Category Archives: Announcements

The old University Observatory at Cambridge now houses the Library of the Institute of Astronomy - and the SHA Archive

SHA Archive Listing Updated

The old University Observatory at Cambridge now houses the Library of the Institute of Astronomy - and the SHA Archive

The old University Observatory at Cambridge now houses the Library of the Institute of Astronomy – and the SHA Archive

The latest listing of the SHA Archive, which is run by our Archivist Mark Hurn and stored under his care at the Institute of Astronomy Library, University of Cambridge, has now been uploaded to the Archive page of this website, where it can be downloaded in pdf form.

Also on the page you will find further details of the Archive.

Please see: SHA Archive page


SHA members study in the Sir Robert Ball Library, BMI

SHA Acting Librarian appointed and Library page updated

SHA members study in the Sir Robert Ball Library, BMI

SHA members study in the Sir Robert Ball Library, BMI

We would like to advise SHA members and others that, following the passing of our Chairman and Head Librarian Madeline Cox, FRAS (pictured at rear, above), in January, the Council of the SHA has appointed an Acting Librarian, Stuart Williams, to manage the SHA’s Sir Robert Ball Library at the Birmingham and Midland Institute.

Stuart was the founding Secretary of the SHA and later its Research Librarian (amongst other things). He has almost thirty years experience working in a borough archives and local studies library.

His first task is to undertake a Review of the Library Service, during which the lending service will be suspended.

Accordingly, the Library page on the SHA’s website has been revised and updated, please see:

If you have any enquiries about the Sir Robert Ball Library, please contact Stuart Williams by email to:

Dr Allan Chapman (picture by Stuart Williams)

Royal Astronomical Society honours SHA President

Dr Allan Chapman (picture by Stuart Williams)

Dr Allan Chapman (picture by Stuart Williams)

We are delighted to pass on the good news that the Royal Astronomical Society has honoured the Hon. President and co-founder of the Society for the History of Astronomy, Dr. Allan Chapman of Wadham College, University of Oxford, with one of its most prestigious awards – the Jackson-Gwilt Medal.

The Jackson-Gwilt Medal (courtesy RAS)

The Jackson-Gwilt Medal (courtesy RAS)

The Jackson-Gwilt Medal is awarded ‘…for single investigations of outstanding merit in either: the invention, improvement or development of astronomical instrumentation or techniques; achievement in observational astronomy; or in the history of astronomy’.

Dr Chapman is a renowned and highly popular historian of astronomy as well as being one of the greatest friends and supporters of the SHA.

As the Royal Astronomical Society rightly says in its press release:

“Through his extensive public lecturing, publications and television appearances he has brought astronomical history to new audiences. In doing so he has raised the profile of the history of astronomy and stimulated historical research.

“Dr Chapman’s book, The Victorian Amateur Astronomer: Independent Astronomical Research in Britain 1820-1920 is of particular note and is an essential resource for any researcher of nineteenth-century astronomy. The Victorian Amateur Astronomer identifies and honours the “grand amateurs”, a term he used to describe a group of people, seemingly unique to Britain, who made major discoveries from privately-funded observatories or who popularised astronomy among the masses.

“Allan Chapman’s in-depth research documents the work and achievements of the often self-educated assistant astronomers, many of whom were previously unknown and who did so much of the ground-work that led to published results. The era spanned by his book is of great importance to British astronomy and it puts into social context the foundation of both the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Astronomical Association.

“Dr Chapman’s work for this publication resulted in the foundation of the Society of the History of Astronomy, a society which seeks to understand the history of astronomy and the important contributions by lesser-known figures in history as well as those who are more famous.”

The foundation of the SHA came about directly as a result of conversations and correspondence between our Founding Secretary Stuart Williams and Dr. Chapman relating to the need for a local Survey of Astronomical History.

The Council of the SHA and its members send warmest congratulations to Dr. Chapman on receiving his well-deserved award.

