Remembering the Proudman Building (1975-2013)

Judith Wolf, July 2022

The Proudman Building, viewed from Bidston Observatory, watercolour, painted by Sylvia Asquith
The Proudman Building, viewed from Bidston Observatory, painted by Sylvia Asquith

I started work at IOS Bidston in March 1976. It was a beautiful hot summer and I was delighted to be taking the first step on my career as an Oceanographer. I had graduated in July 1975 with a degree in Maths and Physical Oceanography from Bangor University. In October 1975 I got married and came to live in Cheshire, to join my husband who was posted there by his employer. I looked around for work and wrote to Bidston Observatory, one of the few places in the North West where there might be work in oceanographic research. Unfortunately, there was no vacancy but they offered to keep my name on file. To occupy myself, I started on a PhD at Keele University in the Maths Department, working on semi-conductor physics, modelling a tunnel diode – something I knew nothing about and in which I was not initially very interested. Six months later, just as I started to get the hang of what I was doing, I got a letter from Bidston saying there was a vacancy for a junior scientist and was I interested. Yes I was, so I applied and got offered the job at the grade of Scientific Officer (seeing as I didn’t yet have a PhD).

I loved working at Bidston immediately, it still had a warm family feeling, although by this time there were already about 80 staff, far more than in the early days. Three of us were appointed as ‘new blood’ in 1976, towards the end of quite a period of expansion. Most of the science staff were based in the ‘new building’ as it was known (even until it was pulled down in 2013). It was officially ‘opened’ and named in 1979, as a memorial to Prof Joseph Proudman, professor of mathematics at Liverpool University, and founder and first Director of the Liverpool Tidal Institute. The Proudman Building was a modern concrete structure, nothing like the historical Observatory building, but purpose-built by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), our employer, to accommodate the burgeoning marine scientific research programme. At the time (and for most of my career) we were on Scientific Civil Service terms and conditions, the pay was not the main attraction, but there was a generous final salary pension scheme and retirement was compulsory at age 60. For me this would be in 2013 – a long way in the future, I wasn’t thinking about my pension at that point! In fact I didn’t retire that year as the age rule had been relaxed by then, but it seems somehow significant  that the building had almost the same life span as my career.

The other attraction was that there was a possibility of being able to work for a part-time PhD, registered at Liverpool University. I already recognised that, being one of the only women scientists doing research at Bidston at the time, a PhD would be essential for me to be taken seriously in marine research. Soon after I joined, I was encouraged to go to sea on the RRS Challenger to the Celtic Sea, for the experience, although my work was mainly desk-based. It was great fun and I loved being at sea, taking part in watch-keeping: I shared a cabin with another young female scientist (women weren’t allowed to go to sea without another woman at that time), recruited about the same time as myself, Julia Evans. She was a graduate in oceanography from Swansea, but didn’t stay at Bidston very long, unfortunately, moving away to support her husband’s career in the police service.

I was assigned to a shared office on the 2nd (top) floor, in the Numerical Modelling Group, which was led by Norman Heaps, renowned for his pioneering work in developing numerical models of the sea, especially to study tides and storm surges. Also on the top floor was the Director’s Office (when I joined Dr David Cartwright was in charge) and the Canteen, where people gathered for coffee at 11:00, including some who came over from the Observatory Building, notably Sylvia Asquith and Joyce Scoffield (whose reminiscences can be found elsewhere in these articles). At the time we had a small in-house computer, the IBM 1130, in the basement of the Observatory building, but most of us sent our computing work as decks of punched-cards to the Science Research Council’s mainframe computer at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, about 30 miles away. This meant you had to wait 24 hours before the printout came back, to discover you had omitted a punctuation mark, leading to a compilation error! We all punched our own cards – including the Director.

