Friday, 7 October 2016
Moses Holden, Autodidact of Preston
Tod U3A, with speaker Steve Halliwell
Steve Halliwell, Todmorden U3A's guest speaker on Thursday 15th September, is a man who clearly knew a lot about a Preston man, Moses Holden, who also knew a lot. Consequently, by the end of Steve's lecture, we were as well enlightened as those who attended Moses Holden's packed lectures on the science of 'ouranology' in the first half of the nineteenth century would have been.
From hand-loom weaver to Freeman of Preston
Steve's first slide showed we were in for a less dull ride than the phrase 'methodist evangelist' might have suggested to many of us: 'Moses Holden: self-taught genius, the Mozart of the astronomical world, a founder of UCLAN, constructor of telescopes, travelling lecturer (pre-railway) – From hand-loom weaver to Freeman of Preston'.
Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge
And so it proved. Steve's interest in local history had led him to research Preston's Learned Societies that grew out of the town's early Literary and Philosophical Society, and which, when it established its Mechanics' Institute in 1828, named it instead its Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge at the suggestion of one Moses Holden.
Indeed, The University of Central Lancashire regards itself as the descendant of that Institute.
Transit of Venus
Moses Holden was undoubtedly a remarkable man. Born in Bolton in 1777, his father, a hand-loom weaver, moved the family to Preston in 1784. Father Holden liked to read stories to his children, and Moses, after hearing about Jeremiah Horrocks and his recording of the Transit of Venus in 1639, determined that he would be an astronomer when he grew up.
Moses followed his father into the cloth industry as a weaver and married a woman from Whitehaven with whom he had three children with the exciting names of William Archimedes, John Horatio and Annie Leonora.
Travelling preacher and lecturer
The fact that the boys were born in Pontefract and Banbury tells a story itself. Moses became a travelling preacher and lecturer. In 1810 he undertook an eighteen month circuit tour of the north-west for the Methodist Church, based in Poulton-le-Fylde. He ran Sunday Schools and Bible Groups and was known for a good sermon. He probably travelled on foot.
However, by 1815 his private studies of mathematics and astronomy enabled him to offer triennial lectures at the Theatre Royal in Preston. These would be lectures given over a period of three evenings, each lecture packing the building. In time, Moses toured these lectures, and Steve's researches of where the lectures were held led him to conclude that Moses was using the canals (much as Mikron Theatre do today).
This presumed use of canals explains the circumstances of the Holden sons' births.
Celestial Handbook and Almanac
The lectures were quite something, featuring a magic lantern and an orrery (mechanical model of the solar system), both of Moses' own making. Doubtless, he would also have made some profit from sales of his 'Celestial Handbook and Almanac', copies of which he sent to both William IV and William Rogerson, the Astronomer Royal with whom he became very friendly.
Nevertheless, after his death in 1864, Mrs Holden advertised the almanac as available by post at the knock-down price of 2/-. Perhaps by then they were cluttering up her house!
As a lecturer, Moses could turn a pretty penny. In 1844, in Liverpool he was in such demand that he could pack halls for three sets of three lectures. And in 1852, his account books show that his set of farewell lectures in Preston netted him about £120 with only £21 expenses (which included a consideration for 'oils' with which to freshen the air of the theatre).
For this writer, Moses was most impressively a self-taught man excited by knowledge and its capacity to enrich life. He was also skilled in making and selling telescopes. His achievements have recently been celebrated and commemorated by UCLAN who have named their '70 cm diameter state-of-the-art robotic telescope' the Moses Holden Telescope at a ceremony Steve was delighted to have attended.
Steve's biography of Moses Holden is subtitled 'The inspirational story of a man who was inspired by a story'. The U3A Todmorden audience was clearly also inspired by Steve's talk, and we would like to thank him for his time and trouble in researching and presenting his findings.
Gail Allaby reported that we now have 40 groups. The Drama Group is in the process of being set up, and both the Wine Tasters and the Public Speakers are looking for a few more members. Ernie Rogan was away this month, and Gill Radford, our vice-chairman, presided with panache.
Our next meeting will be held on Thursday, 20th October in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45 when our speaker will be Bernard Lockett whose subject will be The Musical Theatre of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Many thanks to Anthony Peter for this report
Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb
HebWeb News: Volunteering in Palestine and Guatemala - with speaker David Gilman (9 Aug 2016)
HebWeb News: Snow, Permafrost, Insects, Iron - with speaker Dr Frank Nicholson (7 July 2016)
HebWeb News:Stranger in a Strange Land - with speaker Gill Russell (7 May 2016)
HebWeb News:Life with polio and a career as a TV and Radio presenter. with speaker Jane Shepherd (12 June 2016)
HebWeb News:Small in a Tall Person's World with speakers Hamish Willis and Penny Dean OBE (31 March 2016)
HebWeb News:In the Footsteps of Norbert Carteret (22 February 2016)
HebWeb News:Gallivanting on Public Transport - a Bus Pass from Berwick to Land's End (30 September 2015)
HebWeb News: Magna Carta - A (Mostly) Light-hearted look at 800 Years of History (1 September 2015)
HebWeb News: Summat a' Nowt - talk by Steve Murty (28 April 2015)
HebWeb News: My Convict Ancestors (12 April 2015)
HebWeb News: Aquaponics Lab - A Radical Solution (16 January 2015)
HebWeb News: British Professional Cycling – Tykes and Le Tour de France (11 December 2014)
HebWeb News: Life in La Serenissima, Venice - Kathryn Ogden (9 July 2014)
HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: The Machine that Changed the World (25 February 2014)
HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Music and the Deaf (12 February 2014)
HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Psychology and You - Part Two David Groves made a welcome return as a speaker at the October Todmorden U3A (26 October 2013)
HebWeb News: Hebden Bridge Little Theatre, A Short History was recounted by Ray Riches to the University of the Third Age. (28 Aug 2013)
HebWeb News: John Sheard, retired land agent to the Duke of Devonshire, gave his third talk to members of the U3A, this time on Sir Joseph Paxton, Knighted Gardener (26 July 2013)
HebWeb News: Off Stage Choices: Andrew Rawlinson recounts his theatre experience from Tod Operatic to General Manager of a leading Theatre Group. (18 July 2013)
HebWeb News: The Story of the Hebden Bridge Calendar (April 2013)
HebWeb News: Changing Times in the Press (March 2013)
HebWeb News: Cancer from Both Sides (Nov 2012)
HebWeb News: Steve Halliwell outlined the history of the Woodland Trust (Sept 2012)
HebWeb News: Ray Riches talks on Walking the Pacific Crest Trail (Aug 2012)
HebWeb News: Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison (July 2012)
HebWeb News - Lord Shutt explains the workings of the House of Lords (May 2012)
HebWeb News - Claire Benedict talks acting to Todmorden U3A (April 2012)
HebWeb News - Kate Moreton-Deakin spoke about her day job as Associate Director - Corporate Social Responsibility with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust. (Feb 2012)
HebWeb News - Fair Trade Movement (Feb 2012)
HebWeb News - Fancy a cruise to the Antarctic? (Feb 2012)
HebWeb News - Gail Allaby, U3A's Queen of the Underworld (Dec 2011)
HebWeb News - September meeting report - Report of meeting about Walking the Pacific Crest Trail
HebWeb News - August meeting report - Bolton Abbey
HebWeb News - May and June meeting report - Keep Learning: Live long and prosper and the role of the Lord-Lieutenant
HebWeb News - April meeting report - Belt and Braces - An Everyday Guide to Risk and Chance
HebWeb News - March meeting report - Growing Old in the Twenty-First Century