For more information on the winners of the 2015 Royal Astronomical Society Awards, Medals and Prizes, click on the following link:

Madeline Cox with the SHA Library display at the SHA AGM, 2011

SHA Chairman Madeline Cox passes away

Madeline Cox with the SHA Library display at the SHA AGM, 2011

Madeline Cox with the SHA Library display at the SHA AGM, 2011

The Society for the History of Astronomy regrets that we have to announce the passing of our Chairman, Madeline Cox, FRAS, who died in her sleep last night.

The shocking and saddening news came to us from her partner and fellow SHA member, Les Jepson, who contacted the Society’s Treasurer, Roger Hutchins.

Madeline had been a little unwell with a bronchial chesty cough since before Christmas, and yesterday her doctor prescribed antibiotics. Her brother and and wife were staying with her and Les last night at her home in Mansfield, and this morning they found that she had passed away.

Mr Jepson will keep us advised of funeral arrangements via Roger Hutchins, and we will pass on any relevant information in due course.

Madeline was one of the very first supporters of the SHA when it was founded at Wadham College, Oxford, in 2002, and as a professional librarian herself, immediately accepted the position of SHA Librarian on the SHA Council, to which she was elected unanimously.

Working with other Councillors, she went on to set up the SHA Library, including the SHA’s first postal lending library, the Sir Patrick Moore Library, which is now part of the society’s Sir Robert Ball Library at the Birmingham & Midland Institute, the place where we meet every October for our Autumn Conference and AGM.

In later years she oversaw the growing SHA library service as Head Librarian and did a great deal to catalogue, document and promote its collections to members and beyond.

Madeline was a strong-minded, highly intelligent and enthusiastic member of Council, always with a sense of humour and a common sense approach, and when our second Chairman, the late Gilbert Satterthwaite, decided to stand down after years of service in 2010, she also took on the challenge of the Chairmanship, in which she proved herself equally capable.

By her enthusiasm and initiatives, and the pleasure she showed in meeting and dealing with members, she has provided splendid leadership.

The SHA Council plans to compile and publish a suitable obituary for Madeline, and any recollections, appreciation, and anecdotes of her will be most welcome; please email them to our Vice-Chairman or to Roger Hutchins

Any brief comments or tributes to Madeline are also welcome using the comments facility below – thank you.

The Council of the SHA

Sir Arnold Wolfendale, courtesy Jim Cornmell via Wikimedia Commons

New SHA Honorary Vice-President

Sir Arnold Wolfendale, courtesy Jim Cornmell via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Arnold Wolfendale, courtesy Jim Cornmell via Wikimedia Commons

We are delighted to announce that SHA member Prof. Sir Arnold Wolfendale, FRS, has accepted the post of Honorary Vice-President of the Society for the History of Astronomy.

Sir Arnold replaces the late Sir Patrick Moore (who was an Hon. Vice President and supporter of the SHA since the Society’s founding in 2002) and takes his place alongside our Honorary President, Dr Allan Chapman, and our other Honorary Vice-President, Dr Michael Hoskin.

Sir Arnold has had a distinguished career as an academic and astronomer and was the Astronomer Royal from 1991 to 1995.

He was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1977. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Physics at Durham University, where he taught for many years.

You may remember his splendid talk at our York conference last April, on the history of cosmic ray astronomy.

We welcome Sir Arnold in this new role and hope he will be able to represent us for many years to come.

Madeline Cox, FRAS

Chairman, SHA

SHA Library Catalogue update


SHA members and others will be interested to know that an update to the SHA Library Manual and Catalogue – for March 2014 – has been posted on the Library page of the SHA website.


The SHA’s Sir Robert Ball Library is located in the Benson Room at the Birmingham and Midland Institute (BMI), 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham, B3 3BS, England (see: for a location map etc). Located in Birmingham city centre, the BMI is within a 10 minute walk from Birmingham New Street and Snow Hill railway stations.

