Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920) was a distinguished scientist and astronomer, author and long-time editor of the influential journal 'Nature' - a man of great energy and with wide-ranging interests. He began his career as a clerk at the War Office, where he was promoted to head of the army regulation branch. He made observations of the moon's surface and of Mars from a telescope set up in his garden at Wimbledon and published his first scientific paper in 1863. As a result of his subsequent work on spectroscopy, he postulated the existence of a new element, helium; this discovery, for which he is usually jointly credited with P.J.C. Janssen, was later confirmed by William Ramsay's experiments in the 1890s. In 1875 Lockyer was seconded to the Science and Art Department at South Kensington, becoming director of the solar physics laboratory at the Royal College of Science in 1890.
The Hill Observatory, now the Norman Lockyer Observatory, was established by him in 1912, when he had reached retirement age, partly in reaction to the hotly-disputed decision to close the South Kensington observatory and move its work to Cambridge. Circular letters and private correspondence in the collection make it clear that the Hill Observatory was set up to reverse the widening gap between American and English resources in this field and to provide a 'National Observatory', funded by public subscriptions for the sole activity of pursuing observational and laboratory astrophysics from a site chosen for its atmospheric suitability - a facility which did not exist in England at that time. By 1913 an organizing committee and an advisory committee had been formed. Attending these meetings were Lockyer and his son, W.J.S. Lockyer, Lady Lockyer, W.N. McClean (later to become secretary of the organization), Crookes, Fowler, David Gill and others from the circle of friends, who had long been supporters of Lockyer's work. From this circle, contacts were to be made with persons of means and influence, in the hope of engaging their support and participation. In 1919, when the observatory was barely meeting expenses, a 'Research Committee' composed of leading astronomers was set up; its findings were used in a successful application for financial support to the 'Department of Scientific and Industrial Research' in 1921. When this grant came to an end, renewed efforts were put into developing an 'Endowment Fund', with increasing success during the period 1922-1926.