People: Thomas Lewis

Name Lewis, Thomas
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
24 Jan 1881 – 30 Sep 1917

Posts 1881, Jan 24

Second Class Assistant

1891, Nov 3

First Class Assistant


Assistant (following a regrading exercise and the abolition of the post of First Class Assistant)

Born 1856, Jun 12


Died 1927, Jun 5


Known Addresses 1885–1917
Herbert Villa, 8 Ulundi Road

Thomas Lewis. Photo by Morgan & Kidd. From The Leisure Hour (1898)

Lewis was the fourth of what turned out to be 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, six including Lewis remained at the Observatory for their entire working life. When the First Class Assistant William Lynn resigned on health grounds on 31 January 1880, Criswick was promoted to fill his place. The Second Class Assistant post he vacated remained unfilled until Lewis was appointed in January 1881. Although Thackeray had been at the Observatory for a longer time, Lewis was promoted a few weeks ahead of him to the grade of First Class Assistant on 3 November 1891 (following the creation of an extra post at that level). For virtually the whole of his time at the Observatory, Lewis was in charge of the Time Department, having taken on this role following a rearrangement of responsibilities following Christie’s appointment as Astronomer Royal. It was in the course of these duties that his upper right arm was broken while adjusting the timeball in August 1913 – an accident that was serious enough to make him apply for compensation. Lewis is also known for his role as a double star observer.

Thomas Lewis at the eyepiece of the Great Equatorial with William Bowyer making notes. Photograph by David Edney. From The Leisure Hour (1898)

For most of the time he worked at the Observatory, Lewis lived in Herbert Villa in Ulundi Road, a short stroll from the eastern boundary of Greenwich Park. Herbert Villa with its neighbour Clifton Villa (number 10) was one of two identical detached houses built in 1883/84 by Richard Howell. Ulundi Road was popular with the Second Class Assistants, with Maunder and Hollis both being near neighbours. Crommelin lived in Clifton villa in 1893–4 before moving to Vanburgh Park Road and then to 55 Ulundi Road in 1899.



Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 88, p.254 (1928)


Further Reading

Thomas Lewis: a lifetime of double stars. Wright, D. Journal of the British Astronomical Association, vol.102, no.2, p.95–101 (1992)