Lockyer, Lady

Lockyer, Lady, Brownlands, Sid Road, Sidmouth

Thomazine Mary Lockyer, née Browne, known as Mary, (1852 – 1943) was born in September 1852 in Bridgwater Somerset. Her father was Samuel Woolcott Browne and her mother Thomazine Leigh Browne (née Carslake).  Both were Unitarians and active social reformers. Her mother established the Leigh Browne Trust which promoted scientific research without animal experimentation. Samuel was a philanthropist associated with the Ragged School and Red Lodge Reformatory.  Both grandfathers had served with Nelson on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, (Captain John Carslake and Captain George Lewis Browne).

Mary and her older sister, Annie, (Annie Leigh Browne, q.v.) enjoyed childhood holidays in the Sid Valley, Devon with their Carslake grandparents. Her parents moved to Clifton near Bristol. Mary enjoyed being outdoors and horse riding whereas Annie, who was said to have delicate health, had more studious indoors interests. From a young age Mary was an ardent feminist and her Unitarian beliefs emphasized the importance of intellect. She had little doubt that the value of the female intellect was undervalued in Great Britain.[1] She attended Queen’s College, Harley Street in 1868 and was awarded a scholarship that allowed her to attend lectures in natural philosophy and, unusually for a woman, astronomy. She also attended courses in physics and applied mathematics at University College and became a mathematics tutor in 1875. Both Mary and Annie worked with Octavia Hill at Toynbee Hall, Whitechapel, a centre for social and, especially, housing reform.[2]

In 1880 Mary, her sister Annie, and Annie’s close friend, Mary Stewart Kilgour, campaigned for women’s education and specifically to enable College Hall, in Byng Place, to open in 1882.[3] This was a radical enterprise as it was the first hall of residence for women students at University College and the London School of Medicine for Women. The students did not have to provide character references and had representation on the governing body of the institution. When this last controversial measure was eventually passed, it was said to be unprecedented in such an institution.[4]  It housed some of the pioneering women studying at university level in London. (In 1932 Mary and her old friend Mary Stewart Kilgour were presented to Queen Mary on the opening of the ‘new’ College Hall, reviving memories of over half a century before.  Annie Leigh Browne was unwell and could not attend.)

Mary attended the Solar Physics Observatory in South Kensington. This was the brainchild of the charismatic and self-taught Norman Lockyer. It was publicly-funded and both taught and researched day-time astronomical physics rather than traditional astronomy. In 1882 Mary received a letter from Lockyer who was, at the time of writing, in Egypt recording a solar eclipse. He expressed the hope that she was happy and he signed ‘Always very sincerely yours.’ (Lockyer’s wife had died in 1879). Mary kept the letter and clearly both had made an impression on each other.

However it was another man, Bernard Brodhurst, to whom Mary committed herself.  In 1885 she married the 63 year old surgeon who had been on the committee of College Hall when they presumably first met. He had twice been a widower and was 31 years older than Mary who now acquired six step-children. He was an eminent and internationally known surgeon at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital. He had the unusual distinction of being awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French having tended their wounded soldiers in 1849 in the conflict with Garibaldi’s forces outside Rome. He wrote at least four textbooks and the most well-known concerned the treatment of ankylosed (fixed) joints. He died in 1900.[5]

Clearly Mary had remained in contact with Norman Lockyer and they married in 1903.  She now had a further 7 step-children and was said to be supportive and encouraging to all of them. She herself had no children from the first marriage.

In 1905 Lockyer formed the British Science Guild, a pressure group to persuade the government to put more investment in science education and research.  Mary became honorary assistant treasurer but probably did most of the work. The same year she was a volunteer in a solar eclipse expedition to Mallorca and contributed in the final report which included the use of one of the instruments. She was a keen and experienced photographer and Lockyer made use of her expertise on visits to ancient monument sites, including Stonehenge, where he was researching archaeo-astronomy.  In her own right she had a botanical paper accepted by Nature (1918).

Norman Lockyer had been greatly upset when the Solar Physics Laboratory he had founded was moved to Cambridge and he decided to build his own ‘hill’ observatory for astrophysical research. Mary Lockyer owned land on Salcombe Hill on the eastern side of Sidmouth and in the parish of Salcombe Regis. This was an ideal location for both their new house, curiously left unnamed, and the new observatory close by. Arthur Duke of Connaught became President of the Appeals Committee which was formed in 1914 although the Great War hampered construction.  Mary became assistant treasurer of the new venture.

