William Christie and the Tower House at Downe

This page is intended to support a lecture given by Graham Dolan at Downe House, Luxted Rd, Downe, Orpington BR6 7JT on 1November 2018.





People: William Christie, Astronomer Royal

This page covers Christie’s life and many of the changes that took place on his watch. There are links to the telescopes and buildings connected with him etc. It also covers his retirement homes with links to specific letters from the Darwin Correspondence Project.

A guide to grading and staffing structures

This page gives details of how staffing structures changed over the years.

Darwin Correspondence Project.


Press reports regarding Robert Ainslie libel cases

The two libel cases involving the London Missionary Society took place in 1854 and were reported in certain sections of the press. In both cases, nominal damages of 40 shillings were awarded. The summary reports below come from the March and December issues from the 1854 volume of The Christian Journal of the United Presbyterian Church

March, p.142 (click here to read as published)

There has been a good deal of painful interest excited among the Congregational and other Nonconformists of the metropolis in the progress and termination of an action for libel, brought by the Rev. Robert Ainslie against the publisher of the British Banner. Last summer Mr. Ainslie wrote, and widely circulated, a very scurrilous pamphlet against the officers of the London Missionary Society and the London Board of Congregational Ministers, on account of certain charges of immorality which they had felt compelled to make, and to seek to substantiate against the Rev. Ebenezer Davies, lately a missionary it Berbice. The Editor of the British Banner, in reviewing this pamphlet, defended the Society and rebuked Mr. Ainslie. The powerful pen of Dr. Campbell was found by the astute pamphleteer to be more than a match for his own; and hence, that resource failing, he made his appeal to a court of law. The case has just been tried before Mr. Justice Talfourd in the Common Pleas; when, at the close of a seven hours investigation, the jury gave a verdict for Mr. Ainslie, with forty shillings damages: he had laid them at no less a sum than five thousand pounds! “O, what a falling off was there.” Of course the real merits of the case have not been touched by this verdict; and among men of sense, who understand the question, there can be but one opinion. They will assuredly affirm, without the least hesitation, that Dr. Campbell was not only justified in taking the course which he did, but that he deserves to be warmly commended for the resolute and successful efforts which he has been enabled to make for the prostration, on the one hand, of immorality and error, and on the other, the elevation of righteousness and truth.


December, pp.567-8 (click here to read as published)

I must not omit to give a brief account of a very remarkable libel case which has been conducted in one of our courts of law during the past month. The executive of the London Missionary Society, and a number of the leading Independent ministers of the metropolis, being the parties whom it primarily concerned, a considerable share of the public attention was necessarily enlisted in the matter. A general history of the case will be requisite to a right understanding thereof. Some years ago, the Rev. Ebenezer Davies was an agent of the London Missionary Society in Berbice, and on a visit to England, in 1845, he was employed as one of a deputation to various parts of the country, to advocate the cause of foreign missions. He returned to Berbice in the following year, and in 1848 came home again; and was occasionally engaged as before, in visiting the provincial towns on behalf of the London Missionary Society. Some year or two after this, Mr. Davies resolved to attempt the erection of a spacious chapel in a suburban district of Islington, collect a congregation, and become the minister of the place. To this new enterprise the London Congregational Chapel-Building Society, the Rev. Dr. Tidman, foreign secretary of the London Missionary Society, together with Mr. Samuel Morley, a man of wealth, and large influence in the Congregational body, and other individuals of similar standing in society, very generously offered their support, and the building was commenced and ultimately completed. In the meantime, several very grave charges of immorality against Mr. Davies began to be whispered about, and some of them assuming a definite shape, it was thought, necessary by Mr. Morley and some of the other gentlemen who had engaged to assist him in his chapel-building scheme, that a committee of investigation should be appointed. The result was a confirmation of the truth of the more important of the allegations; and Mr. Davies was immediately disowned by the Missionary Society, and expelled from all further fellowship with the Congregational Board of Ministers. One of their number, the Rev. Robert Ainslie, a gentleman who possesses a herculean body, and a fiery spirit, came to an opposite conclusion to that arrived at by his brethren. He did not believe that Mr. Davies was guilty, and thought, therefore, that he had been hardly dealt with. In order to prove his position, Mr. Ainslie set himself to write and publish a very bulky pamphlet, entitled, The Defence of the Innocent. To clear Mr. Davies, it was thought necessary to charge Dr. Tidman, the foreign secretary, and Mr. Stacey, one of the clerks of the London Missionary Society, with having been parties to the forgery of a letter, which, if genuine, left no doubt of his guilt. Various other documents, of the same false and libellous character as the pamphlet, were subsequently issued. In reply to these publications, a Brief Statement of Facts) was sent forth from the Mission House; and it has come out on the trial that the Rev. Dr. Archer was its author. The British Banner also took up the subject, and so completely turned the tables upon Mr. Ainslie, that he was constrained to seek refuge in a law-suit, the result of which we reported in the March number of the Christian Journal, p. 142. The merits of the case, however, as affecting Dr. Tidman, were not considered on that occasion, and at length that gentlemen found it necessary, as the chief officer of a most important society, to put Mr. Ainslie into a position to prove, if he could, the truth of his allegations of forgery and perjury, and some other analogous crimes. In June last the case, came on for hearing, before Chief Baron Pollock; but that high judicial functionary, considering that it would occupy far too much of the public time, earnestly advised the parties to dispense with a jury, and let a competent arbitrator decide between them. With reluctance this course was pursued; but the wisdom of the suggestion has been shown in the fact, that no less than seven days were occupied in hearing about one third of the evidence. When the trial had proceeded thus far, Mr. Ainslie became thoroughly convinced that he had all along been engaged in the defence of a worthless individual, and wished the cause to be stopped, offering to make a full and ample apology to Dr. Tidman, and the rest of the parties whom he had maligned in his publication, and to defray the whole of the very heavy expenses which had been incurred in rebutting his charges. Dr. Tidman at once accepted the offer; although, had he refused to do so, and determined to let justice take its coarse, there is no doubt whatever that he would have obtained damages to the amount of £1000 or £1500. As it is, however, Mr. Ainslie will be called upon to pay at least 3000 sovereigns out of the 30,000 which he is said to possess. The friends of Mr. Davies are terribly enraged with Mr. Ainslie, for haviing, after defending him for some two years and a half, in so sudden a manner thus left him in the lurch. Mr. Davies, however, still affirms his innocence, and has several actions pending, on his own behalf, against certain of the parties by whom he considers himself to have been injured.


Links to topics not covered in the lecture, with which Christie was involved

Abinger Magnetic Observatory (1923-1957)

This page covers in detail the background to the magnetic interference at Greenwich caused by the railways during Christie's tenure and the subsequent move of the Magnetic Observatory to Abinger in the 1920s.

The Board of Visitors

This page gives details of how the Board (which was responsible for the oversight of the Observatory) was constituted and how it operated.

The International Meridian Conference of 1884

This page gives details of the build up to the conference and how its resolutions were put into practice.

Longitude determinations (1888–1902)

This link takes you to the volume of results and discussions of the Greenwich - Paris longitude determinations that were carried out in 1888, 1892 and 1902.


Christie's retirement homes

For those who are into intersted in seeing for themselves where Christie lived after retirement, here are the postcodes of his houses:

Deepdale, Woldingham, Surrey, CR3 7HH

The Tower House (Trowmers), Downe, Kent, BR6 7JS

Trowmers was recently on the market with both Alan de Maid and Savills. Details of the sales particulars can be seen by clicking on the links.


Other links

Bromley street and trade directories

Bromley archives and records