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Peter D Hingley: An Autobiography

Life and Hard Times

Peter D Hingley is a native of the village of Pedmore, near Stourbridge, Worcestershire, and was born in 1951. He is descended from long lines of Black Country ironworkers and Staffordshire and Shropshire yokels, a fact of which he is inordinately proud. The patronymic was originally of Huguenot origin, and the "family" ironworks, Noah Hingley and Son, made chain cable and anchors for many great ships, most famously the tragic Titanic.

He attended the now destroyed King Edward VI Grammar School, Stourbridge, and came under heavy parental compulsion to study science rather than the literary and historical subjects for which he had some aptitude. As he was and is "mathematically challenged" this was rather a bad idea and after various vicissitudes he managed to stagger out of Lancaster University in 1973 with a fairly poor degree in Environmental Sciences.

Having met several agreeable and civilised librarians he decided on this as a career in the belief that it would enable him to work in nice remote country places and to escape from science into subjects he was actually interested in. Achieving his usual success rate in this he first secured employment in Piccadilly, London W1, in a Learned Society Library (The Society of Antiquaries of London), specialising in history and archaeology, and six years later was fortunate enough to be "rustled" to work as firstly Assistant Librarian and later Librarian at the Royal Astronomical Society. This job has been most rewarding and enjoyable, despite his early preferences, and he now describes himself as an aesthete on the edge of science.

He also served for 18 years in the Royal Naval Reserve, reaching the rank of Lieutenant (NCS) and receiving the Reserve Decoration.

Spare time occupations include constructing half finished models of railway equipment and ships, shovelling coal into obsolete locomotives on the Severn Valley Railway, classical music, and historical research – originally on the River Severn, later on the life of John Urpeth Rastrick, who built among much else the first steam locomotive to run in America; and on the family ironworks in the Black Country; and most recently on various aspects of astronomical history. For 13 years while living in Faversham, Kent, he was the Honorary Curator of the preserved Chart Gunpowder Mills there.

Recent publications have included "some Droitwich Sailing Barges" (Worcestershire Archaeological Society Transactions, 2000); a Far-Off Vision; the autobiography of Edwin Dunkin, jointly edited with T C Daniel and published by the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 1999; a lengthy series of short notes in "Astronomy and Geophysics" on various items from the RAS library and archives, referred to as BAOs (Boring Antiquarian Oddments); and in 2001 a full length article in the same journal on "Warren de la Rue, HMS Himalaya and the first photographic eclipse".

An article on Jules Janssen’s "Revolver Photographique", a precursor to the movie camera invented to photograph the 1874 Transit of Venus, written jointly with a French colleague, was rejected by "Astronomy and Geophysics" because it was too long and boring, and instead appeared in the February 2005 edition of "Journal for the History of Astronomy". "The Priest and the Stuffed Penguin: Father Stephen Perry SJ and the 19th century transits of Venus" was at long last completed and was published in the JBAA in their Transit of Venus special issue, June 2005.

Other articles and research projects which may get finished one day include "John Urpeth Rastrick, Bridgenorth Foundry, and the building of Chepstow Bridge, 1814-1816"; "the Shuckburghs of Shuckburgh, Isaac Fletcher, and the History of the English Mounting"; "some Shropshire Shipbuilders"; "Some Personal and Practical Aspects of Noah Hingley and Son"; a history of Durham University Observatory; and a major long-term project on "Rural and Maritime Science and technology in the Paintings of John Constable", the lecture on which received its first airing at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in December 2006.

He has given numerous talks to local Astronomical societies, to the Royal Photographic Society Imaging Group, at the AGM of the Scientific Instrument Society, the Open University, the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and the British Sundial Society, and lectures at the Antique Telescope Society meetings in Bath, Boston (Mass), Flagstaff (AZ), and Armagh (North Ireland) and at the Science Centre in La Laguna, Tenerife, during the LISA meetings there; during 2004 he gave his first talk at the National Maritime Museum during the weekend conference on the transits of Venus and in August spoke on Historical Eclipse Imagery at the International Eclipse Conference at the Open University.

He was touched and flattered to be elected an Honorary Member of the Breckland Astronomical Society (Norfolk) to which he has given various talks. He chaired the Historical Session at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2005 in Birmingham and at the RAS – NAM 2006 in Leicester. He has represented the Learned Society on the Committee of the Historical Libraries forum for about 10 years and until recently carried out the mailings to members. In May 2005 he was elected as a Council member of the Society for Historical Astronomy, an in June 2006 was co-opted onto the Executive Committee of the Historical Model Railway Society. He is also a member of the British Sundial Society. In December 2005 he presented a seminar at the Physics Department, Durham University, under the title "Durham University Observatory: a Solution in Search of A Problem?". He has been for some years a Consultant to Commission 41 of the International Astronomical Union and was elected as a full IAU member at the General Assembly in August 2006. He has recently been appointed by the RAS Council as a member of the RAS’s Heritage Committee.

At the present time he is working on the organisation of the following conferences:

Hingley is also struggling up the learning curve with medium format photography and results from his Bronica have so far been published in "Narrow Gauge World" and "Astronomy and Geophysics" and in Mike Cowham's books on "Sundials in the British Isles".

P D Hingley

2008 September 12

Current memberships:

Peter Hingley