Pay of the Astronomers Royal & Directors, 1675–1998

The subject of pay at the Observatory becomes increasingly complex from the nineteenth century onwards. Although there is information in the various archives about the amounts individuals were paid on certain specific dates, information about the overarching pay structures, pay ranges and dates when they were introduced are less well documented – particularly in the twentieth century. When it has been possible to work out the date ranges over which the various pay scales apply, they have been given, when not, spot values are given instead. Restructuring of the pay scales took place in 1871, 1896, 1912, the mid 1930s and 1946.  References to relevant archive files are given in brackets: RGO (Royal Greenwich Observatory Archive at Cambridge); ADM, WORK and T (former Admiralty and Treasury files at the Public Record Office Kew), MS (Royal Society).

This page should be read in conjunction with the pages pages listed below:

Background information
Pay 1675–1811
Pay 1811–1835
Pay 1836–1871
Pay 1871–1945
Pay 1946–1998


Astronomers Royal 1675–1971

John Flamsteed
1720–1742 Edmond Halley
1742–1762 James Bradley
1762–1764 Nathaniel Bliss
1765–1811 Nevil Maskelyne
1811–1835 John Pond
1835–1881 George Airy
1881–1910 William Christie
1910–1933 Frank Dyson
1933–1955 Harold Spencer Jones
1956–1971 Richard van der Riet Woolley


Directors 1972–1998

Margaret Burbidge
1973–1975 Alan Hunter
1976–1981 Francis Graham Smith
1981–1995 Alexander (Alec) Boksenberg
1995–1998 Jasper Wall


Pay (1675–1945)

Flamsteed's salary was fixed at £100 a year by a Royal Warrant issued on 4 March 1675. It was paid by the Board of Ordnance. The warrants appointing his successors, Halley, Bradley, Bliss and Maskelyne and Pond, also specified a salary of £100 a year (also paid by the Ordnance). From 1727 onwards, this was supplemented by money from other Government sources.  The amount of £100 is still the stipend of the Astronomer Royal today.

Flamsteed had additional income both from teaching and in later years from the living at Burstow in Surrey, which he was given in 1684.

Halley was 63 when appointed in 1720. He had been appointed Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford in 1704 and continued to hold the post and draw the salary until his death in 1742. He was visited in 1727 by Queen Caroline who on hearing that his salary was the same as that of Flamsteed some 50 years earlier, offered to seek a rise for him. Halley however responded ‘Pray your Majesty do no such thing, for if the salary should be increased it might become the object of emolument to place there some unqualified needy dependent to the ruin of the institution.’ So instead, she obtained for him an annual grant of half a naval captain’s salary for his former services on the Paramour which was paid via the Navy vote.

Halley’s successor Bradley who had been appointed Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford in 1721 relinquished his church livings at that time. He retained the post and salary of Savilian Professor throughout his period in office as Astronomer Royal. In 1752, he declined the living of Greenwich on the grounds ‘that the duty of a pastor was incompatible with his other studies and necessary engagements’, but was awarded instead a crown pension of £250 a year by King George II. This pension, paid from the Civil List, was also paid to Bliss, Maskelyne and Pond. Like Halley before him, Bliss held the chair of Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford at the time of his appointment and continued to hold it during his time as Astronomer Royal.

In addition to his salary of £100 and Pension of £250, Maskelyne too had other sources of income. He was ordained curate of Barnet, Hertfordshire, in 1755, and received the living of Shrawardine, Shropshire, in 1775, and the rectory of North Runcton, Norfolk in 1782. He also inherited considerable family estates. The fact that he had these other sources was to count against him when he applied for a salary increase after the period of high inflation that ran from the end of the eighteenth century into the start of the nineteenth.

