Grover, Charles 1842 - 1921

English; British

1842-1921, Astronomer

Charles Grover was born on 7 March 1842 in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, the second son of John Grover, shoemaker, and Elizabeth Grover, née Birch, shoebinder. Orphaned at the age of 8, at the age of 12 he was apprenticed to a brush maker. It was in October 1858 that his observation of Donati’s Comet sparked an interest in astronomy. In the following year he noticed an occultation of Saturn, leading him to make his first astronomical purchase of an old ship’s spy glass at a cost of 10 shillings. In 1861, he built his own 3 inch refractor telescope, and in 1863 he purchased a Slugg telescope, keeping detailed notes of his observations. In 1865, his observation of a bright spot on the surface of the Moon was included in Thomas William Webb’s ‘Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes’, volume 1, and in this same year Grover began contributing to the ‘Astronomical Register’, a monthly journal for amateur astronomers first published in 1863, in addition to having 3 letters published in the ‘English Mechanic Magazine’. In 1865, Grover also visited the Hartwell Observatory at Hartwell House in Aylesbury at the invitation of Dr John Lee, where he met, and became a correspondent of William Radcliff Birt, joining a group of amateur astronomers who regularly shared observations.

In the following year, Grover was gifted a 4 inch reflecting telescope by James Buckingham, a keen astronomer, following a visit to his open air telescope at his engineering works in Walworth Common. In the same year, the ‘English Mechanic Magazine’ published Grover’s article, ‘A Substitute for the Position Micrometer’, on the recommendation of Webb, with whom Grover continued a correspondence for many years. The article set out Grover’s own design for an apparatus that could act as a ‘cheap and simple’ substitute for the position micrometer in observing double and binary stars.

In 1867, Grover was gifted with a 6 ½ inch mirror by George With, one of the earliest exponents of silvered mirrors for use in astronomical instruments, which he set up with the assistance of Henry Cooper Key, the pioneer of silver glass specula in England, and George Knott, an early observer of variable stars. In 1869, Grover received the further gift of a new plane mirror, Barlow lens & several achromatic eyepieces from John Browning, a renowned telescope and optical instrument manufacturer in London. It was in 1869 that Browning also offered Grover a position at his London firm, and Grover and his wife and son left Chesham for London, where he worked for Browning for 13 years. As Browning’s assistant, Grover was involved in the development and testing of optical components, including the silvering of glass speculae, and came into contact with numerous well-regarded astronomers, often serving as lantern operator at lectures given to the Royal Astronomical Society.

In 1882, Grover left Browning’s employ to join a Royal Geographical Society expedition to Australia to observe the transit of Venus. He travelled as the assistant of Cuthbert Peek, son of Sir William Henry Peek, MP. Although observation of the transit in the December of 1882 was prevented by cloud, Grover, together with Peek, made extensive observations of double stars and star clusters in the days preceding the transit.

On his return to England in 1883, Grover and his family moved to Rousdon in Devon where he was appointed resident astronomer at the Rousdon Observatory established by Peek on his estate, as well as curator of Peek’s private museum. Together, Grover and Peek began a systematic observation of the variation of brightness of long-period variable stars, a new area of study in the nineteenth century, with Grover contributing regular reports to the Royal Astronomical Society. Following Peek’s death in 1901, the complete series of observations of 22 stars collected over 16 years by Peek and Grover were edited by Herbert Hall Turner and published in 1904 in ‘The Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society’. In 1908, a dinner was held in Grover’s honour by the Royal Astronomical Society, chaired by Turner, an admirer of Grover’s work. In the same year, Grover wrote ‘50 Years an Astronomer’ A Few Recollections of Half a Century’s Work’ (unpublished), giving an account of his life.

Grover continued to work at the Rousdon Observatory founded by Peek, sending reports on his observations of variable stars to the Royal Astronomical Society until shortly before his death in February 1921, at the age of 79. At this time, he had completed a total of 14,994 variable star observations over a period of 35 years. He is buried at St Pancras Church, Rousdon.