Mark the spot

A commemorative stone has been unveiled in Bath to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822).

The new stonework, in the garden of the Herschel Museum of Astronomy at 19 King Street, also marks the very spot where Herschel first glimpsed Uranus, allowing visitors to contemplate the moment, during a crisp March night in 1781, that William spotted the planet using a telescope he made himself.

The first new planet discovered since antiquity, Herschel’s discovery of Uranus doubled the size of the known solar system, brought Herschel widespread fame, and enabled the later discoveries that made him a key pioneer of modern astronomy.  

The stone has been hand-carved by a local artist Iain Cotton who also did the Cotswold Way stone outside Bath Abbey and recently restored John Wood’s ledger stone at Upper Swainswick. It will also serve as a telescope platform.

This is just one of several events and initiatives from Bath Preservation Trust to commemorate Herschel 200 – another highlight being a major exhibition focusing on the hugely-important achievements and contributions he made to our understanding of space. 

The exhibition, organised in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society and the Herschel family, also brings collections to Bath for the first time and reveals the family’s remarkable story through original artefacts. 

Herschel 200 explores William’s early life as a musician teaching and performing initially in Northern England, and from 1766 in Bath, where he also developed his interest in astronomy. Visitors will find out about his innovations and discoveries, his collaborations with his siblings, Caroline and Alexander, and the legacy he left behind.  Also, for the first time, the museum is working in partnership with Slough Museum, as William and Caroline moved to Observatory House in Slough, after William became the King’s Astronomer. Caroline later also received a salary as a professional astronomer.  An accompanying exhibition will be on display in the Slough Museum.

The Royal Astronomical Society has loaned William’s observing notebook, which includes his notes from the night (13 March 1781) when he first observed the planet Uranus, as well as a catalogue of stars recorded by Caroline. Also on display will be never-before exhibited letters from William to his brother Alexander, loaned from the Herschel family collection. A miniature portrait of William has also been very kindly loaned by the family and will be proudly on display in the museum as part of this special anniversary year.

The exhibition has been curated with the involvement of local students who had the opportunity to develop content and learn curatorial skills with the support of the Museum’s professional staff.

Claire Dixon, Director of Museums for Bath Preservation Trust says “The whole Herschel 200 project has been made possible thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and through the exhibition and our programme of wider activity we aim to inspire people not just with the family story, but their contemporary relevance to science and music today, encouraging young people in particular to participate. This aspect of our project is especially exciting as it enables us to work with a local artist-maker and support an independent creator based in Bath.”

There are many more additional activities and events to be enjoyed as part of the 200th anniversary commemorations, including planetarium shows and free workshops. 

For more information about Herschel 200 and the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, launch or for updates in other dimensions follow @HerschelMuseumofAstronomy on Facebook, @herschelmuseum on Twitter, @herschelmuseum on Instagram and Herschel Museum of Astronomy on Tripadvisor.

1 Comment

  1. Ralph Oswick – former Artistic Director at Bath’s Natural Theatre Company, sent me the following:
    I’m looking at your feature on William Herschel. He married Margaret Pitt (familiar name!) and their son was Sir John Herschel. My flatmate at Wimbledon School of Art in the 1960’s was David Herschel, a direct relative (great great (great?) grandson I think) of William Herschel.
    Dave was born in South Africa and had a lifetime pass to the Herschel Observatory. His mum was anti-apartheid and they had to leave South Africa sharpish along with their three-legged dog and went to live in Wales. Dave looks a little like William – if your picture is anything to go by. But the famous photograph of Sir John, which I think is in the Fox Talbot Museum, is the spitting image of Dave if he had reached a ripe old age. Unfortunately, he died a few years back, but the resemblance is AMAZING.
    Just thought I’d tell you that!

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