When Pond was appointed in 1811, he continued to be paid as Maskelyne had, but his salary was augmented by the Admiralty to the tune of £292.10s a year, in order to bring his total emolument to £600 a year – the £250 pension having being reduced in valued to only £207.10s a year because of fees and taxes which (according to Howse) had been in place since at least 1773. Responsibility for the Board of Ordnance's contribution to the Astronomer Royal’s salary was transferred from the Board of Ordnance to the Admiralty in 1820, the amount contributed by the Admiralty rising from £292.10s to £376.8s a year and staying at that level until 1830. How the figure of £376.8s was arrived at is not clear – the difference being only £83.18s rather than the £100 that had been previously paid by the Ordinance. The shortfall may be a result of deductions that had previously been made from the £100 for fees and taxes. By 1831, the whole was £600 was being shouldered by the Admiralty. The Admiralty were also responisble for funding the Cape Observatrory, and it is interesting to note that at this point in time, The Astronomer at the Cape was paid at the same basic rate as the the Astronomer Royal. Pond’s income was enhanced between 1819 and 1828 by a payment of £100 a year expenses for attending meetings of the Board of Longitude (up from £15 a meeting). In 1821 he was required to take on the role of Superintendent of Chronometers for whihc he was paid a further £100 a year. He was also paid an allowance for coals and candles (probabaly from the date he was appointed, but certainly by 1815 and worth £200 a year in 1835), from which he was also expected to provide for the non-residential as well as the residential parts of the Observatory.

Airy was first sounded out about his willingness to take on the office of Astronomer Royal in May 1834. He provisionally accepted the appointment on 10 October 1834, accepting it formally on 17 June 1835. He was paid at a new consolidated rate of £800 a year, with no separate allowance for coals or as Superintendent of Chronometers. Meanwhile, back in February 1835, while he was still the relatively poorly paid Director of the Observatory at Cambridge, he had been offered a pension of £300 a year form the Civil List from the Prime Minister with the option of either taking it himself, or having it settled on his wife Richarda. He chose the latter. It has to be a matter of some debate as to whether or not the pension should be regarded as an extension of Airy's pay as Astronomer Royal. Given that pensions from the Civil List were granted to all his predecessors back to the time of Halley, it seems not unreasonable to regard it as such.

Airy negotiated a pay rise in 1856, taking his salary to £1000. When Richarda died in 1875, her pension ceased. Airy however managed to persuade the Admiralty to raise his pay by £200 to £1200 a year to compensate.


The table below should be read in conjunction with the notes above

Amount provided by HM Government
1675–1752 £100 + house
1752–1811 £350 + house (£350 = salary of £100 + pension of £250)
1811–1818 £600 + house + coals & candles (£600 = salary of £100 (from Board of Ordnance) + pension of £250 (but worth only £207.10s in 1811) + £292.10s from the Admiralty).
1819–1820 £700 + house + coals & candles (£700 = salary of £100 (from Board of Ordnance) + pension of £250 (but worth only £207.10s) + £292.10s from the Admiralty + £100 as a commissioner of the Board of Longitude)
1820–1821 £700 + house + coals & candles (£700 = pension of £250 (but worth only £207.10s?) + £376.8s* from the Admiralty + £100 as a commissioner of the Board of Longitude)
1821–1828 £800 + house + coals & candles (£800 = pension of £250 (but worth only £207.10s?) + £376.8s* from the Admiralty + £100 as commissioner of the Board of Longitude + £100 as Superintendent of Chronometers).
1828–1830 £700 + house + coals & candles (£700 = pension of £250 (but worth only £207.10s?) + £376.8s* from the Admiralty + £100 as Superintendent of Chronometers).
1831–1835 £700 + house + coals & candles (£700 = salary of £600 + £100 as Superintendent Chronometers).
1835–1856 £1,100 + house (£1,100 = salary of £800 + pension of £300 paid to Mrs Airy)
1856–1875 £1,300 + house (£1,300 = salary of £1,000 + pension of £300 paid to Mrs Airy)
1875–1881 £1,200 + house
1881–1920 £1,000 + house
1920–1936 £1,000 to £1,200 (x £50)** + house. (Dyson was put straight onto £1,200)
1936–1945 £1,200 to £1,500 (x £50)** + house (or housing allowance of £165), + Civil Service War Bonus in later years
* Assumed to be made up of the previous amount of £292.10s from Admiralty + the £100 previously paid by the Board of Ordnance, from which a deduction of £16.2s appears to have been made.
** (x £50) = annual increment of £50

Pay of the Astronomers Royal & Directors (1945-1998)

From 1946 the Astronomers Royal and subsequent Directors were paid at the Chief Scientific Officer level of the newly introduced Scientific Civil Service pay scales. The amounts where known are given below.


Amount provided by HM Government

1 Jan 1946–?
Jul 1951
£2,500 (post Chorley)
1955 £2,600 (London Rate)
1 Jan 1956–31 Jan 1959 £3,350
1 Feb 1959–? £3,750
1974 Advertised at £8,500 (under review at that time)