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15 December 2011
Eminent Notts scientist receives blue plaque honour

A blue plaque commemorating the life and work of one of Nottinghamshire’s most eminent scientists is to be unveiled at the Beeston home he built.

Joseph Lowe

Edward Joseph Lowe was an astronomer, botanist and founder member of the Royal Meteorological Society, whose scientific observations helped to shape our understanding of the earth’s atmosphere.

The plaque is the result of a campaign by four local civic and historical societies and has been funded by The University of Nottingham, the current owner of Broadgate House, 72 Broadgate, Beeston — the home and observatory built by Lowe in the early 1850s.

Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham Professor David Greenaway said: “We are extremely proud of our close connections with Edward Joseph Lowe, one of the Nottingham's most eminent scientists, and are delighted that we can play a part in commemorating his contribution in this way. Lowe's quest for knowledge and scientific endeavour are among the cornerstones of the University which has made its home on the area of parkland where Lowe spent so much of his life.”

Lowe, affectionately known as ‘The Big Snowflake' — a reference to his impressive snowy white beard — was born on November 11 1825 at Highfield House, the mansion house later bought by Nottingham businessman and philanthropist Sir Jesse Boot and donated to the University in 1928 to form part of the modern day University Park campus.

His passion for the sciences was ignited as a youth at Highfield and it was there that he began his first series of meteorological observations at the age of 15. His first scientific paper, A Treatise on Atmospheric Phenomena, was published in 1846 when Lowe was just 21.

His studies into astronomy and weather-related phenomena led to him publishing a number of papers on a wide variety of subjects including meteorology, luminous meteors — on which he collaborated with Oxford scholar Professor Baden Powell — sunspots, the zodiacal light and meteorological observations made during the 1860 solar eclipse at Fuente del Mar near Santander in Spain. He invented the dry powder test for ozone in the atmosphere and provided weather observations for The Times newspaper.

Lowe was also a keen botanist specialising in ferns, on which he published the eight illustrated volumes Ferns: British and Exotic in 1856, grasses and conchology (the study of shells). He also pioneered the method of using a solution of nitrocellulose for propagating cuttings from plants, a forerunner to the rooting powders used by gardeners today.

In 1850, he became a founder member of the British Meteorological Society — granted Royal status in 1883 by Queen Victoria — and was elected a fellow of the Linnaean Society and a fellow of the Zoological Society. In 1867 he was recognised with a fellowship from the Royal Society — an honour extended only to the world’s most eminent scientists.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff  FRS, of the University’s School of Chemistry, who was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 2002 and is due to take on the role of Foreign Secretary for the society at the end of this month, said: “As Foreign Secretary elect and as scientist living in Beeston, I am delighted that this often overlooked pioneer of modern science has been commemorated by both the town and the University.”

Throughout his life Lowe retained strong links with the city of Nottingham. In 1851 he moved to 72 Broadgate House, the home and observatory he built only to return to Highfield House in 1856 following the death of his father Alfred Lowe. His published works sometimes featured a local flavour, including papers such as The Conchology of Nottingham or a Popular History of the Recent Land and Freshwater Mollusca found in the Neighbourhood and The Climate of Nottingham. Older Beestonians may remember another of his observatories built near Beeston railway station and affectionately known to locals as ‘the Pepperpot’ and sometimes as ‘the Beeston Lighthouse’. This was demolished in 1963.

Lowe was Vice-President of the Nottingham Mechanics Institute for many years, was President of the Nottingham Literary and Philosophical Society in 1868 and served for many years as a local magistrate.

The blue plaque at his former Broadgate home, now occupied by the University Air Squadron, has been spearheaded by the Beeston and District Civic Society in collaboration with the Beeston and District Local History Society, the Stapleford and District Local History Society and the Bramcote Conservation Society as part of their campaign to celebrate prominent local people and places.

Peter Robinson, of the Beeston and District Civic Society, said: “This is the tenth plaque we have unveiled in 15 months. They are the product of a very successful collaborative venture between our four local societies that is celebrating a proud and often undervalued past in the greater Beeston and Stapleford areas.”

To date, the Beeston and District Civic Society, The Beeston and District Local History Society, the Stapleford and District Local History Society and the Bramcote Conservation Society have together commemorated TH Barton, the founder of Barton’s Buses; Arthur Mee, journalist and author; Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren; Arthur Cossons, a prominent local historian and headmaster; the Beeston Village Cross; General Ireton, son in law of Oliver Cromwell; Thomas Humber, who founded the Humber bicycle company in Beeston and invented the modern diamond-style bicycle frame; Dr John Clifford, Baptist campaigner; and William Thompson, the Nottingham Prizefighter known as Bendigo. More are planned, including a plaque marking Beeston Manor House, a commemoration to the Chilwell Explosion on 1 July 1918; Francis Wilkinson, lace manufacturer; and others.

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