On the 1st floor there were more science offices. The ground floor was the electronics lab and the Honeywell 66/20 computer room, the mainframe computer for the whole of NERC. It was due to be installed at Bidston in early autumn 1976, but the associated air conditioning plant was delayed and the 66/20 eventually became fully operational at Bidston in January 1978. The following 10 years was probably the golden era of Bidston’s influence and maximum staff numbers. When that computer was removed in the mid-80’s, the Library was installed in part of that space, transferred from the Observatory building, and run by our excellent librarian Kathy Jones, who was so knowledgeable and provided a great extracts service tailored to all of our specialisms. In the basement was the workshop and the ‘loading bay’ where equipment for scientific sea-going expeditions, known as research ‘cruises’, was mobilised and sent to RVS Barry in South Wales, where the research vessel fleet was based. Typically, our work in marine physics/hydrodynamics involved the deployment of offshore tide gauges and current meters and taking CTD profiles at selected stations (a ‘CTD’ – conductivity/salinity, temperature and depth-profile characterised the hydrography of the sea). The place was a hive of activity. At that time, the way we got our funding was from several government departments. A lot of my work was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which was responsible for coastal defence. We would receive ‘visiting groups’ of eminent scientists (e.g. Prof Adrian Gill, Sir Herman Bondi and Sir James Lighthill) every five years, who would interrogate us about our work and write a report, generally encouraging us to carry on! We had a lot of autonomy, but our research was, in fact, mostly applied to real world problems, providing information for the shipping, fishing and coastal engineering industries and so it was relatively easy to show its value. It was much easier than in later years when it has become increasingly competitive to win research funding, leading to large amounts of time spent by senior scientists, like myself by that time, in writing research proposals.

During my PhD studies I got to work with some colleagues at IOS Taunton to help collect and access some of their data on currents in shallow seas. In 1978 I participated in the ill-fated expedition on the charter vessel Gardline Locator in the Bristol Channel during which Martyn Lees from IOS Taunton was tragically lost overboard. I came on watch at 08:00 to be told he had just fallen overboard and be sure to log all activity. There was later a NERC enquiry in London, which I had to attend along with all others on board at the time, to recount the sequence of events as far as knew it. Safety procedures were criticised and improved as a result of this terrible accident.

I finally got my PhD in 1984, around the same time as I had my first baby. I knew if I didn’t get my thesis submitted before that event I might never complete it! I had started publishing papers and attending conferences, both national and international, and got rapid promotion to Principal Scientist in my early 30’s, which was essential to be recognised as a ‘prime-mover’ (in NERC jargon), initiating my own research programme. I carved out an area of research including the coupled modelling of storms, waves, tides and surges, mainly focussing on the NW European continental shelf (with water depths less than 200m as compared with 5000m in the deep ocean). Studying waves meant I worked with an international group of wave modellers and I set up a North Atlantic wave model, which provided boundary conditions for the continental shelf model and allowed us to study wave climate. I also had to acquire wave data to validate the wave model – sadly much of the UK wave observational programme had been closed down in the early 1980’s, particularly with the closure of IOS Taunton. I was responsible for initiating work with the X-band radar system to capture waves from a ship’s navigational radar display, turning up the ‘sea clutter’ and photographing the screen. This led to my final research cruise, on which I was Principal Scientist, observing waves in the Bristol Channel in February 1991 – not glamorous, but we did get some storm winds and good-sized waves!

We were moved over to the University of Liverpool campus in December 2004 and in its latter years the Proudman Building was maintained by NERC with some of the costs being offset by the running of the building (and the Observatory) for low-cost rental accommodation by so-called ‘guardians’. It was finally decided that in order to get a sale of the site, the Proudman Building, of no historical value and purpose-built for science, should be demolished, which happened in 2013. The grassy landscaped patch of ground where it stood does not look big enough to have housed so much activity and achievement.

More information about the history and work of Bidston Observatory can be found in other articles in this series and an article by Eric Jones written for Ocean Challenge in 1999 (Vol 9, No 1, pp 29-35): See also Joyce Scoffield’s book ‘Bidston Observatory: The Place and the People”, pub. Countyvise Limited, 2006. ISBN 1-901231-68-2

Thanks to Phil Woodworth and Ian Ainslie who corrected an earlier version of this article.

Valerie Gane

Valerie Gane, formerly Valerie Boyes and then Valerie Doodson, passed away at the Wirral Hospice St. John’s on 7 September 2021 following a short illness. Val was an important member of the Bidston community in many ways. (We believe that she preferred to be called Valerie but many people called her Val).

First, she was a leader of the tidal prediction group at the Observatory, meticulously checking that the predictions delivered to customers were correct. Val expected, and got, the very highest standards from her prediction team. Second, on a personal level, she provided a link to one of the most famous names in tidal science after marrying Tom Doodson in 1957: Tom was the son of Arthur Doodson CBE, a pioneer in many aspects of tidal research and the Director of the Observatory. After marrying, Tom and Val lived in a caravan in the grounds of the Observatory before finding their own house. (Although married to Tom, Val continued to be called ‘Miss Boyes’ during office hours.) Third, Val made a mark in Bidston history by being one of the first women to take part in a research cruise, in this case on the RRS Challenger, and even in that restricted environment she managed to maintain her usual high standards of dress and quality of work; something that she firmly believed was part of the Bidston ethos.

