When Wimbledon Village Club was founded in 1858, its first secretary, civil servant Norman Lockyer, had just moved into his home at No 14 Hillside with his new wife, Winifred.

Another committee member suggested studying the stars as a hobby and he bought a 6-and-a-quarter in telescope to do so in his garden.

It was a significant move. Lockyer (1836-1920), who was born 176 years ago this week, would become one of the founders of modern astronomy and the man who discovered helium gas.

He would also establish what was to become the Science Museum and would found and edit the magazine Nature, still among the most influential of all scientific publications today.

For the next seven years while living in Hillside, Lockyer went to the British Museum every morning before 9am to study before starting work at the War Office. At the end of the day he would return home to read or observe the stars until the early hours.

In 1863 his first scientific paper on the planet Mars was published and he also wrote scientific articles for another magazine linked to the Village Club.

By 1865, when he and Winifred left Wimbledon to live in West Hampstead, continuing his astronomical studies from his new home, he was well on the way to stardom himself.

He started analyzing the sun’s light spectrum and saw electromagnetic spectroscopy as a means of determining the composition of astral bodies. His studies, together with those of French scientist Pierre Janssen, led to the discovery of an element hitherto unknown to science which he named helium after the Greek word for sun, helios.

In 1869 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and founded Nature in order to encourage the transmission of ideas between scientific disciplines. He continued as its editor until shortly before his death over 50 years later at the age of 84.

Lockyer was among the first people to recognise a link between solar activity and terrestrial weather and over many years also led eight expeditions as far away as India to observe solar eclipses.

In 1875 the Solar Physics Observatory was established in South Kensington and Lockyer became its director. Now a highly prolific writer of articles and books, he started a loan collection which later became the Science Museum.

In 1876 he left London to live at Salcombe Regis in Devon and it became his home for the rest of his life. In 1897 he received the ultimate recognition, becoming Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer.

Although still editing Nature, he retired in 1911 and established an observatory near his home which was renamed the Norman Lockyer Observatory after his death.

Today two craters on the moon and Mars are named Lockyer in honour of the one-time Wimbledon resident who helped change perceptions of the solar system.

The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.

For more information, visit wimbledonsociety.org.uk and www.wimbledonmuseum.org.uk.

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