Astronomy in Leicestershire title image


Education in astronomy in Leicestershire ranges from talks for a general audience to adult education and university level.

Popular Astronomy


Public lectures on astronomy have had audiences for at least 300 years: after having to leave Cambridge, in 1711 William Whiston moved to London and began teaching astronomy in order to make a living.

Leicester Directory, 1815 has attached An Epitome of A Course Of Lectures On Natural And Experimental Philosophy by John Banks, 1795. One is titled Of Astronomy. John Banks (c1740–1805) was best known for his public lectures published as A Treatise On Mills.

Page for Charles Popham, Melville and Cos Directory and Gazetteer of Leicestershire, 1854

In an 1854 directory, Charles Popham of King Street, Leicester is listed as a lecturer on astronomy. His wife, Georgiana is listed as a professor of dancing.

Entry for Charles Popham, Melville and Cos Directory and Gazetteer of Leicestershire, 1854

From: Melville & Co.'s Directory and Gazetteer of Leicestershire, 1854

Inkster, p121, says:

The really successful independents of the 1830s and 1840s were such men as John Fulton, the Messrs Keevil and Charles Popham who delivered very diluted courses of three to four lectures.

In 1841 Charles Popham was charging 6d (2½p) for a subscription to his lectures. (Inkster, 1997. p139)

Mechanics' Institute

A few of the talks at Leicester Mechanics' Institute (founded 1833, closed 1871) were on astronomy. However, finance was a recurring problem, and the number of lectures declined.

New Hall, site of the Mechanics Institute
New Hall, Wellington Street, used by Leicester Mechanics' Institute.

Dionysius Lardner (1793–1859) gave six talks on astronomy at the Mechanics' Institute in 1835, and twelve on mechanics. His fee for all eighteen talks was £140 12s 6d, payments received from those attending: £105 2s 6d. Lardner held the Chair of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College London from 1828-1831. (His lectures and writings popularised science and technology, but he was a colourful character - Charles Dickens called him "that prince of humbugs"!)

University of Leicester

Today the University of Leicester arranges talks which are free and open to the public. Speakers have included Stephen Hawking, astronaut Charlie Duke and Professor Sir Martin Rees.

Adult Education

Evening classes are currently held in Brockington College.


The University of Leicester has had a Space Research Group since 1960.

Astronomical Societies

Astronomical societies have a role in education.


Bloomsbury Project: Dionysius Lardner

Inkster, Ian, "Advocates and audience - aspects of popular astronomy in England, 1750- 1850", Journal of the British Astronomical Association, vol.92, no.3, 1982, pp119-123. Charles Popham is mentioned on p121

Inkster, Ian, Scientific Culture and Urbanisation in Industrialising Britain, 1997. p139

Lott, F. B., The Story of the Leicester Mechanics' Institute, 1833-1871, W. Thornley & Son, 1935.

Melville & Co.'s Directory and Gazetteer of Leicestershire, 1854, p49

The Monthly Magazine, Vol XIX, Part 1 for 1805. p516: Report of John Banks' death.

The register book of marriages belonging to the parish of St. George, Hanover square, in the county of Middlesex (1886)


Last updated 9th August, 2013.

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