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  • So, what happened was this: I moved to a small village in North Yorkshire, England, Europe, The World, The Universe...

    And, as you do, as I do anyway, I wanted to know if there was anything interesting about this village.

    My tiny cottage (built for farm workers circa 1750) is opposite the church and the Old Rectory. The latter, formerly, the place where the Rector lived. A beautiful Regency house with a garden like the garden of Eden; a place where I have since spent many a happy hour playing croquet and walking the dog. A garden of fruit trees, herb borders and lawns dappled by the shade of ancient walnuts.

    I googled. I read: "This house, formerly occupied by the Rev William Towler Kingsley, friend of Ruskin and Turner..."

    They had me at Turner. I began to find out everything I could about the Reverend Kingsley.

    Of all the things I discovered, few were funnier than the story of how a cup of tea prevented the British discovery of Neptune. All the maths was in place, but then this happened (in William's own words):

    “It was clear that Challis [then Professor of Astronomy, based at the Observatory in Cambridge] would find it when he had time, … there was no thought of hurry amongst those who had full faith in Adams. One day, however, after Challis had begun the search, I was dining at Trinity and sat next Challis, and naturally our talk turned on the search and its progress, …he said…”I have made a note against one star, that it seemed to have a disc;” so I said, “Would it not be worth while to look at it again and with a higher power?” He replied, “Yes, if you will come with me when dinner is over we will look at it.” So I went up to the Observatory with him: it was clear and fine but, when we arrived, Mrs Challis insisted on our having some tea before we went into the Dome. We unfortunately partook of that fruit, and when we went out clouds had come up, and for many days there was no clear sky; before the star was re-examined the discovery was made in Berlin; you know that the star was Neptune – but for that cup of tea, Adams would have had the full credit some fortnight before the dis-covery. There was such a feeling of security on my own part, and I am sure also on that of Challis, that I did not resist the tea, because I knew how anxious Mrs Challis often was about her husband’s exposure when observing. This is worth being made public.”

    Partook of that fruit. How biblical.

    I have finally written a short booklet about William, and copies are already in the Ruskin Library, University of Lancaster and St John's College, Cambridge. William is refusing to be neglected and is coming back....

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