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To grind the speculum of the third telescope a special and very curious tool was necessary, and here Mr. Nasmyth gave father valuable information and sent a drawing of the tool. After making this tool according to Mr. Nasmyth's pattern, father found it applicable to metal specula only, and unsuitable to glass in as much as it would not parabolize, or work in the figure of a parabola. This was a great blow. However he eventually surmounted it by using Ross's machine, a description of which he came across; after considerable inquiry. This grinding completed, he succeeded in polishing his speculum with a disc of pitch squares, an apparatus which gave him much thought and trouble. Then came the silvering, and then the rolling and soldering of the tube, which was accomplished by means of a circular block of wood turned in the lathe to the required size. Here another difficulty presented itself, for when it was done, the wood was found immovably fixed inside the tube, and it became necessary to procure a steel augur to bore it out.


However, this taught father something, for in making the next telescope he used a number of laths fixed together and turned in the lathe. One of them was cut through diagonally so that the two parts when separated formed wedge-shaped sections, which could be readily knocked out when the case had been fixed; and thus the whole circular bundle could be easily removed. I know that the building of these telescopes was real hard work, and the difficulties and disappointments they involved were numerous, and were only overcome by sheer hard work and indomitable perseverance. The fourth telescope he had reason to be proud of.


He was assisted with the adjustment of this as well as in making the pitch plate with which to polish the speculum by Mr. Newton, a gentleman from Taunton. This was the telescope for which father built the observatory, and it has been described as a real triumph of skill.

Many a time after his day's work was done he would take his magic-lantern and give a lantern lecture on astronomy. He also wrote a paper, "*A Letter from the Man in the Moon," which was published in the _Exe Valley Magazine_. Another paper, "A Journey with Coggia's Comet," appeared in _Home Words_. Some of his mechanical toys, Stoke Canon Church with its peal of bells, ships rocking on the ocean, and others, have often been shown at church sales of work, and so helped the funds.


Roger Langdon and his wifee Ann

Roger Langdon with his wife Ann, who was a schoolmistress

©Graham Parnell and the

The Silverton Local History Society

Used with pormission


In 1888 father and mother received another fearful blow by the death of my youngest brother, after a very short illness, at his lodgings in Exeter. After this time father never appeared to be very well, and before long his health entirely gave way.


During these years several visitors came to father's observatory, among them Mr. Clifton Lambert, son of the General Manager of the Great Western Railway. This gentleman wrote a sketch of father's life, which was published in three different papers, Wit and Wisdom, June 1889, the Great Western Railway Magazine, September 1889, and in the summer number of Western Weekly News, 1894, just one month before he died. Visitors would call at all hours, in the day to see the spots on the sun, and in the evening and at night to see the moon and stars.


For many a year father had been a wonder to the simple country folk. They could not understand a man devoting his spare time to the study of the heavens, for the mere love of science. They had an idea that he could "rule the planets." Father used to say that he was astonished at the amount of superstition prevailing in the minds of all sorts of people, not only the uneducated. Even well-educated people would ask him if he could "rule their planets." He would say that he was ashamed to hear them ask such a question. People would come from long distances in the dead of night to have a look through the telescope. When asked how he had achieved so much, and brought up a large family in respectability, his answer was: "It is through the woman that the Almighty gave me; she has done the most."


It was in March 1894 that I went home to find father suffering from a complaint from which he could not hope to recover. He got gradually worse, and in July I was sent for again to come at once if I wished to see him alive. Mother had done all she could do for him, and I was very much shocked to find him suffering dreadfully. But he was very cheerful, only longing for his sufferings to end. It was a painful time, but as we all gathered around his bed, he often made us laugh by his jokes. Then there were quieter moments when he prayed the Almighty to take him. On the evening before he died, he repeated part of Psalm li. to me and some hymns, and that was the last. He passed peacefully away in the morning.


Through the kindness of Sir Thomas Acland, he was buried in the private burial ground of the Acland family, near his two sons.

*This article is reprinted on the next page.


The Ackland Family chapel and burial ground at Columb John

The Acland Family Chapel and burial ground at Columbjohn

Not far from Silverton, this is where Roger Langdon and two of his sons are buried

© Richard J. Brine


What a full life this man had before his death at 69! At eight he had been an illiterate ploughboy; he had taught himself Greek and French and constructed four telescopes ( of increasing magnification) from scratch, including making the necessary tools himself. He built an observatory in the garden of Station House and there developed a method for photographing the moon and the transit of Venus. He presented a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society and won the respect of men of the stature of James Nasmith and Dr Blacklock. He never earned more than 30 shillings a week yet he brought up and educated eight children while working long hours for his employers, the Bristol and Exeter Railway company.



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