The Heritage Lottery Fund is helping commemorate the bicentenary of the death of Bath-based astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822), with an award of £64,000 which Bath Preservation Trust will be investing into a year-long programme of events throughout 2022.
The Herschel Museum of Astronomy is located in the very home where William and his sister Caroline, lived, worked and made several important discoveries during the late 1700s. Indeed, it was in the garden of 19 New King Street in 1781 that William Herschel became the first person ever to see the planet Uranus.
“Our project celebrates William Herschel who died on 25 August 1822, and by commemorating the 200th anniversary of his death we aim to better connect visitors to the Museum with his story, encourage inspiration, learning and enjoyment of astronomy” explains Claire Dixon, Director of Museums for Bath Preservation Trust, which runs the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.
Throughout 2022 a diverse range of activities and events can be enjoyed by children, teenagers and adults alike, with many free to access including new planetarium shows created in partnership with the University of Bath and Percy Community Centre for disadvantaged families in Bath. Free craft workshops will enable families to visit the museum and develop creative responses of their choosing to objects in the museum, along with the discoveries and life stories of William and Caroline Herschel.
A new exhibition, organised in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society and the Herschel family will bring collections to Bath for the first time and reveal the family’s remarkable story through original artifacts. The exhibition is also engaging local students who will have the opportunity to develop content and learn curatorial skills with the support of the Museum’s professional staff.
The Herschel Museum of Astronomy is also working with British artist, Lynda Baird. She is creating a lightbox installation that will provide a creative response to the Herschel achievements and in return, encourage art-lovers to visit the Museum.
Although famed for his association with Bath, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy is working with volunteers from the Herschel Society to research locations throughout the UK that have connections with William Herschel. The data will be used to create a new downloadable map that highlights these places and enables interested audiences to travel across the UK to find out more.
Bath Preservation Trust is also creating a series of new trails around the Museum itself, which will make its collections even more accessible for everyone. Members of the public will be invited to vote for their favourite objects that will then feature in the trails.
As William first discovered Uranus in the garden of his home, a commemorative stone will be laid there to not only mark the anniversary of his passing but also serve as a telescope platform. This provides a legacy and marks the very spot where he first glimpsed the distant planet. It is incredible to think that during a crisp March night in 1781 using a homemade telescope, William spotted a planet that at its closest to earth is 1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers) away, and at its furthest a staggering 1.98 billion miles (3.2 billion km).
Other events will involve the expertise of Bath Astronomers and courtesy of a new partnership with Slough Museum, a series of additional performances, exhibitions and participatory activity to engage communities in the Berkshire town with the story of William Herschel.
Announcing the NLHF funding award, Claire Dixon went on to say: “The Herschel Museum of Astronomy sits within the World Heritage City of Bath and is an important contributor to the cultural offer, which draws millions of tourists to the city and is a critical contributor to the city’s economy. There is significant interest in the 200th anniversary of William Herschel’s death, with programmes of activity planned that include many local, regional and national partners.”
She adds: “Communities in both Bath and Slough support this project because their local connections to the man who discovered the planet Uranus creates a sense of civic pride. This programme will encourage residents to celebrate where they live and share what makes it special. This will have a long-lasting legacy beyond 2022.”
For more information about Herschel 200 and the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, launch herschelmuseum.org.uk or for updates in other dimensions follow @HerschelMuseumofAstronomy on Facebook, @herschelmuseum on Twitter, @herscehlmuseum on Instagram and Herschel Museum of Astronomy on Tripadvisor.