1799 – 1888
William Lassell, who lived at Ray Lodge, was a distinguished amateur astronomer who discovered moons of Saturn and Neptune.
The son of a timber merchant, Lassell made his fortune as a brewer, but his passion in life was astronomy and he became one of the leading Victorian astronomers.
While still a boy, William built a seven and a half inch Gregorian reflector to view the universe. Later in life he designed a steam driven grinding machine which was manufactured by James Nasmyth, who also made the heavy iron pieces for his telescopes.
William’s discoveries include Triton – Neptune’s largest satellite, and in partnership with William Cranch Bond, Hyperion – a moon of Saturn. On a visit to Liverpool in 1836, William persuaded the borough council that an observatory would be a great asset to the town; this was built and opened in 1844.
He was awarded the Gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1948. He became so well known in the field of astronomy that Queen Victoria took an interest in his work and asked to meet him; this meeting took place in 1851.
In the 1860s, William looked around the country for a place to settle where he would have the clearest view of the skies. He chose Maidenhead and bought Ray Lodge, an estate by the river, where he built an observatory to continue his research.
Although William was a very wealthy man, he was a devout Congregationalist and very frugal in his ways. Many of his findings and observations, which have been preserved, were written on scraps of old paper, even brown paper saved from parcels.
William Lassell was elected president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1870 to 1872.
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