The Herschel family were musicians some of whom moved from Germany to become famous astronomers in Bath. William Herschel discovered the new planet now called Uranus, through a telescope in his back garden on the night of 13 March 1781. The Herschel Museum of Astronomy is situated at 19 New King Street, Bath where the discovery was made. It has many rooms within, all of which are interesting and educational.
Herschel Family History
Born originally in Hanover, Germany in 1738, Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel became one of Baths best known, adopted sons. His father was named Issak Herschel (1707 - 1767) and was employed as a regimental musician. His mother was Anna Isle Herschel whose maiden name was Moritzen.
Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel fled to England at the age of 19 with his older brother Jakob following the advice of his father. It is said that deserted from the Hanoverian Guards at this time, after the regiment's loss at the battle at Hastenbeck in 1757. He changed his name changed to William Herschel in the hope his name would sound more Anglican. Name changes like this were quite common for refugees, so they might integrate without prejudice.
His brother soon returned to Germany. Later his sister Caroline joined him in England in 1773. After briefly staying in Halifax to teach music they came to Bath. He was employed as an organist. Later he was promoted to Director of Music at the Octagon Chapel. This grade 2 listed building on Milsom Street, Bath was built in 1766 - 67 by Thomas Lightoler and still stands today. However, his musical abilities were eventually superseded by his newly found passions for telescopes and the stars.
The Discovery of Uranus
The garden at the back of the house is where William Herschal discovered Uranus on night of 13 March 1781. By all accounts he stumbled upon this new discovery while studying the phenomenon of double stars. Double stars being 2 stars that appear close together.
There are a number of remarkable things about this discovery. Firstly, he discovered a new planet. Secondly, he was the first person ever to discovered a planet with a telescope. Lastly he basically doubled the size of the known universe, as it was in those times. The museum was created to commemorate his amd his sister's life and achievements.
Herschel Museum DetailsThe Grade II listed house in which the museum is located was home to William Herschal and his sister Caroline. It was built somewhere between 1764 and 1770 according to Forsyth (2003). Its' address is 19 New King Street. It is a bit tucked away between Cumberland Row to the East and Little Stanhope Street to the West. However is is quite well signposted. So, finding it is not too much of a task.
Rooms in the MuseumThe rooms are decorated realistically, as they would have been in the Georgian period. As you enter there is a hall, stairs, a small dining room / closet with Herschal's actual table in. Rooms of note include;
- The small workshop where he build his telescopes.
- The Star Vault Astronomy Auditorium where short informative films are shown.
- The Drawing room where globes and other tools of astronomy are kept.
- The Music Room where he tutored his music students. Here you will see a collection of musical instruments that would have been played in England during Heschal's life.
- The Caroline Lucretia Gallery, a modern extension named after his sister used for changing exhibitions.
- The back garden. This has been restored to recreated where he actually discovered Uranus.
Acknowledgements for this article:
- Charton, S. for the original article (2004).
- No Author. Herschel Museum of Astronomy [Online]. Available at http://herschelmuseum.org.uk (Accessed 2009).
- Forsyth, M. (2003) Bath, New Haven & London, Yale University Press.