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3. William Lassell (1799-1880)

William Lassell was born in Bolton, Lancashire on 18 June 1799. He established a highly profitable brewing business in Liverpool which enabled him to finance his fascination with making machinery and in particular the construction and development of reflecting telescopes. Innovators such as Lassell and Lord Rosse pushed reflectors far beyond the state of the art defined by the late 18th century astronomer William Herschel (qv). By mounting his telescopes on an axis capable of moving parallel to the equator Lassell gave astronomers the flexibility to follow a star through every part of its daily course. He also developed steam-driven machines for grinding and polishing large telescope mirrors and equalled the quality of hand-polishing. One of his telescopes had a 48-inch reflector which required two assistants to operate. It was shipped out to Malta in 1861 partly to escape the polluted air of Liverpool and also for better observation of the southern hemisphere. Lassell offered the telescope to the Melbourne observatory in Australia but when they declined it, brought it back to England three years later. He didn't set it up again at the observatory at his new home in Maidenhead, preferring the more manageable 24-inch, and by 1877 it was scrap.

Lassell made most of the components for his machinery with the assistance of his close friend James Nasmyth, a passionate amateur astronomer and one of the most skilled and versatile engineers of his generation. Lassell's prime enthusiasm as an amateur astronomer was observing the planets of the solar system and searching for new satellites. Shortly after the planet Neptune was discovered in September 1846, Lassell spotted its largest satellite, Triton and in 1848 went on to discover another satellite of Saturn, Hyperion. In 1851 Lassell identified two more satellites of the planet Uranus (additional to Titania and Oberon discovered by William Herschel in 1787).

In 1839 he became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, receiving its gold medal in 1849. In this year too, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and was its president from 1870-1872. He died on 5 October 1880 at his home, Ray Lodge in Maidenhead.

Lassell's connection with the borough

When he returned from Malta in 1864, Lassell bought Ray Lodge in Maidenhead, a Georgian mansion with an extensive estate - on 'one of the most lovely reaches of the river, with grounds sloping to the water's edge' - where he continued to work in the observatory and workshop he built in his garden. The estate was sold for development in 1890 by the trustees administering Lassell's will. The houses in Lassell Gardens were built at this time. The house still stands on Ray Park Avenue but by 1932 had been divided into flats.