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KBGS Old Boys' Forum

A place to discuss Keighley Boys' Grammar School. 


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Blue plaque marking birthplace of Alfred Fowler FRS CBE

At the instigation of Wilsden Parish Council a Blue Plaque has been installed to mark the birthplace of Alfred Fowler in 1868.
The Fowler family moved to Keighley when he was eight and he was educated at Temple Street Wesleyan Day School and Eastwood Board School. In 1880 he obtained a scholarship to Keighley Trade and Grammar School from where he won a Devonshire Exhibition to the Normal School of Science (later the Royal College of Science) at South Kensington.
At the age of seventeen he was an assistant in spectroscopy to Norman Lockyer and at twenty, an astrophysics instructor. Later on in 1915, he held the post of Professor of Astrophysics and his research established the presence of titanium oxide in cool stars, ionization in stellar atmosphere, magnesium hydride in sunspots, carbon monoxide in the tail of comets and ozone in the earth’s atmosphere. He discovered that sunspots are cooler than their surroundings. He photographed the spectrum of the solar chromosphere and corona during his many expeditions to view eclipses. He also made contributions to atomic physics when the Bohr Theory of the atom was published. He was a successful teacher at Imperial College until his retirement and death in 1940. During his career he won several awards. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1910 and also won the Royal Medal. He was presented with the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal in 1915 and from 1919 to 1921 he was its president. He was the first General Secretary of the International Astronomical Union and was responsible for writing most of its bylaws. He was presented with the Henry Draper Medal in 1920 and the Bruce Medal in 1934 as well as honoured with a CBE in 1935. A lunar crater, ‘Crater Fowler’ and an asteroid, ‘11765 Alfred Fowler’, have also been named in his honour.
If you would like to contribute towards the cost of erecting the plaque you may make a donation at
https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/blue-plaque-in-wilsden-to-remember-alfred-fowler

Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1937-44

Current location (optional) Huntingdon

Re: Blue plaque marking birthplace of Alfred Fowler FRS CBE

Well done, Dave! We've found another famous Old Boy. The details of Alfred Fowler's Blue Plaque had appeared in the Keighley News in 2 editions during March and I had intended writing something up on our website using the Kly News information. But you beat me to it!
However, your piece is more detailed, apart from one or two minor personal points which I feel, are worth mentioning. Alfred's father Hiram, was a cotton warp dresser and Alfred's siblings all worked in textile mills. In or around 1875 the family moved to the Parkwood area of Keighley. Alfred's schooling led him to London, first as a student, then as an assistant to Sir Norman Lockyer. Before he became a teacher at the Royal College, he returned to Keighley to marry Isabella Orr, who had lived next door to the Fowler family in Parkwood; obviously a childhood sweetheart! The rest is history, as they say!

Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1945-50

Current location (optional) Keighley(Still)

Re: Blue plaque marking birthplace of Alfred Fowler FRS CBE

As I was clearing the pile of papers on top of my filing cabinet yesterday I came across a copy of a paper published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific on 1 June 1902 entitled 'The Flash Spectrum' by S A Mitchell. Most of its 12 pages were highly technical and beyond my understanding, but my attention was caught by a sentence regarding the spectrum of the sun's atmosphere which up to that time had been observed by eye at a total eclipse, which reads:
'This question could be settled only by obtaining a permanent record of the flash spectrum by photography, which was accomplished in 1893 by FOWLER.in West Africa, and again in 1896 by SHACKLETON, in Novaya Zembla'. Incidentally the latter was the first time the complete flash spectrum had been photographed with perfect definition.
William Shackleton FRAS, ARCSc, FINsTP (1872-1921) was also an Old Boy who followed Fowler via Eastwood School and KT&GS with a Devonshire Exhibition to the Royal College of Science where he also studied and worked as an Astrophysicist. He returned to Keighley to marry Mary Helen Orr, sister of Isabella and of three others including Jane, my grandmother.
Towards the end of 1900 Shackleton was selected to accompany Scott’s first expedition to the Antarctic as physicist, and was occupied for some months with the special instruments to be employed, but almost at the last moment, to his great disappointment, he was disqualified on medical grounds.
His obituary in the Proceedings of the Optical Society says: Mr Shackleton joined the Society in 1913, and on taking office as Secretary in 1916 he spared no effort to increase its status and widen its influence. He was elected a Vice-president in 1920 and continued to take an active interest in the welfare of the Society.

Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1937-44

Current location (optional) Huntingdon

Re: Blue plaque marking birthplace of Alfred Fowler FRS CBE

So,David, it seems that your grandmother Jane Orr, was related to Two famous Old Boys of the School, both of whom are not as yet, on our Famous Old Boys page. I must have a word with Chris and see how that's done. Still, two excellent postings, David and well worth the reading!

Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1945-50

Current location (optional) Keighley(Still)