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Unveiling the Mary Adela Blagg plaque
The plaque
Image Credit: Kevin Kilburn

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Unveiling the Mary Adela Blagg plaque

Jim Plant and Kevin Kilburn at the memorial

Image Credit: Kevin Kilburn

The small town of Cheadle, Staffordshire, now has a monument to selenographer (and one of the first women Fellows of the RAS) Mary Blagg.

With due allowance for the cold, wet start to the year, Sunday, 29 April 2018 was the date chosen to unveil a permanent memorial to British amateur selenographer, Miss Mary Adela Blagg (1858-1944), a native of Cheadle, Staffordshire. 

As a largely self-taught mathematician, her analytical skills had been fully employed in the analysis of variable star observations during the first years of the 20th century but it’s for her work to collate the lunar maps and nomenclature of 19thC selenographers, published in 1913 as a Collated List of Lunar Formations – named or lettered in the maps of Neison, Schmidt and Madler, that she’s best known. Having been invited to join the Lunar Committee of the International Astronomical Union shortly after its founding in 1920, Mary Blagg and Czechoslovakian astronomer Karl Muller, later went on to compile the official IAU list of named lunar formations and map, published in 1935. This remained the standard reference until the pre-Apollo photographic lunar mapping of the 1960s. 

After her death, a 4km diameter lunar crater in Sinus Medii, close to the centre of the Earthward facing hemisphere, was named Blagg in her honour. Mary Blagg was one of the first women to be elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society, in January 1916, and for that reason the Cheadle Discovery Group (CDG) held a very successful exhibition in Cheadle between October 2016 and March 2017. It was later decided to erect a permanent memorial stone and plaque to her memory. 

However, in contrast to the warm weather the previous weekend, 29 April was unseasonably cold and breezy, so much so that the small marquee erected to shelter the invited dignitaries and guests had to be weighted down and the canvas walls removed to stop it taking off! Nevertheless, by 1.45pm a small group of people, including members of the Cheadle Discovery Group; the mayor, councillor Phil Routledge, the mayoress; representatives from local societies, as well as from the community had collected next to the Millennium Sphere, another astronomical monument gracing the town centre in the shadow of the 200ft spire of St. Giles R.C. church, ‘Pugin’s Gem’, already well known by visitors and tourists from around the world. 

The Royal Astronomical Society, the Society for the History of Astronomy, and Manchester Astronomical Society were represented by Kevin Kilburn FRAS; Mrs Laura Carrol, SHA Hon. Secretary; and Dr and Mrs Barry Henshall from MAS. Apologies for absence were received from local MPs Mrs Karen Bradley (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) and Sir Bill Cash. Dr Jeremy Shears and Prof Bill Leatherbarrow of the BAA were unable to attend owing to prior commitments. 

The proceedings began at 2pm with a short introductory speech by CDG Chairman, Ivor Lucas. He then invited Kevin Kilburn to say a few words about Mary Blagg’s important contribution to selenography. Local blacksmith and astronomer (a BAA Hon. Member), Mr James Plant, then described the Millennium Sphere unveiled in May 2001 by Sir Francis Graham Smith FRS, Astronomer Royal 1982-1990. Jim then unveiled the new memorial dedicated to Mary Adela Blagg to a round of applause. 

The new memorial stone and its landscaped surround has been financed by Cheadle Discovery Group and with grants from the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society for the History of Astronomy, Manchester Astronomical Society and individual contributors, all listed on a separate brass plaque. It is erected at the edge of an existing, well-kept flower bed in the recently dedicated Monument Garden and is to be maintained by the town council as a permanent tribute to a quietly spoken amateur astronomer, important in the history of selenography yet largely unknown to the general public and the people of this delightful Staffordshire town. 

Kevin J Kilburn FRAS: On behalf of the Cheadle Discovery Group

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