Miss Alice Grace Cook
"Sunlit", 56 Finborough Road
For The History of Astronomy in Suffolk
My grandmother, Mrs Lingwood, possessed a small telescope, which my mother told me she used frequently. It did not come to me, but her one astronomy book is in my possession. It is Mylne's, dated 1819, "An Elementary Treatise on Astronomy", a book containing a set of four maps of the constellations, which are of interest being one of the earliest sets which do not show the constellation figures.
My interest in astronomy was aroused in the Autumn of 1909, when I attended six Cambridge Extension Lectures in Stowmarket, delivered by the great grandson of Sir William Herschel, Mr J A Hardcastle, FRAS. The lectures were well attended. At the close of the first lecture, Mr Hardcastle made an appeal for students, which resulted in about ten of us coming to him for half an hour before the succeeding lectures and for half an hour the morning after in the house in which he was staying. His method of teaching was to encourage his students to make their own discoveries in the sky. He also advised us what books and star atlases would be required. When the time came to thank him and say goodbye, I spoke very regretfully, but was cheered by being told that Mr Hardcastle would not lose touch with his keen students. This indeed proved true; we corresponded until his passing, just as he was appointed Director of Armagh Observatory. He lent me a 6 in reflector on a garden stand, introduced me to the BAA and I helped him with diagrams for his students and did a long job of desk work for him during his search for clusters and nebulae on the Franklin Adams plates. For a finish to this I plotted all the finds on a star map, showing how they were situated in regard to the Milky Way.
In 1910, spring, we were searching for Halley's Comet. The first excitement was seeing a comet called Miner's comet, which was first seen in S. Africa. Halley's comet was a thrill, but very disappointing, as when seen its long tail was stretching behind the diffused head. It was thought to brush the earth, for observations in the west were accompanied by glimpses of portions of the tail seen in the east on three mornings (but not by me).
In 1911, I was elected a member of the BAA which meant visits to London to the meetings at Sion College, Blackfriars Bridge, getting to know friends, and borrowing library books and, besides that, help from the various Directors of Sections.
Mr Hardcastle advised me to apply for the use of a telescope.
In 1912, I had an observatory erected for the telescope loaned to me by the Association, and bequeathed to them by Capt. W Noble. The refractor was 4⅛ in aperture, by A Ross, and clock driven.
I cannot describe the happy times I spent in summer and winter alone, except sometimes for my puss, and on some evenings friends came; my visitors' book contains their names.
Reports of observations were sent in to the appropriate Directors of the Sections: mainly sunspots, the Moon, telescopic comets, and Saturn.
When not using the refractor, I spent time in the open, observing meteors, aurorae and zodiacal light, and the strange light clouds; solar and lunar haloes, and the Gegenschein.
For the meteoric work I was in close touch with Mr Denning, FRAS until his passing on June 9th 1931. His great friendship was an encouragement. I also had a greatly valued friend Mrs Fiammetta Wilson, FRAS. These two were meteor specialists - later I was joined on occasions by Mr J P M Prentice, FRAS and friends with Mr Ed Collinson and saw something of his earliest attempts at astro photography.
At the beginning of the 1914-18 war, the Rev. Martin Davidson went as Chaplain, and Mrs F Wilson and I became deputies of the Meteor Section of the BAA in his place as Director. At her death in July 1920 I was appointed the Meteor Director and held the post from 1920 till 1923, when it was taken over by Mr J P M Prentice, who still carries on extremely ably at the time of writing this. (Mr Fulcher has the history of Mrs Wilson's astronomical achievements, as she was a Suffolk astronomer.) In 1920 she was awarded the USA E C Pickering Fellowship for Women, a yearly grant to women astronomers, when for the first time the award was made to an Englishwoman, but sad for me and her friends and relatives, she did not live to receive it. It was then presented to me for distinction in observing. I used some of the money to obtain life membership of the BAA, to buy books, adjuncts to the telescope, and a Corona typewriter.
On Jan 14th 1916, Mrs Wilson, myself, and three other women were the first women to be elected Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society.
It was one of the high lights of my observing nights that on June 8th 1918 when I went out to search for slow moving bright meteors, almost at once I spotted a strange star, twinkling violently and changing colours rapidly. This was at 9.30pm and I was the first astronomer in England to make the earliest observation of Nova Aquilae. Mr Denning viewed the Nova A. at 10.00pm. In my Klein's Atlas I had written: "On June 8th 1918 first magnitude = Altair, 18 h 45 m + 1". (Greenwich gave 18 h 44.47 m + 29'24" = Vega, on June 9th as it brightened up.)
In 1920, our home at "The Rookery" was given up and the refractor sent back to London. Our next home was "The Grove", and there I carried on a little observing for meteors, using a 2 in Othway Refractor and, without much success, an instrument named a meteoroscope designed by the Rev. M Davidson, FRAS.
In Aug 1921, I became local correspondent of the Chaldaean Society, our branch had headquarters at the Ipswich Museum. We held meetings there and at Stowmarket. Father Cortie of Stonyhurst Observatory gave two public lectures in Ipswich. In 1944, the Chaldaean Society in London closed down, and our branch had to be given up.  Some of these library books have been presented to the newly formed Ipswich and District Astronomical Society. (Mr Fulcher has the minute book.)
For several years I contributed articles on astronomy to the "East Anglian Daily Times" newspaper, under the name of Mary Star, and also wrote letters to the EADT, requesting astronomical information, weekly articles for Stowmarket Recorder, with the heading "On the Watch Tower".
Until recently I have been a member of the Société d'Astronomie d'Anvers, receiving their publications.
In June 1950, I became a founder member of the Ipswich and District Astronomical Society. I am proud of the work being done by its members, and wish the Society many years of success.