Dr Richard Bangay and his observatory

Forums History Dr Richard Bangay and his observatory

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    At 8 PM last night (Wednesday 4 November) Channel 4 showed episode 4 of “Restoring Britain’s Landmarks”, entitled “Telescopes, Stargazing and a Copper Mine”. Don’t worry if you missed it; it’s repeated at 7 PM this Sunday (November 8th)

    My TV guide summarised the contents as “John Evetts hunts for the perfect antique telescope, Anna Keay digs for story behind the mysterious Victorian star-gazer Dr Bangay. And there’s a refurb at a copper mine”

    https://twitter.com/dgs99/status/593472439809617920 is a tweet from David Strange showing Allan Chapman at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth, during the filming of the program.

    The observatory is at Belmont House, Lyme Regis, which was the home of Dr. Richard Bangay, a BAA member in the first half of the twentieth century (proposed 1905 June 28, elected 1905 July 18, died 1931).

    Caroline Kennett, the SHA county co-ordinator for Dorset, has asked me if anyone in the BAA knows any more about Dr Bangay. All we can find in the Journal on him are his nomination and election, and a list of books donated to the BAA by his daughter after Bangay’s death. Please contact me if you know anything about his BAA career.

    Mike Frost

    Historical Section Director

    David Strange

    Hello Mike, 

    Yes, we had fun helping out with that! Luckily, we had a lovely clear night at the NLO for the evening’s filming. Allan was on great form! I hadn’t realised until I saw the documentary that Dr. Bangay was a self educated rags-to-riches character, apparently starting out as a crow-scarer and plough boy! I have been trying to find out whether he communicated with Norman Lockyer, but the only reference I have found is from Barbara Slater’s book on “The Astronomer of Rousdon”. This is another remarkable story of a rags to riches astronomer – the life of Charles Grover. He started out as an apprentice in a brush-makers workshop, and got hooked on astronomy when he saw Donati’s comet. To cut a long story short, he ended up working for the wealthy Peeks (Peek-Frean biscuits) at Rousdoun as their resident astronomer. Now apparently, Richard Bangay was a regular visitor to Rousdon, and is mentioned in the book. He was also a keen geologist and involved with the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club. I may have some further information passed on by George Wilkins, which I shall try and find.


    David Strange
    More here:
    Bangay, Richard. Bpt 25th November 1834 – 24th Sept 1931

    Richard Bangay son of Ellis Bangay was born in Saxlington Norfolk. In 1862 he graduated as a MD from the University of St Andrews, and also became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons during the same year. These positions he would retain to his death at the age of 98. He married Agnes Dorrington in Cheadle, Cheshire in 1880, with whom he had 7 children. During his position as a MD and surgeon he moved across the British Isles numerous times But it is his time living at Belmont in Lyme Regis, Dorset where he focused on astronomical issues building and maintaining a observatory. Bangay bought Belmont in 1883 where he would live with his increasing personal family including many extended members and servants. Here he undertook numerous expansions and redevelopments of the building including building the large observatory which overlooks Lyme Regis itself. The observatory consists of a polygonal observatory tower which still has its winding gear, now restored. Bangay was foremost a Victorian gentleman and with that respect he had interests in many fields including natural history, geology as well as astronomy. He was involved with the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field club. In 1892 July he took the club to look at Sir Henry Peeks observatory at Rousden over the country boarder in Devon. As a friend of Sir Henry Peek he was a regular to Rousden and no doubt would have had access to observe the more professionally run observatory housed at the estate. By 1902 Bangay had moved to Finsbury Park, London. He was elected to the British Astronomical Association on the 18th June 1905. With the loss of his wife in 1907 he moved to Monmouthshire where he would spend the next twenty years. He died in 1931 in Buckinghamshire in relative poverty. His daughter presented his collection of astronomical books to the British Astronomical Association. Children of note were his son Raymond whom worked at the Marconi telegraph station on the Lizard in Cornwall and wrote books on telegraphy and telephony.  


    Thanks David,

    As a Lockyer afficionado (living close to his birthplace) I’d love to know if Bangay and Lockyer had any connections.


    Andy Wilson

    Hi Mike,

    I’ve just finished watching the program. Dr Bangay sounds like a man of real character, getting someone to teach him to read and write, and then raising the money for his own education to become an medical Dr! He must have been a man with real drive. It was a shame that he wasn’t able to travel to see the solar eclipse when he was 96, though I can understand his family’s concerns.

    Best wishes,


    David Strange

    Following lots of requests for further information about Richard Bangay,have now added pictures to the previous text:



    Carolyn Kennett

    Hi David 

    thankyou for adding the images.  He really does look like a traditional victorian gentleman in the pictures


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