Papers of Norman Lockyer (Royal Astronomical Society)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

As well as containing some materials regarding Lockyer himself (obituaries and memorials), the bulk of this collection is made up of papers concerning the administration of the Norman Lockyer Observatory. These are varied, but include legal documents, correspondence, annual reports, membership lists and staff records. See below for further details.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.

The Royal Astronomical Society has its origins in the foundation of the Astronomical Society of London (1820). A Royal Charter was signed by William IV in 1831, when the Society assumed its present name. This Charter outlined the Society's aims as 'the encouragement and promotion of astronomy'. It now occupies the position of the UK's leading body covering astrophysics, solid-earth geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics and planetary sciences. It is active in publishing, arranges regular meetings, awards grants for research and study, arranges educational activities, and runs a large Library and Archive which has been built up over many years. The Society has run lectures in honour of Sir Norman Lockyer since 1994. Since 1874, the Society has been based at Burlington House in Piccadilly, London.


This collection has been arranged into the following sections: 1 McLean Papers; 2. Records created before the move of the Observatory to Sidmouth; 3. Papers relating to the Hill Observatory (later the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth); 4. Records relating to instruments; 5. Miscellaneous papers

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply.


Listed by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 8 October 2003 and encoded into EAD 28 May 2004. Biographical details of Lockyer are taken from the Dictionary of National Biography.

Other Finding Aids

A list is available.

Conditions Governing Use

Restrictions apply for copying and for use in publication. Please refer to the Archivist.

Custodial History

Since May 1996, this Collection has been held on deposit from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Related Material

There are seven collections relating to Norman Lockyer and the Norman Lockyer Observatory at Exeter. 1. EUL MS 72, the papers of the observatory c1913-1989; 2. EUL MS 110, the correspondence and papers of Sir Norman Lockyer from the observatory; 3. EUL MS 114, papers on loan from the Royal Astronomical Society relating to Lockyer; 4. EUL MS 128, papers relating to the Norman Lockyer Observatory; 5. EUL MS 186, papers by Lockyer or relating to him from Sid Vale Heritage Centre; 6. EUL MS 236, letters to Sir Norman Lockyer; 7 EUL MS 246, Papers relating to the Norman Lockyer Observatory (University of Exeter). In addition the University is temporarily looking after papers (1991-) of the Norman Lockyer Observatory Society.

Other papers of Lockyer's are held at the following repositories: Royal Astronomical Society Library; Royal Geographic Society; Imperial College Archives; British Library and Cambridge University Library. Other papers relating to the Norman Lockyer Observatory are held at the University of Leicester (Special Collections).


Not known.