(cited in Moonraker county: Wiltshire Guide by Lornie Leete-Hodge (1982) p. 9)
Wiltshire is a landlocked county in the south of England. It is one of the original counties which formed part of the kingdom of the West Saxons (Wessex). It’s name is derived from Wilton.
Bevis, John (1695-1771) born Old Sarum, nr. Salisbury who trained as a physician. He made his first telescopic observation of an occultation of one planet (Mercury) by another (Venus), on May 28, 1737, using a 24-foot focal length refractor, although clouds prevented him from being able to observe the complete event. In 1738 he erected a private observatory at Stoke Newington, there he commenced the project for which he is better known, the compilation of a star atlas Uranometria Brittanica (1750). Unfortunately the publishers went bankrupt, which prevented it from being better known. He was the author of 27 papers (mainly on astronomy) which appeared in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. He also invented a ‘satellite slide rule for predicting the eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites’. Elected FRS 1765 (see ODNB).
Drew, John (1809-1857), born Bower Chalk (see Hampshire; ODNB).
Hopper, Edwin George (1880-1967), born Gravesend, Kent and later worked at the Great Western Railworks, Swindon. Known to have constructed a 12-inch Newtonian reflecting telescope (see Meccano Magazine, 1934 (August), p.638)
Kinder, Anthony John (1953- ) Ashton under Lyne, nr Manchester, Lancashire
Although born in Lancashire, his mother was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, and from age of 2½ to 20 lived and was educated in Swindon. Educated at Pinehurst and Headlands Schools. It was while at Pinehurst Senior School that he developed an interest in astronomy, as part of an English class project, where each pupil took a subject and which had to be presented to the class for ten minutes at the end of term. This soon led to an interest in the history of astronomy (history already being his best subject). Borrowing a copy of Weigart and Zimmermann’s ABC of Astronomy sparked an interest in the biographical aspect of history and from then he started compiling a data base of biographies. At present (2008) this stands at over 5000 individuals (as to be expected the collection of this information fluctuated over the years due to various reasons, including career). In 1989 he commenced a 4 year part time course at Birkbeck College, University of London which led to an honours degree in history. In 1995 he commenced a two year part time course at Imperial College, University of London, leading to an MSc in the history of science.
Lenham, Alan Pennell (1930-1996), born Swindon, an experimental physicist who earlier worked with Dr Gerald Kuiper observing the planets at the Yerkes observatory. After retirement he become involved with the Mars and Saturn sections of the British Astronomical Association (‘Obit.’, JBAA, 107  (1997), p.50).
Elimer [Oliver] of Malmesbury (fl. 1066), a monk at Malmesbury who is known to have written on astrology (see White, Lynn (1961), ‘Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition’, Technology and Culture 2 (2): 97–111.
Steavenson, William Herbert (1894-1975), died Swindon (see County of London).
Story-Maskelyne, Melvyn Herbert Neville (1823-1911) born Basset Down House, nr. Wroughton, His mother was Margaret, daughter of Neville Maskelyne. Educated at Bruton Grammar School, Somerset and Wadham College, Oxford (BA 2nd class honours Mathematics 1845; MA 1849). After leaving Oxford, he studied law, but gave this up for science in 1847. In 1850 accepted an invitation to deliver lectures on mineralogy at Oxford, where lived and worked from 1851-1857. There he promoted natural science in the curriculum, and examiner in the new School of Natural Science in 1855 and 1856. Professor of Mineralogy in 1856 (resigned 1895), succeeding Buckland, being allocated a laboratory in the new museum (opened 1861). In 1857 appointed to the newly created post of Keeper of the Minerals at the British Museum (resigned 1881). There he reorganised and the collection according to Gustave Rose’s crystallochemical system. He maintained and developed the collection to become the largest in existence, adding 43,000 specimens. He published a catalogue of minerals at the museum in 1863. He had an interest in meteorites, and was to become one of the first to study them using thin sections with a microscope. He published his results of his researches, most important being on Parnallee, Nellore, Breitenbach, Manegaum, Busti, Shalka and Rowton meteorites. Asmanite, Oldhamite and Osbornite, constituents of meteoric stones, were first isolated and determined by him. He was the first to recognise the presence of enstatite in meteorites. He was an FRS (1870), FGS (1854; Wollaston Medal 1893). Also Honorary or Corresponding Member of Imperial Mineralogical Society of St. Petersburg; Society of Natural History of Boston; Royal Academy of Bavaria; Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Served as MP for the borough of Cricklade (1880), and was a member of the Wiltshire County Council (1889-1904). Buried in Purton, Wiltshire. Wrote “On the Mineral Constituents of Meteorites” Proc. of the R. S. of London 18 146-7, (1871) 19 266-268 (see ODNB).