PLEASE NOTE: Access is by arrangement ONLY with Library staff and the Library is supervised by SHA volunteer staff. The Library is securely double locked and intruder-alarmed. Toilets are nearby, and there is a café on-site.

If you are a member of the SHA and you wish to consult or borrow any items, please arrange a visit in advance with the Head Librarian, James Dawson.     Email:


For general enquiries about the SHA Library Service and the Sir Robert Ball Library, please contact James Dawson.

SHA Council 2005 with Sir Patrck Moore in his study at 'Farthings'

Sir Patrick Moore, 1923-2012

SHA Council 2005 with Sir Patrck Moore in his study at 'Farthings'

SHA Council 2005 with Sir Patrck Moore in his study at ‘Farthings’

SHA members will have heard of the sad passing of Sir Patrick Moore, on December 9th. Patrick died after a brief spell in hospital. But not before he had recorded December’s ‘Sky at Night’, which was broadcast the week before his death.

Patrick’s commitment to astronomy was legendary. Many of us here in the UK, and around the world, were inspired by his love, his knowledge of, and his enthusiasm for his subject.

For many of us Patrick WAS astronomy, especially in the early years when there were few local societies around, and all our knowledge came from the ‘Sky at Night’ and from books borrowed from the local library.

Patrick was our Honorary Vice President and always took a close interest in what was going on in the Society. Members of Council visited his home several times, where he was a most generous host.

There have been many tributes to Patrick already, and there will be a full obituary in the next Bulletin.

Madeline Cox
Chairman, SHA

I well remember the first time I encountered Patrick Moore, long before he became ‘Sir’, ‘Dr’ or ‘FRS’.  It was during the late 1960s, when he was one of the most prominent English voices linked with media coverage of NASA’s Apollo manned lunar exploration programme, which enthralled me in my primary school days and later.

By then, Patrick’s name was well established as the face of British amateur astronomy.  It might even be said that without Patrick few members of the public would have had any idea that there was such a thing as amateur astronomy or that its practitioners were making important contributions to what we know today as “citizen science”.

I knew little enough about it myself at the time; my practical interest in astronomy was inspired, you see, by my passion for reading science fiction and by seeing and hearing Patrick on BBC TV and radio, especially in ‘The Sky At Night’.  A great highlight of those times for me was discovering Patrick’s now mighty legacy of books in my second home – the Bloxwich public library.

I wrote to Patrick in those early days and, always generous with his time, he invariably answered, with advice both practical and inspirational.  Over the years, I had occasional opportunities to meet him, and even helped him out of a jam when he spoke in Birmingham one time, but I could never have dreamed of actually working with him as a colleague.  That was before the existence of the Society for the History of Astronomy, which in a very real sense came about because Patrick inspired me to take up astronomy myself.

Patrick’s inspiration and my professional involvement in local history led me inexorably to a connection with another great friend and inspiration, the remarkable  Dr Allan Chapman.  Allan and I came together to set up the SHA in 2002 and, when our other late and much-missed friend Ken Goward joined forces with us, followed by so many others, it was clear that our choice of the Society’s honorary officers would lead me back full circle to Patrick.

So it was that Allan became our Hon. President,  Ken Goward suggested the eminent Dr Michael Hoskin as an Hon. Vice President on the academic side, and I proposed that we likewise invite Sir Patrick to represent both amateur astronomy and its history, as an essential part of the SHA’s raison d’etre.  The SHA’s new Council concurred unanimously.

Patrick, generous as ever with his time, his support, his friendship – and yes, his inspiration once again, worked with us and lent his support to us over the following years, and the rest is, quite literally, history.

As a Council and as a Society we have been personal witnesses to, and have participated in, the final decade of a man who has been the greatest inspirer of public interest in astronomy in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Most importantly, his legacy, his history and the memory of his friendship inspires us still, and always will.

Stuart Williams
Co-founder and General Secretary, SHA

This post was previously issued direct to SHA members and friends on our emailing list.