Finally, one can point to Val’s more recent involvements in Bidston and its surrounding area, by chairing a committee to ‘Save the Observatory’ when it came up for sale, and as a trustee and former chairperson of the Friends of Flaybrick Cemetery (see She was awarded an MBE for services to science in 1996. One could go on, by pointing to Val’s commitment to the church and the community in general. Val may have been well into her 80s when she died but, as many people have remarked, looked about 20 years younger and had an active retirement and was always ready to give her opinions on things that she felt were important.

Even many years after retiring, Val (together with other Bidston ‘computers’ including Sylvia Asquith and Joyce Scoffield) continued to take a great interest in the work of what was by then called the National Oceanography Centre. In particular, she gave invaluable help to Steve Newman and his team at the World Museum in Liverpool who refurbished two historical tide prediction machines (one called a Doodson-Légé machine), now on display at NOC.

In December 2019, Val married David Gane whom she had met through their membership of the West Kirby Methodist Church, moving nearer to the coast (and the tides) which had been a focus of her life. One of the last things she was able to do was transfer the remaining records of Arthur Doodson to the Museum in Liverpool, thereby adding to an archive of tidal research material that will be useful to many in the future.

– Valerie’s friends at Bidston Observatory

Below we enclose two photographs of Valerie followed by the excellent (slightly edited) eulogies for her at the Thanksgiving Service at West Kirby Methodist Church on 22 September.

Photograph of Valerie Gane taken on her 85th birthday when on holiday in Torquay.

Valerie Gane taken on her 85th birthday when on holiday in Torquay.
Photograph of Valerie operating the Doodson-Légé tide prediction machine when installed in the basement of Bidston Observatory.

Valerie operating the Doodson-Légé tide prediction machine when installed in the basement of Bidston Observatory.

Valerie Eulogy Part 1 by her niece Davina

I would like to celebrate Valerie’s life and share a little of her with you.

In the last year, the message Be Kind, has been shared on many media platforms. But Valerie was always ahead of the game in this respect. I don’t know anyone else who dedicated so much of their time to being Kind.

Whether it be to her family, her colleagues at the Bidston Observatory and latterly House of Hilbre. Her work with the Red Cross, Abbeyfield Care Home, The Bidston Preservation Trust, The Soroptimists, Friends of Flaybrick, the many other charitable organisations she supported or here at the church, she was someone who could always be relied on, even if she was sometimes a little late. In the family there was the right time and then Valerie time.

Valerie was born in 1936 in Wallasey, with the family moving to Sutton Coldfield for a few years before returning to Bidston Village where she and her sisters spent the rest of their childhood. She was one of 5 girls, but with the surname Boyes the irony wasn’t lost on people and they were known as the Boyes Girls. My gran had been the matriarch of the family and on her death Valerie took up the mantle and has been at the heart of the family ever since. Over the years we have all gone our own way but she was the lynch pin that brought us back together.

Valerie spent her whole working life at Bidston Observatory as an Oceanographer, part of the team predicting Tide Times and Height, this information was used all round the world. Many of you might not know but Valerie was one of the first women to volunteer for and be allowed take part on a research trip to the North Sea on the RRS Challenger, an opportunity she embraced. It was her dedication to her work at the Observatory that in 1996 lead to her being awarded the MBE for Services to Science.

I was chatting to one of Valerie’s long-time friends Nadina last week, who worked with her at the Observatory. She was new to the job and had had an accident at work on her moped and woke up in hospital with Valerie sitting next to her. Valerie had been shocked to find out there were no first aiders at work, so she set about changing that and enrolled with the Red Cross to become a first aider. Nadina made a full recovery but at the time didn’t realise that Valerie’s initial training would lead to a passion and dedication to first aid and the Red Cross. Valerie didn’t stop there though and took more advanced courses as a demonstrator, trainer, in nursing proficiency, higher nursing, ambulance driver, welfare officer and eventually became District Co-ordinator for the Red Cross on the Wirral. She even had me take courses with her and I went on to be a first aider at work.

It was at that Observatory Valerie met the boss’s son Tom, who she married in 1957 and was happily married to until his death in 2002. Initially they lived in a caravan at the Observatory before moving to their home in Sandstone Drive, where she lived for 60 happy years.

