People: Walter Wickham

Name Wickham, Walter
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
c.1874 – 1880

Observatory posts c.1874

Other Posts

First Assistant, Radcliffe Observatory
1918, July
Born c. 1857

Baptised, 1857, Jan 18, Gravesend, Kent
Died 1920


Known Addresses 1861 census

Albert Cresent, Lee (Wickham’s parents). Wickham (aged 4) & brother with grandparents in Gravesend
  1871 census 2 Alma Cottages, Lee


Walter Wickham appears to have been the younger of two sons born to the plumber Frederick Samuel Wickham and his wife Ann. Although Wickham and his brother were both born in Gravesend in Kent, the family appears to have moved to Lee when William was just a few years old, his father dying in 1870 when Wickham was 13 years old. At the time of the1871 census, Wickham’s mother was working as a dressmaker and Wickham was still at school. By the age of 17 (and perhaps a few years earlier), he had secured the post of a Computer at the Royal Observatory, gaining observing certificates which entitled him to extra pay. He is recorded as having observed in the years 1874–1879.


The move to Oxford

In 1879, the former Greenwich Computer Arthur Bowden was appointed First Assistant at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford under the new Radcliffe Observer, Edward Stone, who from 1850–1860 had been the First Assistant at Greenwich. When in the summer of 1880, Bowden failed to return from leave, having been on a drinking bout, he was sacked by Stone, who then wrote to Airy at Greenwich enquiring about other individuals who might be suitable to replace him. On Airy’s recommendation, Wickham was appointed. He remained in post until 1918 when he retired after a period of recurring mental health problems. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 11 February 1898. In light of this and his long length of service at the Radcliffe, it seems surprising that no obituary was ever published.


Further Reading

Dr. John Radcliffe and His Trust. Guest, Ivor Forbes, London: Radcliffe Trust (1991). This has various references to Wickham: see in particular p.295.