Talbot,William Henry Fox (1800-1877), pioneer of photography with an interest in astronomy (see Dorset).
Froxfield Observatory, 1788-99
Rev. Lewis Evans, with an excellent 2″ Troughton transit (later the “Lee circle”. In 1799 he moved to Woolwich (See: Howse 1986).
Marlborough College Blackett Observatory.
A prehistoric stone monument at least 5000 years old. It is still very debatable as to what its original purpose was, claims from a temple to an observatory have been made.
Societies and Organisations
Starquest Astronomy Club (SAC), founded 2015. Members meet at Sutton Veny Village Hall, nr. Warminster.
Swindon Stargazers (SS), founded 2009. Members meet monthly (2nd Fri.) at Liddington Village Hall, Church Road, Liddington (SN4 0HB).
Warminster Astronomy Club () founded (?). Members meet at the Bell & Crown public House, Warminster – defunct (2018).
Wiltshire Astronomical Society (WiAS), founded 1995. Members meet monthly (1st Tues. Sept.-Jun.) at Pavilion Hall at Seend nr. Melksham (SN12 6N).
East Knoyle – birthplace of Wren.
Lacock Abbey – Birthplace of photography
From (Wiltshire Words: A Glossary of Words used in the County of Wiltshire compiled by G. E. Dartnell and Rev. E. H. Goddard, 1894, 1991)
Bloom – Of the Sun, to shine scorchingly; to throw out heat as a fire. ‘How the Sun do bloom out atween the clouds.’ (page 13)
Dick and his team – The name for the Great Bear (Ursa Major). ‘I know the North Star; there it is … and the Great Bear; the men call it Dick and his team.’ (Green Ferne Farm ch. vi) (pages 43, 490)
Dimmets – Dusk, twilight. (page 44)
Gravel Path – The Milky Way (page 69)
Jack and his team – Alternative name for The Great Bear (pages 85, 196, 499)
Messenger – A sunbeam reaching down to the horizon from behind a cloud is sometimes said to be the sun ‘sending out a messenger.’ (page 107)
Humourous West Countrie Tales (by Edward Slow, nd. 19th century)
“The Comick” (p. 96).
‘Wen Poll Down lived deary maid wie fiather, a girt big comet wur expected ta be zeed in tha heavens. We tould her about it, and axed her, if she zeed an vust, ta let ess knaw. Zoo one Zundy nite atter chirch, she com runnin in, ael out a breath,, a bawlin out, “Measter, tha comick, tha comick, I’ve a zeed un.” “What’s a zeed,” zed fiather, volleren on her ta that vront dooer, “Ther, look ee,” zays she, pwintin up ta tha sky, “There ee be,” an zure enuff, ther war tha comick, as Poll caal’d un, wie his girt long tail, blazin away a good un.’
(Wiltshire is not specifically identified as the origin of this, and could well be from one of the other west country counties.)
Myths and Legends
Moonraker County: Wiltshire Guide by Lornie Leete-Hodge (1982) p. 9.
One of the legends with an astronomical connection is that of the origin of the nickname of Moonraker to Wiltonians.
‘Some Wiltshire smugglers were carrying illicit brandy when they were surprised by the Excisemen. Quickly, they pushed the barrels into a pond and began raking with long rakes. Laughingly the Excisemen wanted to know what they were doing. “Raking up the cheese,” replied the Moonrakers, pointing to the Moon’s reflection in the water, and amused (and taken in) at their imagined stupidity, the Excisemen went their way, leaving the Moonrakers to fish out their brandy in peace.”
(At present I am engaged in identifying the members of the BAA from 1890 to the present. The following statistics etc. are provisional at present. It should also be noted that the county affiliation is taken from the county in which they were resident at the time of joining, not necessarily the county of birth (for many this was not) and of course many will have moved elsewhere subsequently.)
Of the nearly 500 foundation members of the BAA three were resident in Wiltshire.
From 1890 until as of now (19/07/2012) Wiltshire lies in 30th position of the statistical table with 222 members who were resident at the time of joining.
This section is intended to identify any references to astronomical subjects that appeared in the various papers of the county. By its very nature it will take a long time to complete.
Other Worlds than our Own: (Evening Advertiser, Swindon).
Series of articles written by G. E. Hobbs in 1920. These are at present being transcribed by myself and a copy will be deposited in the SHA archives.
County Record Office
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