Peter Richards-Jones

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    I was contacted by email by Chris Richards-Jones whilst at the Winchester Weekend, in my capacity as Librarian for the Society for the History of Astronomy. His father, Peter Richards-Jones had passed away very recently and the family wanted to give his astronomy books to a good home, rather than send them to a charity shop. I’ve been today to pick up the books and have a car full of mostly popular astronomy books from the 1970s onwards, as well as 35mm slides, posters, and a range of 0.975 eyepieces. I spent about five hours sorting through the books and loading the car and chatting with Chris who was most hospitable and even made me lunch.

    Chris said his father had been the director of the Inner London Education Authority Planetarium at Wandsworth School, and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society involved in education, specifically O’Level Astronomy.

    Looking online it seems he published numerous papers on the topic of education and the use of the planetarium in both RAS and the BAA publications (and elsewhere), and in the late 1960s / 1970s was on BAA Council – I see he sat along Bill Leatherbarrow so I’ll message Bill separately. Peter must have been mingling with Colon Ronan, Dall, Beet, Hedley Robinson and all those great names. I wish I had the opportunity to meet him when he was alive and listen to his stories.

    Again, searching the BAA Journal, it seems he had instrument 37 at one time, a 12.5cm refractor by Zeiss which must have been a marvellous instrument. I wonder who has that now? He also had on loan a miniature spectroscope (instrument 15).

    Chris said he remembers his father spending time with Patrick, and indeed his father and mother were with Patrick for the 1973 eclipse on the Monte Umbe (photo below, PR-J far left). Chris tells me his mother sew up Partrick’s trousers after they split open, the story of which is recounted in Martin Mobberley’s book; I’ll also be contacting Martin. There are some photographs of Patrick in the collection of materials Chris has given me so I look forward to looking through these and sharing them.

    Chris showed me a photograph of his father holding some circular glass disks which contained rock from the Moon which had been returned to Earth by the Apollo missions. To be so close to lunar rock is amazing and I can’t imagine how thrilling that would have been. I’m going to ask Chris if he can read on the original photograph what number these disks have in the centre as I have now seen these were numbered lunar samples.

    There are some sketches of planets and photographs of the Moon in the material so again once I’ve had chance to look through this all, I will be contacting the relevant section directors and archivists.

    The last entry I can find about Peter Richards-Jones in the JBAA is in John Mason’s President’s Report of 1993 where John says “…We are also most grateful to Captain Peter Richards-Jones for all of his work as Secretary of the Education Committee on his retirement this Session after nearly 20 years in the post…” [JBAA 103, 5, 1993].

    I think it would be fitting if there was an obituary for Peter Richards-Jones, and I’ve told Chris I would write a piece for the Society of the History of Astronomy Bulletin about him to accompany the books which have been donated to the SHA Library, but I think it would also be fitting if something appeared in the JBAA. I’ll email around the people who likely knew him to see if there is a willing volunteer or more photos of stories about Peter.

    James Dawson


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