After she retired from the Observatory Valerie was instrumental in keeping the legacy of the work undertaken alive and was a key player in getting the Doodson-Légé Tidal Predicting Machine rebuilt, which is now on display in the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool. This was one of the last, and probably one of the most accurate, analogue computers that could predict a year of tide times and heights anywhere in the world. She was interviewed many times about it, including appearing on the TV programme Coast to share her knowledge and also the vital work undertaken at the Observatory in the war, where the tides were predicted by her father-in-law Dr Arthur Doodson for the D-Day landings. Doodson was instrumental in the days chosen for the landings.

Valerie never had children of her own but her nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, godchildren and latterly her stepson Philip and his partner Mar meant the world to her and she delighted in spending time with us all.

I know I speak for my family, when I say, we all share happy memories of our times with Valerie. When her older sister Elaine, who lived in Africa died, Fiona and Hazel who were still very young had to come home, Valerie and Tom stepped in and looked after them, giving them the love and support they needed.

As children we all were taken on many camping holidays to Shell Island, near Harlech in Wales, where we went sailing in Uncle Toms boat, the famous one he built in the dining room and boarding down the sand dunes, at speeds our parents would be terrified of if they knew. Trips to the beach with her famous picnic basket were never complete without them building us a boat in the sand. When we would pack up and head home, other children still on the beach would race to claim our boats, they were that good. Her favourite treat for us was Choc Ices and I can never see one without thinking of her.

Once, when Valerie was away on a trip, my Uncle built some ships steps up into the loft to replace the loft ladder. These steps were near vertical and as children we all loved climbing them, always begging to play in the loft. They had a snooker table up there for at least 50 years that I know of and as children it was such an adventure to go and play in the loft. When the house was eventually sold, that was the last place I went to, to soak it in one more time.

Those of you who visited Sandstone Drive will know that the garden was mainly paved at different levels, but many of you won’t know that at the bottom of the garden there was one sunken part that had a secret use. On hot days Uncle Tom would line it with a sheet of plastic and fill it with water, with Valerie running back and forth with hot water to warm it up and it became a small pool for us to splash around in.

When I married and had my own children, Valerie became an honorary grandmother to them. She would pick them up after school once a week and take them to swimming lessons. We went on holiday every Easter with her and it was lovely to see my family enjoying her company as much as I had as a child.

David came into her life 5 years ago and it was lovely to see them fall in love and be so happy together. They packed a lot into the time they had and in the most part Valerie’s time keeping did improve, she definitely became more organised. David, Phil and Mar are now firmly wrapped in the warm embrace of our family.

I know you will all agree with me when I say, that Valerie really was one of the kindest people. I would like to leave you with these words, that I think sum up Valerie “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded” and I hope you will agree Valerie succeeded.

– Davina

Part 2 David’s tribute to Valerie

The photo on the front of the order of service [up on the screen] was taken on Valerie’s 85th birthday, 28th June this year whilst we were on holiday in Torquay. She was full of life and vigour with all her faculties. Just 10 weeks later she went to meet her Savour, the One who inspired and motivated her. I heard Valerie say, when receiving the prognosis, “Don’t get me wrong doctor, I don’t want to die, but if it is curtains don’t let me hang around”. Valerie was a decisive lady, confident in her Savour’s promise, but yes she admitted shedding a tear at the thought of leaving her beloved family.

Davina has already outlined much of Valerie’s life from which you will have gathered we only started sharing our lives 5 years ago, but those 5 years were magical, a bonus beyond our wildest dreams and we both gave praise for them. Picking up the previous 80 years of Valerie’s life has come from stories told and little gems that Valerie let slip.

I will start with a card from one of Valerie’s God Daughters who is currently away on holiday overseas. I quote an extract, “Valerie was an incredible woman who touched many peoples lives, and always in such a positive way. She will be greatly missed by us all …”

Davina described Valerie’s work at the Bidston Observatory, and I would just like to read an extract from an email received from Graham Alcock who knew Valerie from the time he joined Bidston in 1972. Valerie was responsible to him for the production and distribution of all Bidston’s tidal predictions world-wide. He with his wife Iona have since emigrated to New Zealand. He writes,

Valerie set, expected and got very high standards of work from her team, maintaining and upholding the highest standards that Dr Doodson and Dr Rossiter had set from the very beginning of the Tidal Institute at Bidston. Valerie was one of the first women to volunteer for, and be, “allowed” to go on a Bidston research cruise, on the RRS Challenger under the enlightened Directorship of Brian McCartney. I was on that cruise and even in such a restricted environment, Valerie maintained her usual smart and elegant appearance, which was her hallmark at Bidston. Valerie’s work ethic and dress sense went together! Iona and I are very sad to hear the news and send you our condolences. We value the good memories of knowing Valerie.

