Captain George Thomas Smith-Clarke (1884-1960) was an engineer and amateur astronomer resident for most of his life at "Shenandoah" on the Stoneleigh Road, in the Gibbet Hill area of Coventry, close to the current location of the University of Warwick.
He served with the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, earning the rank of Captain and becoming an inspector of aeroplane engines. In civilian life, he became the chief engineer and later works manager of major motor manufacturing company Alvis, and in 1947 served as the chairman of the automobile division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Unusually, Smith-Clarke was recognised for substantial contributions in the fields of mechanical engineering and medical techology as well as astronomy.
In 1939 he was a strong supporter of the establishment of the Coventry Technical College Meteorology and Astronomy Society, and granted them permission first to use his personal observatory and later to relocate the telescope to the roof of the technical institute. He spoke passionately at the inaugeration of the new observatory in 1947, advocating the development of Coventry as a university city - a destiny then far in the future.
Smith-Clarke was elected a member of the British Astronomical Association in 1934 and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1945. He was soon contributing to meetings, particularly commenting on the design of telescope mounts and his experience in the area. The Observatory magazine's account of the May RAS meeting of 1951 records his attendance at a talk on Radio Astronomy, after which he addressed a question on the frequency sensitivity of aerials to the speaker, Dr E. G. Bowen. Radio astronomy was an area of particular interest and he donated a spectrohelioscope to be mounted on the 3.7m telescope at Jodrell Bank, as well as an eighteen inch telescope and its dome (both of his own construction). The 18 inch reflector was used in the 1950s for early work on spectrophotometry, and in 1970 it was donated to the Salford Astronomical Society, where it is still used.
Smith-Clarke's technical expertise as an engineer was underlined in 1952 when he also contributed to the installation of a new Schmidt telescope and its associated astrograph at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. It was reported that: "The equatorial fork mounting for the ten-inch astrographic camera is a copy of one designed and made for his own use by Capt. G. T. Smith-Clarke to carry an 18-inch Newtonian reflector. Not only did he allow us to use his design, but he presented us with his original drawings and the patterns for the castings, thereby materially reducing the cost of the mounting."
The same skills led to him contributing mount designs for the projected Isaac Newton Telescope in the early to mid 1950s. He was described by Sir Bernard Lovell as a close friend of Sir Harold Spencer-Jones, the Astronomer Royal of this period. At the same time, his interest in medical physics was growing. The occurrence of polio epidemics in the early to mid-50s led to Smith-Clarke refocussing his activities, and he was responsible for an innovative design for an iron lung which is credited with saving many lives amongst the victims of the disease.
Election to the BAA, J Br Astron Assoc, 45, 94 (1934)
Election to the RAS, MNRAS,105, 321 (1945)
Report on the Edinburgh Schmidt Telescope, The Observatory, 72, 55 (1952)
Report on the Proceedings of Jodrell Bank Experimental Station, MNRAS, 113, 327 (1953)
Biographical article in Journal of Medical Biography, Adrien Padfield, JMB, 8, 89 (2000)
Address by GTCS as chairman of automobile division, Proc. IMechE automobile division, 1, 1 (1947)
Letter from Sir Bernard Lovell to the Twentieth Century Coventry project, Coventry Archives, PA708/76
Correspondence with Jodrell Bank Heritage Centre. March 2022.