The city of Bath was home to two pioneering eighteenth-century astronomers, William and Caroline Herschel. To celebrate World Space Week, we’ve put together our pick of five of the most astounding astronomical artefacts that you can find at Bath’s Herschel Museum of Astronomy…
1. Terrific Telescopes
William Herschel was described by Sir Patrick Moore as ‘the greatest telescope-maker of his day’. William built telescopes so expansive that one, which was a whopping 40 feet in size, was acclaimed as a ‘Wonder of the World’ and even made an appearance on Ordnance Survey maps. Although it has since been demolished, you can find a scale model of the telescope at the Herschel Museum, along with a full-sized replica of William’s seven-foot reflecting telescope, through which he discovered what we now know as the planet Uranus. William made the discovery from the back garden of what is now the Herschel Museum on the night of 13th March 1781, thereby doubling the size of the known universe.
2. Great Globes
The Herschel Museum houses a vast collection of globes and planetaria, which includes a lunar globe on loan from the Royal Astronomical Society and an exquisite pair of miniature Dudley Adams pocket globes. You’ll also find a Brass Drum Orrery from circa 1782, which works on a clockwork mechanism and shows how the planets move around the sun. Scientists such as Herschel used these as tools to help illustrate complex astronomical concepts to an audience.
3. Travel Tales
Providing a fascinating insight into his journey to Scotland and the north of England in the 1790s, be sure to take a look at William Herschel’s leather-bound travel diary, which includes several sketches of machinery and instruments he spotted in factories, foundries and workshops.
4. William’s Wonderful Workshop
Step into William Herschel’s workshop, where you’ll find many fascinating objects including a mould made of horse dung and plaster, which was used to make telescopic mirrors, and a replica of William’s mirror polishing machine, a mechanical device he invented to assist with the grinding and polishing of his telescopic mirrors.
5. Caroline’s Visitors’ Book
Although known as William’s astronomical assistant, Caroline Herschel gained a reputation in her own right by discovering eight comets. You can find Caroline’s vellum-bound visitors’ book at the Herschel Museum, which she compiled from the mid-1780s when she and William lived in Datchet near Windsor. The book lists over 100 names of people who came to Observatory House to look through William’s telescopes. You’ll find names of royalty, scientists, writers and politicians, including Lord Byron, Joseph Haydn and Fanny Burney.
Although the museum and shop remain closed due to COVID-19, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy's garden is open for pre-booked solar and stargazing sessions.