I can confirm that Valerie was very meticulous, all her work had to be perfectly laid out [Phil adds, including our dining table!] I can see now that this came from her work experience with figures. There could be no mistakes. Valerie was an excellent proof-reader, and she could zip through sudoku puzzles in a flash. She also excelled at Codeword puzzles – always helping me out. I called her a walking dictionary.

Davina mentioned the Red Cross and I have found 36 certificates of courses attended. Valerie told me of her experience once of driving a Red Cross ambulance through the Grand National crowds at Aintree following a police car. Valerie would have enjoyed that as she was an Advanced Driver being a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists for 38 years where she volunteered to sit alongside drivers, listen to their commentaries as they drove and provide constructive feedback.

I think it was also in connection with the Red Cross that Valerie either organised or took part in taking disadvantaged, or disabled children on holiday to a special centre in Southport. If someone who knew Valerie in that role would like to add to her story we would very much like to hear from you.

Valerie was also quite heavily involved in local politics and I am sure many retired local councillors and MPs would testify to her help and support. It was for Valerie all about helping people to make a difference in the lives of others.

Valerie’s late husband Tom developed leukaemia and after some time in hospital she brought him home and nursed him until the end. It brought out the best in Valerie, but it was exhausting. Following that she did her bit for what is now called Blood Cancer UK raising funds to help research. Valerie made quite special shortcakes.

These cakes also came in useful at church events where Valerie was never far behind in providing support for other people’s initiatives. Valerie took her turn as a church steward at a particularly difficult time when we were without a regular Minister and George Palmer stepped into the breach. George told me he found Valerie very supportive, efficient and of great value. As many here will know, Valerie served on the Worship Committee and produced the rota for readers and door stewards since it seems from when Adam was a boy.

Valerie said to me before she died, “If my death can bring people closer together, then it has not been in vain.” Valerie never liked to see anyone out in the cold. Her instinct was to draw them in and make them feel at home. Above all else that she did or achieved, Valerie was intrinsically kind, caring, understanding and full of empathy even where she thought people should take greater responsibility for their own lives. And this was underwritten by her faith in Jesus Christ.

Valerie [with I think Tom] renewed their faith, being baptised at New Brighton Baptist Church on Palm Sunday 13th April 2003. An Alpha Course at Greasby Methodist Church sometime previously set Valerie on that path. There was already a strong Christian tradition in the Doodson family. We all know the saying, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Well in Valerie’s case, the proof of her faith was in her living and she proved that emphatically.

It is a difficult concept for me to explain but the grace Valerie possessed came from an acknowledgement that her gifts really were, just that, “gifts”, gifts from God, and she was motivated through gratitude and love to put them to best use. As the world moves into difficult times we urgently need that sense of purpose more than ever.

I would like to end by thanking all those who have sent cards of condolence and personal letters. All have helped me enormously. Also, a special thankyou to Yangsun for singing favourite hymns to Valerie shortly before her Saviour took her. I like to think Valerie was aware of Yangsun’s voice. It was the best possible departure.

We have put together just an outline of Valerie’s life and we would welcome any contributions that would help to fill in some of the detail. Please either raise your hand for the roving microphone so we can all hear or come and chat with us afterwards.

Thank you Valerie for a life well lived and may more flow from it than you could possibly envisage. I am certainly a better person for knowing you and I love you more than words can convey.

– David Gane

Kevin Frederick Taylor

Kevin Frederick Taylor, Head of Marine Engineering Workshop

A personal obituary by Graham Alcock from New Zealand

Kev passed away on 10th May, quickly at home after a couple of years of illness. He joined Bidston in 1970 and soon gained a reputation for his very high-quality precision work in manufacturing our instruments that made Bidston Observatory one of the few European oceanographic labs capable of making measurements in coastal, shallow and deep waters. He was head of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory at Bidston Observatory. All instruments that went in the sea were manufactured in this facility as none were available commercially. During his career, he made a number of major contributions to advance the design of instruments. He was known by everyone at Bidston Observatory and well liked and respected by them all.

