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William Andrews

William Andrews was born in Coventry in 1835 and educated here, before entering an apprenticeship in the ribbon trade. A successful designer and manufacturer of ribbons (Coventry's dominant industry of the time), he won a number of prizes for his designs and was employed as the manager of a factory for Cash's, before going into business on his own account. In later life, he became a councillor and eventually Alderman and Justice of the Peace, before his death in 1914.

Andrews is notable for having kept a diary from a relatively early age which survives in the Coventry city archives. Rather than a daily record, this presents notes on key events and occurences in his life. At times of stability, entries might number only a few brief comments per month. At times of stress or dramatic change in his life time - notably during the 1860-1861 labour dispute between artisanal ribbon makers and business owners, during periods of travel or unemployment - his notes became considerably more frequent and detailed.

Between 1850 and 1866, this diary records frequent notes on astronomical observations - including of several comets, aurora borealis, occultations and meteor showers. These were reported in detail by Coventry amateur astronomer Howard Miles in 1988 in an article for the Journal of the British Astronomical Association [1]. While the diary continues until 1913, Miles noted that there is nothing further of astronomical interest. This is perhaps a little overstated. Andrews recorded journeys to watch total solar eclipses in Scandanavia in 1896 and Algiers in 1900, as well as annual visits to the meetings of the British Association. However it is true that no further detailed observations are recorded in the diary. Nonetheless, other sources provide evidence of Andrews' continued interest in astronomy.

In January 1868, an anonymous correspondent described as "One who bought a "cheap astronomical telescope"" of Gosford Green, Coventry, replied to an earlier letter on the perils of purchasing a cheap telescope in the Astronomer's Register. At the time, Andews was resident at Number 1, Gosford Green, and further correspondence, signed with his own name and location, appeared in the same journal over the following years.

1868: Comment on telescopes (Ast Reg, 6, 68)
1868: Inferior Conjunction of Venus (Ast Reg, 6, 183)
1870: Solar eclipse (Ast Reg, 8, 38)
1870: Aurorae visible of late (Ast Reg, 8, 120)
1870: Occultation of Saturn (Ast Reg, 8, 141)
1873: Meteor shower (Ast Reg, 11, 14)
1874: Coggia's Comet (Ast Reg, 12, 220)
1876: The timing of Twilight (Ast Reg, 14, 215)
1898: Letter to Nature on the Leonids of 1868 (30 years earlier! Presumably based on his diary entry. Nature, 59, 55)
1900: Elected to the British Astronomical Association (J Br. Astron. Assoc, 11, 87)
1911: Recorded as joining the Societe Astronomique de France in Paris (L'Astronomie, 25, 274)

On 9th January 1891, the Coventry Herald reported that Mr Councillor Williams chaired a meeting proposing the installation of a public clock in the Coventry area of Hillfields. He is recorded as saying that "he had been asked to chair at that meeting, and he did so with very much pleasure, because he had been hard-working student of astronomy all his life, and correct timekeeping was one of the most necessary things for that science. At the great observatories they did not simply stare at the stars through large telescopes; the bulk of the work was for the purpose obtaining and maintaining accurate time in all the centres of civilisation, and specially with regard to navigation and railways. In the present day exact time was one of the most vital necessities."

Newspaper photograph of Alderman Andrews in old ageAndrews' interest in science was clearly broader than astronomy alone. He was a Fellow of the Geological Society, as well as of the British Association, where he also represented the Warwickshire Naturalists and Archaeologists Field Club. In 1890. he reported in detail on the geology revealed by boreholes at Coventry Corporation Waterworks, while in 1885 he investigated the risk of vibration damage in Coventry Cathedral's bell tower. His name also appears in connection with the Coventry Institute, which existed to promote scientific and technical knowledge in a range of areas.

Andrews died in May 1914, and his obituary appeared in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, accompanied by a photograph of Andrews in old age.


Article on William Andrews, H G Miles, J. Br Astron Assoc, 98, 245 (1988)

Diaries of William Andrews (2 volumes), Coventry Archives, PA119/1, PA119/2

Obituary with photograph, Coventry Evening Telegraph, 14th May 1914 (sourced from British Library)

Reports of the Meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, e.g. 1887, 1891, 1903 and others.

Report on the Coventry Corporation Waterworks boreholes, BAAS monographs, 1891.

Andrews' subscription to the Astronomer's Register - AReg, 5, 272 (1867)

Coventry Evening Telegraph - 24th October 1894
Coventry Herald - 26th Oct 1894
Opening of Coventry Technical Institute new buildings including a Horological Department which includes navigation chronometers, an orrery and transit telescopes. Councillor Andrews was in attendance.

[1] Miles' article accurately transcribes a large number of library entries. However, it should be noted that a comet observation Miles reports as occurring in 1853 in fact occurs in the diary in 1851 (there is a reference to the later date a few lines above which may have been misleading). Miles also omitted recording a brief report ("Saw Venus at 1h30m today") from 2nd April 1860, and did not mention the small sketches accompanying diary entries on the comets of 1854 and 1861.