Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), astronomer, was born in Rugby in 1836, the only son of a surgeon-apothecary, Joseph Hooley Lockyer. He was educated privately in England and he also studied languages on the Continent. At the age of twenty-one became a clerk in the War Office, and married Winifred James in the following year. He developed interests in astronomy and journalism, and in 1863 began to give scientific papers to the Royal Astronomical Society. He proceeded to push back the frontiers of spectroscopy and science, discovering the theoretical existence of helium (a chemical not then known on Earth), and was awarded a medal by the French Academy of Sciences in the same year for developing a new technique to observe solar prominences at times other than eclipses.
In 1869 Lockyer founded the journal Nature, which he edited until a few months before his death, and which remains to this day a major resource for international scientific knowledge. In 1870 he was appointed secretary to the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction, which over the next five years reported on scientific education and resulted in the government setting up a laboratory of solar physics at South Kensington. To further this work Lockyer was transferred from the War Office to the Science and Art Department at South Kensington in 1875. Here he organised an international exhibition of scientific apparatus, as well as establishing the loan collection which eventually formed the nucleus of the collections of the Science Museum.
Throughout this period, Lockyer continued to be active in astronomical observations and in spectroscopic studies in the laboratory of the College of Chemistry; he also wrote several books on astronomy and spectral analysis. Lockyer also studied the correlations between solar activity and weather, and developed interests in meteorology. In 1878 he was given charge of the solar-physics work then being carried out at South Kensington, being made Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory. Lockyer also became a lecturer in the Normal School Science in 1881, and became the first professor of astronomical physics in 1887, a post which he held until 1901. (In 1890 the School was renamed the Royal College of Science, which later became part of the Imperial College of Science and Technology). Lockyer continued his work as Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory until 1913 when the laboratory moved to Cambridge, with the original laboratory site being used in part in the building of the Science Museum. At that point, he moved to Devon with his wife where they had built a retirement home at Sidmouth. On the suggestion of Francis McLean, the son of the astronomer and philanthropist Frank McLean, Lockyer established a solar observatory at Sidmouth. This observatory was set up for astrophysical observations, and was called the Hill Observatory (renamed the Norman Lockyer Observatory in 1921), which is still in existence today. Lockyer died in Salcombe Regis, Devon, in August 1920.