People: Arthur Matthew Weld Downing

Name Downing, Arthur Mathew Weld
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
17 Jan 1873 – 31 Dec 1891
Posts 1873, Jan 17

Second Class Assistant

1881, Aug 15

First Class Assistant

1892, Jan 1

Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac Office

Born 1850, Apr 13

Died 1917, Aug 7

Known Addresses 1872
6 Romney Terrace, King William Street, Greenwich (RGO7/28). Now known as 43 King William Street
3 Park Terrace*, Greenwich (Ref: The Astronomical Register Vol. XVI)

12 Dartmouth Terrace (later known as 17 Lewisham Hill & now demolished)
  1882–1883 ? probably Dartmouth Terrace or Woodlands Villas
  1884–1894 26 Woodlands Villas, Blackheath, renamed in 1886 as 74 Vanburgh Park
1895–1910 3 Granville Park
1911–1917 12 Oakcroft Road, Lewisham (his wife was still there in 1919)

* Park Terrace is the terrace at the western end of what is now Park Vista


Arthur Downing. Photo courtesy of James and Carolyn Colthup

Of Irish decent, Downing was the first of what became an elite group of individuals to be appointed as a Second Class Assistant, a grade that was created in 1871 and abolished in 1896. Following changes to the appointment process in 1872 all the posts at this level were filled by competitive examinations organised by the Civil Service. In total, just eight individuals were appointed under this system. All were well educated, and generally in their early 20s when they arrived at the Observatory. They were:

1873      Arthur Matthew Weld Downing
1873      Edward Walter Maunder
1875      William Grasett Thackeray
1881      Thomas Lewis
1881      Henry Park Hollis
1891      Andrew Claude de la Cherois

1892      Walter William Bryant
1892      Thomas Charlton Hudson

Of the eight, Downing and Hudson were the only ones not to remain at the Observatory for their entire working life (Hudson having resigned before his period of probation had ended). Downing’s appointment followed the resignation of James Carpenter on 28 September 1872. When Christie was appointed as Astronomer Royal, Downing was promoted to the grade of First Class Assistant to fill the post vacated following Dunkin’s promotion to Chief Assistant. Downing became Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac Office in 1892 following the resignation of John Russell Hind. During his time at the Office, the prefix ‘HM’ was added to the title of the Almanac, first appearing in the edition for 1907, which was published in 1904. Downing remained at the Nautical Almanac Office until he retired at the age of 60 in 1910.

In his 19 years at the Observatory, Downing worked on the reductions of the Circle observations and later those of the Altazimuth and Equatorial, which he also superintended. He was one of the four regular observers with the Transit Circle and the Altazimuth. For over ten years, he was also responsible for the care of the library and manuscripts.



Written by E Walter Maunder and Frank Dyson. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 78, p.241 (1918)