Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)

Home Events

Biographical Notes on John Philip Manning Prentice (1903-81)

Key Biographical Information

Key biographical information is taken from Prentice's obituary [1] in JBAA and other references as noted.

Full name: John Philip Manning Prentice.

Born: Stowmarket, 14 March 1903.

Married: Elizabeth Mason Harwood, June 1937.

Died: Stowmarket, 06 October 1981. He was survived by his wife, four children and eight grandchildren.


Education: St Felix School, Thurlestone, Ipswich and then Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk. He attended Gresham's from September 1915 until summer 1921. Gresham's register for the Xmas term, 1915 and for a later date, noting Prentice's leaving.


War Service

Prentice served on the "home front" as an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden in his home town of Stowmarket while continuing his legal duties [4]. On Friday 31 January 1941, a lone enemy aircraft was spotted over the town in broad daylight. It strafed a large area of the town with machine-gun fire and dropped bombs on the High Street, completely destroying the nineteenth century Congregational chapel [5] where Prentice worshipped. After the War, the chapel was rebuilt and, in 1954, Prentice was appointed Church Secretary [6].


Astronomy Section Of Natural History Society At Gresham's School

Issues of Gresham's School magazine, The Gresham, contain information on the school's Natural History Society [9]. Prentice was a member of the Astronomy Section of the society and continued to collaborate with the Section on meteor observations after he left Greshams. The Section was affiliated to the British Astronomical Association.

Other pupils at the school who were active in the Astronomy Section were as follows. (Dates listed are birth, death and attendance at Gresham's.)

Extracts from The Gresham concerning Prentice are below.

The Gresham, June 1919, vol. 8, no. 5, pp.96-97.


The Gresham, June 1920, vol. 8, no. 11, p.210.


The Gresham, October 1920, vol. 9, no. 1, p.16.


The Gresham, December 1920, vol. 9, no. 2, p.36.


The Gresham, February 1921, vol. 9, no. 3, p.53.


The Gresham, April 1921, vol. 9, no. 4, p.72.


The Gresham, December 1923, vol. 10, no. 8, p.134.

Extracts from annual reports of the Natural History Society concerning Prentice and his collaborators are available here. The material has been re-keyed from page scans of the original.

Observing History

Meteor Observing

Prentice observed meteors to determine the radiant (the point in the sky where they appear to originate) and the orbit of the particles and their parent objects within the Solar System. He appears to have been inspired to take up the work by contact with Alice Grace Cook (1887-1958) who lived in the same town.

Nova Herculis 1934 (DQ Herculis), discovered 4.30am on 13 December 1934

The peak of Geminid activity occurs 11-13 December annually. For the 1934 apparition, Prentice observed at Battisford on 12 December from 5.30pm to 7.30pm but saw only one meteor due to interference from strong moonlight. He recommenced observing at 9.10pm, with the Moon set, and noted many meteors. Cloud moved in from the south at 11.30pm halting observation. By 1.30am the sky had cleared and he started observing again. At 4.30am he felt the onset of fatigue, causing him to miss observations of meteors. He took a break by going for a stroll and immediately saw "something very definitely wrong with the constellation Draco". A nova had appeared near Iota Herculis. A careful estimate of its brightness showed it to be equal to the faintest star in the Plough (i.e. magnitude 3.4). He straight away rushed to his office in Stowmarket where, a little before 5.00am, he used the telephone to alert the Greenwich Observatory to his discovery; astronomers there confirmed the discovery before daybreak by securing two spectra of the nova using the 36" aperture Yapp reflecting telescope. Prentice then went to Temple Road, Stowmarket to continue observing from 5.10am until dawn at 6.20am. In total, he recorded 90 meteors in 8½ hours observing. Later that day, the BBC contacted him for an interview, but he had to decline; the BBC's second choice was the Astronomer Royal. The nova's brightness peaked nine days later on 22 December at magnitude 1.5 [10].

Prentice collaborated with G E D Alcock (1913-2001) in Peterborough (and others) in making meteor observations. If two or more observers stationed at widely separated locations recorded a meteor, it was possible to calculate its path through the Earth's atmosphere [11].