Mary had been a life-long suffragist and was treasurer of the Women’s Local Government Society.  She helped the organisation of suffrage marches including one with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in 1910. Her correspondence suggests that she favoured mainstream political tactics rather than those employed by the suffragettes, a view shared by Mrs Arnold-Forster, the wife of a Liberal Unionist MP, who wrote to Mary: “I was amazed to find on talking to peers and their wives how much harm the suffragette demonstration had done us.  It seems so little to do with us.” Mary unashamedly used Sir Norman’s name to directly lobby members of both the Commons and the Lords knowing that her husband was sympathetic to her views.[6] She also continued to enjoy a friendship with fellow scientist Hertha Ayrton who had more radical suffragist views.

It is likely that it was the links that such staunch suffrage activists as Lockyer and Browne had with Sidmouth that led to the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) determining that Sidmouth would be one of the first places in Devon selected for the creation of a branch. Margaret Robertson, one of the NUWSS’s national organisers, came to Sidmouth at the end of 1908 with ‘a list of prospective members’[7] and hosted a preliminary meeting at the end of which ‘a number of ladies’ remained behind to discuss forming a local branch.[8] The branch was launched at the end of February 1909[9] with a speech by Lady Frances Balfour, and Lockyer volunteered to become the secretary to the local branch. Her frequent absences meant that the address she gave the NUWSS for correspondence was her London home, 16 Pen Y Wern.

Lockyer remained secretary to the branch until December 1918 when she resigned her post.[10] She represented the branch at meetings of the South West Federation of WSS,[11] chaired meetings on occasion,[12] and was particularly involved in outreach work, both locally and in the wider Honiton Division, especially once Major Morrison Bell, MP, had withdrawn his support for women’s suffrage.[13] She proposed the resolution that led the branch to support the initiative to create an Infants’ Welfare Club in Sidmouth.[14] Following her resignation as secretary she was elected as President and oversaw the translation of the branch into the Sidmouth Citizens’ Association.[15]

In 1916 she became honorary treasurer of the Sidmouth Maternity & Infant Welfare Centre newly established at Woolcombe House, adjacent to the Byes.[16] This building had been jointly purchased by Mary and Annie in 1908. Although Annie took the lead in organizing educational events at that venue Mary enjoyed giving science based talks, mainly on behalf of the Sid Vale Association.

Lockyer had strong ties to the Old Meeting (Unitarian Chapel) and, with her sister Annie, paid for a window and plaque in memory of the Carslake family. She was a very generous benefactor to the Chapel.

Norman Lockyer died in August 1920 aged 84. Three years later Mary was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. (Women were first elected in 1917) She remained involved in administrative matters with the Observatory and astronomers and other scientists were regular visitors to her house for tea. At the outbreak of the Second World War she allowed Royal Navy chronometers, usually sited in Exeter, to be relocated to her house.

Lockyer remained active until shortly before her death and those that knew her said that she possessed ‘A rare and outstanding charm’. She died on September 9 1943, aged 91.[17] Surprisingly there is no memorial to her in the Observatory or in Sidmouth to her.



Entry created by Nigel Hyman, Sidmouth Museum, December 2018

[1] George Wilkins, ‘The Lockyer Ladies’  Science History Publications Ltd (NASA Astrophysics Data System), Issue 3, Dec 2006 p.103-105.

[2] Harold Spencer Jones, Monthly Notes of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol 104, Sept 1944, p.91-92

[3] College Hall, UCL Bloomsbury Project online. Available at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/institutions/college_hall.htm Accessed 28 Dec 2018.

[4] The Times, 22 Feb 1884.

[5] Brodhurst, Bernard Edward, Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows, Royal College of Surgeons of England, available on line at: https://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/client/en_GB/lives/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ASSET$002f0$002f335442/one?qu=%22rcs%3A+E000972%22&rt=false%7C%7C%7CIDENTIFIER%7C%7C%7CResource+Identifier . Accessed 28 Dec 2018.

[6] Jack Meadows, Science and Controversy, A Biography of Sir Norman Lockyer, Macmillan 2nd edition 2008 p.278-9,322

[7] Common Cause (CC) 29 Apr 1909.

[8] Western Times (WT) 27 Nov 1908.

[9] Devon & Exeter Gazette (DEG) 27 Feb 1909.

[10] DEG 6 Dec 1918

[11] CC 4 May 1911

[12] CC 5 Dec 1913.

[13] WT 10 May 1912; CC 24 Jan & 7 Nov 1913

[14] WT 3 May 1916

[15] WT 18 Feb 1919.

[16] Nigel Hyman, Woolcombe House, from A Guide to the Blue Plaques: Life and Times in Sidmouth, Sid Vale Association, 2019

[17] Sidmouth Herald, 18 Sep 1943, p.6-7


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