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Assistants at the Royal Observatory

Introduction
Professional Assistants
Women computers
Job for life
Cambridge men
Social life
Wartime
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Job for life

By the beginning of the 20th century a career at the Observatory was often considered, for men at least, a job for life.  Men would come in as computers or ordinary assistants and work their way up the civil service system often to become heads of department by the end of their careers.

Percival Lawrence Rickerby, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1924-1950s).

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Percival Lawrence Rickerby, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1924-1950s).
Percival Lawrence Rickerby began work at the Observatory as an assistant in 1924. He was promoted to Experimental Officer in 1948 and to Senior Experimental Officer in 1951. He worked under two Astronomers Royal, Frank Dyson and Harold Spencer Jones, and was based in the Magnetic and Meteorological Department. He is photographed using a magnetometer (an instrument for measuring the intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field).

George William Rickett, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1918-1955).

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George William Rickett, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1918-1955).
George William Rickett began work at the Royal Observatory as a temporary computer (a person employed to carry out routine calculations) in 1918. He was promoted to Junior Assistant in 1922 and later to Senior Experimental Officer, a post he retained until he retired in 1955. He was based in the Time Department. He is photographed here checking the chronometers, a role taken on by the Observatory in the 19th century.
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William Stevens, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1895-1939).

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William Stevens, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1895-1939).
William Stevens began work at the Observatory as a computer (a person employed to carry out routine calculations) in 1895. In 1912 he was promoted Junior Assistant, a post he held until he retired in 1939. He worked under three Astronomers Royal, William Henry Mahoney Christie, Frank Dyson and Harold Spencer Jones. He was based originally in the Time Department but transferred to the Magnetic and Meteorological Department in 1924. He is photographed here with a piece of magnetic apparatus (possibly a magnetometer).

Leonard Stanley Theodore Symms, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1913-1950s).

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Leonard Stanley Theodore Symms, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1913-1950s).
Leonard Stanley Theodore Symms began work at the Observatory as a computer (a person employed to carry out routine calculations) in 1913. In 1915 he left for military service in the Royal Field Artillery, 238th Brigade. He was promoted to Junior Assistant in 1921, to Senior Scientific Officer in 1948 and to Principal Scientific Officer in 1949. He worked under two Astronomers Royal, Frank Dyson and Harold Spencer Jones, and was based in the Time Department. He is shown with the Airy Transit Instrument, the telescope that defines and marks the Greenwich Meridian.
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George Frederick Samuel Wells, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1916-1960).

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George Frederick Samuel Wells, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1916-1960).
George Frederick Samuel Wells began work at the Observatory as a computer in 1916. He was promoted to Junior Assistant in 1924, to Experimental Officer in 1949 and finally to Senior Experimental Officer in 1952, a post he held until he retired in 1960. He worked under two Astronomers Royal, Frank Dyson and Harold Spencer Jones, and was based in the Magnetic and Meteorological Department. He is photographed here checking the thermometers.

Ernest George Martin, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1911-1957).

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Ernest George Martin, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1911-1957).
Ernest George Martin began work at the Observatory as a Computer in 1911. During the First World War he served in the Meteorological Section of the Royal Engineers. He was promoted to Junior Assistant in 1919, and to Senior Experimental Officer in 1948, a post he held until he retired in 1957. He worked under two Astronomers Royal, Frank Dyson and Harold Spencer Jones, and was based in the Solar Department. He is shown here using a spectroscope.
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Harold William Newton, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1910-1955).

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Harold William Newton, an employee of the Royal Observatory (1910-1955).
Harold William Newton began work at the Observatory as a temporary computer in 1910. He was promoted to Junior Assistant in 1913, and returned to the post after a short stint in the Meteorological Section of the Royal Engineers during the First World War. In 1948 he was promoted to Principal Scientific Officer, a post he held until he retired in 1955. He worked under two Astronomers Royal, Frank Dyson and Harold Spencer Jones, and was based in the Solar Department. He is photographed here with a telescope (possibly the Thompson 26-inch refractor).
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Introduction
Professional Assistants
Women computers
Job for life
Cambridge men
Social life
Wartime
*
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Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

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Find out more
StoriesGreenwich and the story of time
Find out why Greenwich is the home of Mean Time and the Prime Meridian
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Stories'The Centre of Time and Space'
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TrailMeridian Trail
Follow the Meridian Line trail through Greenwich Park.
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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