Cessation of Observing Work

Following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, war surplus material became available to the public. Bernard Lovell (1913-2012) made much use of surplus optical and electronic equipment in his early work on radio astronomy (which led ultimately to the construction of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope). Prentice, however, regarded himself primarily as a visual meteor observer and was unable or unwilling to adopt new technology in astronomical observing. There was, however, a period of "crossover"; in one instance, Prentice visually observed the Giacobinid (Draconid) meteors of 1946 sitting in a deckchair at Jodrell Bank Observatory while Lovell and his colleagues simultaneously observed the meteors using a radio telescope. Prentice stopped observing in 1953 and resigned the BAA Meteor Section directorship in 1954 to devote himself to other activities [12].

Published Observations

The following complete list of Prentice's publications is taken from his obituary [13] by Bernard Lovell.

Society Membership and Honours

Prentice proposed the following for membership of the BAA:

He seconded the membership of Arthur Frederick Bennett (Leiston, Suffolk) on 28 June 1922 [18]. Proposed by A G Cook.

Observing Notes

The following information concerning Perentice's biography and instruments has been transcribed from reference [19].

Page 4

Meteor observations by JPMP; recorder David Eldridge
binocular observations on streaks by Richard Eldridge"

Page 8

Details of Binoculars
Large OG, 7x50
Small OG, 4x24, both by Ross of London with particulars of exit pupil, field of view etc. [OG, object glass, is the main lens of a binocular or telescope.]

Page 9

Summary of Binocular Work: Perseid Epoch: 1939
I Watches (R H Eldridge)

Page 10

II Duration of Streaks
Observers noted as RE and JPMP

Pages 11 & 12

Observer (R H Eldridge)
Page 13, 14, 15 & 16
Annual summary of observations for 1924 & 1926
Observers noted by initials

Page 17

1927 and memoranda for 1921

Page 18

Observing summary for 1928

Page 20

[Throughout these notes Prentice identifies observers by their initials and lists them here. Observers names, where identification has been achieved, are given below.]


1921 Mar 2 Holt -1° 26' +52° 54'
        June 28 Holt
        Sep 4 Orford Haven

1922 Oct 14 Waldringfield

1923 April 20 Twickenham
        Aug 13 Pin Mill
              15 Stone Point
        Oct 14 Waldringfield

Positions: main observers

ECTA, Sutton, Surrey +0° 11' +51° 21'

MTB, Ealing +0° 19' +51° 31' [20]

RAC, Holt, Nfk -1° 26' +52° 24' [21]

AGC, Stowmarket -1° 00' +52° 11' [22]

WFD, Bristol +2° 35' +51° 27' [23]

AK, Ashby +0° 39' +53° 34' [24]

RJK, Bristol +2° 35' +51° 27'

SBM, Plumstead -0° 05' +51° 29' [25]

JCM, Cheltenham (+2° 04' +52° 30')§

Morrison, Solihull -------

JPMP, Stowmarket -1° 00' +52° 11' [26]

(§ a standard position 2 mins south)

WGT (a) Exeter -------

        (b) Bury St. Eds ------- [27]

Page 21

Casual Observers and Stations:

* P M Ryves, "near Epsom", presumably Headley [28]

* A N [unreadable], New Barnet +0° 9' +51° 39'

* M E G de Parry, Eltham 0° 51 27

([unreadable]) W. Ealing

* F de Roy, Mortsel, Antwerp [29]

§ G M B Dobson, Oxford (photography) [30]

§ H H Waters, Harrow (photography) [31]

unknown; probably Bristol +2° 35' +51° 27'

WFD's assistant, Mason

† A Vowles, Minehead [32]

G Williams, London, SW3

* D R Fotheringham, Charing, Kent [33]

* R L T Clarkson, Trimley, Suffolk [34]

* A Bennett, Little Steeping, near Spilsby [35]

Mrs A King, Ashby [36]

* Huish Webber, Beechwood [?] +0° 27' +51° 49' [37]

* A D Thackeray, Eton [38]

§ E H Collinson, Ipswich -1° 10' +52° 04' [39]

* well known workers in other branches of astronomy.
† regular contributor of fruitful data
[§ not explained?]


