Papers of Norman Lockyer relating to the Hill Observatory/Norman Lockyer Observatory

Scope and Content

The collection consists primarily of materials relating to the establishment, growth and maintenance of the Hill Observatory (renamed the Norman Lockyer Observatory in c.1921) between 1912 and 1930.

It also includes some reprints, instrument design sketches, inventory and balance sheets and letters from the period 1880-1950. The material documents the daily activities of the various committees, the financial development of the observatory and the reactions of noted scientists to the project.

The collection is rich in personal and procedural information documenting the mechanics of this public appeal for the support of pure research.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.

Access Information

The Special Collections Reading Room is open Monday-Friday. Opening hours vary, for updates see our Archives Hub repository page.

Researchers are required to book an appointment before their visit, through or 0116 252 2056.

Acquisition Information

Purchased in 1976 from Robin Waterfield for £228.00 and received in May 1977.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed list of the contents (by D. De Vorkin, July 1976) in a separate folder.

Archivist's Note

Description prepared by Margaret Maclean on 28 January 2011.

Conditions Governing Use

Much of the material in the archive may remain in copyright. Copyright of Norman Lockyer's own papers is held by his estate. Copyright of the residual material, such as letters written to him and works by other authors, remains with individual authors. Photocopies of material can be supplied for private research purposes only. However, it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study. A copy of such written approval from the copyright holder must be received by Special Collections before reproductions can be made.

It is also the researcher's responsibility to obtain the relevant copyright holder's permission to publish or cite papers from the archive. A copy of such written approval from the copyright holder must be received Special Collections prior to publication. Special Collections will not be responsible for any failure on the part of authors and publishers to seek such permission to publish. Readers are required to sign a form accepting these conditions.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also:

- The Joseph Norman Lockyer Collection at Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

- Norman Lockyer Observatory Papers at University of Exeter Archives.