There are no statues of Government bureaucrats in Trafalgar Square, but Britain still leads the world in the production of officious box tickers and totally useless pen pushers.
In Nelson’s day, the Royal Society was based at Somerset House. On 26 April 1781, the society’s scientists gathered in the vestibule to hear an astonishing paper written by William Herschel, a German musician living in Bath.
Herschel was an amateur astronomer in his spare time. Looking through his telescope one evening, he had spotted something moving through the heavens:
‘On Tuesday the 13th of March, between 10 and 11 in the evening, while I was examining the small stars in the neighbourhood of H Geminorum, I perceived one that appeared visibly larger than the rest. Being struck with its uncommon magnitude, I compared it to H Geminorum and the small star in the quartile between Auriga and Gemini, and finding it so much larger than either of them, suspected it to be a comet.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 40. Herschel was wrong. He had discovered a new planet. What was its name?
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