In his observing notes (pp. 4, 10, 11 & 12), Prentice stated that he was assisted by D Eldridge and R Eldridge (also referred to as R H Eldridge).

Possible identifications:

In 1939, the date of the observations, David would have been 21, and Richard 18. The two were brothers, with parents as follows:

The parents married in Fulham in 1907.

JPMP.png J P M Prentice photographed in 1934 using an aircraft navigating machine to convert RA and dec to azimuth and altitude.

References And Notes


E H Collinson, obituary of John Philip Manning Prentice, 1903-81, JBAA, vol. 92, no. 3, pp.138-139, 1982. Available from https://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1982JBAA...92..138C.


Prentice's father occasionally attended meetings of the Chaldaean Society.


Richard occasionally attended meetings of the Chaldaean Society.


J P M Prentice, Occasional Notes for my Friends and Other Papers, Stowmarket, 1980 (privately published), pp. 95-96.




ibid., Occasional Notes, p. 27.


https://www.oasi.org.uk/History/Chaldaean/Chaldaean.php - first and second members' meetings of Stowmarket Section.


ibid., Occasional Notes, front cover.


Editions of The Gresham are available from the school's website.


ibid., Occasional Notes, pp. 31-34.


ibid., BAA obituary.


ibid., BAA obituary.


A C B Lovell, obituary of J P M Prentice, Quarterly Journal of the RAS, vol. 23, no. 3, pp.452-460, 1982. Available from https://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1982QJRAS..23..452L.


New Members of the Association, JBAA, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 82-83, 1919.


New Members of the Association, JBAA, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 94-95, 1920.


New Members of the Association, JBAA, vol. 33, no. 7, p. 303, 1923.


New Members of the Association, JBAA, vol. 46, no. 2, p. 86, 1935.


Candidates for Election as Members of the Association, JBAA, vol. 32, no. 8, p. 327, 1922.




Likely M T Brockman, based on his name appearing in list of contributors to work of the BAA Meteor Section for 1922. See Memoirs of the British Astronomical Association, vol. 24, p. 50.


Likely R A Crowther, based on his name appearing in list of contributors to work of the BAA Meteor Section for 1922. See Memoirs of the BAA, op. cit.


Alice Grace Cook (1887-1958), BAA Meteor Section joint acting Director during WWI, Section Director 1921-23.


William Frederick Denning (1848-1931), BAA Comet Section Director 1891-93, Meteor Section Director 1899-1900.


Alphonso King (1882-1936), Ashby near Scunthorpe, Lincs.


Sidney Batt Mattey (1886-1940).


J P M Prentice.


Likely Wilfred George Tidmarsh, based on his name appearing in list of contributors to work of the BAA Meteor Section for 1922. See Memoirs of the BAA, op. cit. Tidmarsh was born in the registration district of Stowmarket, Suffolk on 24 May 1904. Shortly after turning 18, on 31 May 1922, he joined the BAA, proposed by Alice Grace Cook and seconded by J P M Prentice. At this time his address was Northgate Avenue, Bury St Edmunds. (See JBAA, vol. 32, pp. 260, 287.) Subsequently, he appears to have spent at least twenty years in Ecuador as a missionary for the Plymouth Brethren. He died in California, USA, on 01 October 1986, aged 82.


Percy Mayow Ryves (circa 1876-1956), BAA Mars Section Director 1942-56.


Felix de Roy (1883-1952), BAA Variable Star Section Director 1922-39.


Gordon Miller Bourne Dobson (1889-1976).


Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939).


Alfred Vowles (1882-1964), photographer, elected FRAS 09 December 1927.


Reverend David Ross Fotheringham (1872-1939).


Rowland Lebeg Townley Clarkson (1889-1964).


Possibly Arthur Frederick Bennett (1871-1937) of Leiston.


Née Rose Turner, married Alphonso King, 1920.


Arthur Huish Webber (??-1937).


Andrew David Thackeray (1910-78), schoolboy observer at Elton College.


Edward Howard Collinson 1903-90, BAA President 1952-54, BAA Mars Section Director 1956-79.

Bill Barton, FRAS