Category Archives: SHA Council

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

SHA Chairman Madeline Cox (right) at the unveiling

SHA Chairman unveils blue plaque

SHA Chairman Madeline Cox (right) at the unveiling

SHA Chairman Madeline Cox (right) at the unveiling

SHA Chairman Madeline Cox recently unveiled a blue plaque in honour of astronomer, meteorologist and botanist Edward J Lowe (1825-1900) at Shirenewton Hall in Monmouthshire. Lowe spent his working life in Nottingham, but retired to Shirenewton in 1880.

Children of the local primary school were among the guests, and some of them are pictured here. Also in the picture, on the left, is Lowe’s great-great-granddaughter, Lisa Backhouse, who had travelled from Winchester to attend the ceremony.

A fuller report will appear in the Bulletin.

From the SHA eNews Oct. 2014
BBC presenter Tim Wonnacott and SHA officer Kevin Kilburn display the Bevis Atlas

Historic celestial atlas to star on BBC

BBC presenter Tim Wonnacott and SHA officer Kevin Kilburn display the Bevis Atlas

BBC presenter Tim Wonnacott and SHA officer Kevin Kilburn display the Bevis Atlas

The Great Antiques Map of Britain is a new BBC TV series due to air on BBC2 towards the end of the year.

Presenter Tim Wonnacott embarks on a nationwide journey to discover the people, the places, the antiquities and collectables that tell the story of Great Britain.

Before he arrives, Tim throws down the challenge to the locals to bring him their precious family heirlooms and antiques for an expert opinion and appraisal.

When a visit to their city was announced, Manchester Astronomical Society (MAS) seized the opportunity to bring along their rare copy of the mid-18th century celestial atlas of John Bevis – also known as ‘Uranographia Britannica’.

This was discovered in the Godlee Observatory by members of MAS in 1997 and is held at Chetham’s Library. Less than 30 copies are known to exist worldwide. During the show, which will be broadcast sometime in October or November, an auctioneer valued the atlas at between £30,000-£35,000.

MAS will soon be publishing a new CD with high resolution digital images of the entire atlas. Watch out for purchasing details.

From the SHA eNews Oct. 2014
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 Council Meetings in 2014

Currently the following Council meetings are scheduled for 2014, though the dates and venues are subject to change:

  • Sat. 8 February, Godlee Observatory, Manchester.
  • Sat. 7 June, BMI, Birmingham.
  • Sat. 13 September, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge.
  • Sat. 22 November, Godlee Observatory, Manchester.

Provisionally these meetings will start at 1:30 pm. Council meetings are not open due to lack of space, but any member may attend by prior arrangement with the General Secretary.

Similarly, if you have any issue that you would like to raise with Council then please contact the General Secretary (see the Council page for contact details).

The late Gilbert Satterthwaite FRAS

Gilbert Satterthwaite (22 May 1934 – 20 July 2013)

The late Gilbert Satterthwaite FRAS

This announcement first appeared in the SHA eNews Oct. 2013.

As many members will already know the Society’s Vice-Chairman Gilbert Satterthwaite died suddenly at his home in Kent on 20 July. He was 79.

Gilbert made an enormous contribution to the SHA, as well as to the history of astronomy, and indeed, astronomy generally, over a very long and productive life. And he was a thoroughly nice chap to boot: a natural gentleman in the very best sense of the term. He will be greatly missed.

He served as Chairman of the Society from 2004 to 2011, a post he fulfilled with distinction. Whether chairing conferences or Council meetings he was always knowledgeable and well organised, but friendly and welcoming, too. He was held in great affection by us all and has been a very hard act to follow.

A full obituary will appear in issue 24 of the Bulletin.

Madeline Cox, Chairman

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.