A History of Slough Observatory House
For over 100 years there was a large house and garden called Observatory House on Windsor Road, Slough.
The famous astronomer Sir William Herschel and his sister Caroline lived there and built the world’s largest telescope.
They had left Datchet in 1786 and the house remained in the ownership of the Herschel family until 1960.
Tragically it was demolished and a modern office building constructed in its place and a symbolic monument to Herschel erected nearby.
My connection to the Herschel family goes back almost 75 years, when I was a young boy.
One day Lady Herschel knocked on our door and said, “Could your boy come to our house on Saturday to help out in the garden?”
With a slight reverence, my mother said, “Certainly your Lordship. This job of working at Observatory House and meeting Sir John and Lady Herschel changed the rest of my life.
I would arrive home, cap in hand, and wait in the entrance hall. On the wall hung a large mirror which, to my surprise, overturned my reflection as I walked towards it.
Soon the two elderly people who lived there were meeting with me to discuss what they would like me to do that morning. The gentleman’s name was the Reverend Sir John Herschel and his wife Lady Herschel. He told me he was the last direct ancestor of Sir William Herschel, the famous astronomer.
They were the most fascinating adults I have ever met. They enthusiastically discussed everything and found everything around them wonderful. I really felt at home because that’s how kids my age would explore the world around them.
My gardening job usually consisted of raking the gravel that formed a large circular path in the middle of the lawn. Also, to store the bottom of the garden where there were metal tubes, large enough to fit through.
On one occasion, Sir John explained that at one point a telescope sat in the center of the great path and it could be turned to see the Heavens.
He once told me about Sir William Herschel who, along with his sister Caroline, discovered many stars and comets. He said that in 1781, when William was living in Bath, he was the first person to discover a new planet.
It was all very confusing to me; why would adults make telescopes and stay outside in freezing weather just to look at the stars.
Before I left I was usually paid half a crown for my efforts but more importantly the couple sometimes gave me a small item to keep.
To this day, I have kept these items, including a mystery medal, along with my other special treasures. I will tell you the story of the “mystery medal” next time.
Ron Lewin is a member of the Lewin family who have lived in Datchet and Slough since the 18th century. He attended Sir William Herschel Grammar School, then studied chemistry while working at the Fulmer Research Institute in Stoke Poges.
He later joined the new government industry education unit to explore ways to attract young people to scientific careers; subsequently, he participated in the drafting of the revised national science and technology curriculum.