Herschel Museum of Astronomy

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Herschel Museum of Astronomy
Herschel Museum Bath 2005.jpg
Herschel Museum of Astronomy is located in Somerset
Herschel Museum of Astronomy
Location within Somerset and the United Kingdom
Established 1981[1]
Location New King Street, Bath
Coordinates 51°22′57″N 2°22′00″W / 51.3825°N 2.3667°W / 51.3825; -2.3667
Website herschelmuseum.org.uk

The Herschel Museum of Astronomy at 19 New King Street, Bath, is a museum that was inaugurated in 1981. It is located in a preserved town house that was formerly the home of William Herschel and Caroline Herschel.


The museum is situated in the former home of the Herschels at 19 New King Street (south side) in Bath, England. The building is a particularly well-preserved small town house of the period.[2] The modest town-house covers five floors, and includes two reception rooms on the ground and first floor.[3] The town house is part of a terrace that was built around 1764-1770. The building is constructed from Bath stone ashlar, with some coursed rubble at the rear, and slate Mansard roofs with pantiling on the internal slopes. The entrance is on the left-hand side of the building, which has three storeys, as well as an attic and basement, each of which have two sash windows.[2] The building represents a middle-grade Georgian town house, typical of the homes of artisans and tradesmen of the city of Bath (but contrasting with Bath's grand visitor houses)[3]

The Herschels moved into 19 New King Street in 1777,[2] at which point the builders would have still been present, and the road would have been unmetalled.[3] William discovered Uranus whilst residing in the house in March 1781 using a 7' telescope designed and built in the attached workshop.[2] William left Bath in 1782[2], but Caroline, along with their brother Alexander, remained at the house until 1784.[2]

The building has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II* listed building.[2] It was purchased by the museum trust in 1981 with the aid of Doctors Leslie and Elizabeth Hilliard.[3] The building was restored in 1981, and again in 2000,[1] using period detailed wallpaper based on fragments discovered in other Bath houses, and carpets based on 18th century designs.[3]

The museum was inaugurated in 1981, exactly 200 years after Herschel discovered Uranus. The museum is governed by the Herschel House Trust. Patrick Moore[1] and Brian May[4] have been patrons of the museum. The museum is curated by Debbie James.[4][2]

The museum offers audio tours. A virtual tour of the museum is available for mobility-impared visitors, and a book containing tactile images is available for blind or partially sighted visitors. A disabled parking space is located outside of the building. Replica objects in the museum, including a replica of Herschel's polishing machine, are designed to be handled.[5] The museum uses QR codes to provide translations of the display exhibit labels in 10 different languages,[6] and illustrated trails are available from the shop.[3]

Basement and garden[edit]

William's mirror-polisher at the Science Museum, London.

The basement contains a kitchen, parlour and workshop.[3]

The kitchen incorporates a Victorian cast iron range and a stone flag floor.[2] It contains a replica Georgian house based on the museum's building, which is fully furnished inside.[3]

William built a single-storey workshop at the rear of the basement, extending into the garden; he used the workshop to conduct experiments and to construct his lenses, and it still contains Herschel's treadle lathe.[2] The workshop, adjacent to the kitchen, was where William and Alexander made their telescopes. It contains a replica of William's machine for polishing lenses, the original of which is in the Science Museum, London.[7]

The Caroline Lucretia Gallery, named after Caroline Herschel, was added to the museum in 2011. The gallery was designed by Hetreed Ross Architects,[8] and is of a modern design, expanding the available space at the museum. It received a prize for building and design from the Bath and North East Somerset Building Control Department.[9] It is used for temporary exhibitions.[8]

The garden has been restored in the style of a formal Georgian town garden, with cypress trees and a quince arbour, as well as native medicinal and culinary plants that would have been grown in 1794. The garden also contains a sundial at the location where William may have placed his telescope; a sculpture of William and Caroline by Vivien Moudell; and a metal seedhead by Ruth Moillet representing Uranus's position in the solar system.[10]

Ground floor[edit]

At ground floor, the building has an entrance hall with a staircase, a small closet room that is used as a dining room, and a large south-facing room at the back of the house. Similar south-facing rooms are present at each level of the building. The dining room contains Herschel's dining table.[2]

A scale model of the 40-foot telescope, as well as an early photo of it that is framed in wood from the telescope, is on display at the museum.[11]

First floor[edit]

On the first floor, the Music Room occupies the closet room, and the south-facing room is the Drawing Room.[2]

The museum holds a small dress worn by Caroline when she was around 50. It is made from white muslin with a blue spot and dates from the last years of the 18th century.[12]

Upper floors[edit]

The upper floors provided bedrooms and servant quarters;[3] they have subsequently been converted into flats.[2]


  1. ^ a b c "Museums". Bath Preservation Trust. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Nos 18-19 New King Street". Images of England. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Herschel Museum of Astronomy". Herschel Museum. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Brian May to be patron of Herschel Museum of Astronomy in Bath". Bath Chronicle. 10 December 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  5. ^ "Access". Herschel Museum. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  6. ^ "News". Herschel Museum. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  7. ^ "The Workshop". Herschel Museum. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Herschel Museum of Astronomy in Bath gets new gallery". BBC News. 1 December 2011. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Garden". Herschel Museum. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  10. ^ "Telescopes". Herschel Museum. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  11. ^ "The Herschels". Herschel Museum. Retrieved 15 December 2014.