Kev had a great sense of humour and was an excellent raconteur of stories and jokes; an ability developed and honed during his other early career as a cabaret double act playing guitars and telling jokes. I always looked forward to emails from him to NZ with his wit and turn of phrase.

I remember happy times outside work. I remember especially the three holidays that we all went on in 2005 before Iona and I emigrated to New Zealand.

Kev was interested in Roman Britain and he, Di, Graham and Iona enjoyed a visit to Hadrian’s Wall in winter 2005 – made more memorable by staying in a Fawlty Towers hotel. The hotel had just been bought by a woman whose previous experience was limited to helping her sister run a B+B. When we said we would like an evening meal, she had to look in the fridge/freezer to see what there was, and while that was being prepared, we had to light the fire in the lounge. We were the only people staying there, but that weekend her family descended en masse and proceeded to drink the bar dry. We had to save the young daughter from falling into the lounge fire. Kev never let me forget about booking Fawlty Towers!

In May we went to Stratford where I had booked us into a traditional country inn and that was OK except for one breakfast, when Kev’s sausages were uncooked. The chef had taken the morning off and given the cooking duties to one of the young kitchen staff. It could only happen to Kev!

In July we went to Cornwall to visit the Eden Project. On the way down, I had researched a Real Ale pub to stop at for lunch; this turned out to be an Indian restaurant in bright orange, much to Kev’s delight! We stayed at a B+B owned by a German and his English wife and on the way down, Kev had joked about “Don’t mention the war” but that is what the German owner himself said to us at our first breakfast!

Another passion of Kev’s, with myself was supporting Everton; through thick and thin; he lived to see Everton beat arch rivals “the Reds” at Anfield in February 2021.

I always stayed with Kev and Di when visiting the UK each year and both Iona and myself were delighted when they came over for Emma and Myles’ wedding and we had a great holiday – no uncooked sausages or Fawlty Towers!

After retirement, Kev was able to spend more time on one of his passions – renovating a vintage Jaguar with Ian Vassie.

So, we have very fond memories of Kev – his contribution to Bidston’s working and social life, and to our own lives, was immense.

We will miss him.

Gray and Iona

Bidston Observatory Technology Group

Joe Rae, November 2017

In 1969 Bidston Observatory became a component body of the Natural Environment Research Council and was renamed the Institute of Coastal Oceanography and Tides (ICOT) with an expansion of its oceanographic work. In the ICOT Annual Report for 1969/70 it states:–

“An essential component of any environmental research effort is the acquisition of relevant observations against which theories can be tested. In the marine sciences such fieldwork is invariably expensive both in capital equipment and operating costs; data acquisition systems should therefore be designed for maximum efficiency and minimum maintenance. It follows that such a system will provide a basis for the long-term monitoring of oceanographic variables, the analysis of which can be expected to yield a bonus in the same way that barometers and thermometers have contributed to both synoptic meteorology and climatology.”

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Sylvia Asquith at Bidston Observatory

This is the text of a speech given by Sylvia Asquith on 27th September 2017 at the Foundation of Art and Creative Technology (FACT) during the New Observatory Exhibition. Sylvia’s speech was followed by the screening of a short film by Yu-Chen Wang entitled “I wish to communicate with you”.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

My name is Sylvia Asquith and I joined the Bidston Observatory staff in February 1947 as Sylvia Brooks. It was a long time ago but I well remember those early days.

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From storm surges to literature

The connection between storm surges in the North Sea and the new British Nobel Laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro

Judith Wolf, October 2017

I only met Kazuo Ishiguro’s father once. In April 1981 we both attended a session of the 5th UK Geophysical Assembly at the University of Cambridge. I was in the throes of my PhD study and looking at the effect of wind gustiness on wind-driven currents in numerical models. In our session, on “Air-Sea Interaction” there were only three of us (the third being Ed Monahan, who worked on wind waves), and being the last session on the Friday afternoon, and rather peripheral to the main topics of the conference, there were only the three of us left there to listen to each other’s presentations and dutifully ask questions. Shizuo Ishiguro’s talk was entitled “Extreme surge predictions by the quasi uniform steady wind/pressure field method” (*); he was known to me by reputation, although by this time his work was something of an anachronism, as the world had moved on to digital computers. He had built an analogue computer to model North Sea storm surges and was employed, like myself, at the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS), but based at Wormley in Surrey, while I worked at Bidston Observatory in NW England.

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Tide and Time – a history of tidal science in Liverpool

This short film, by Andy Lane, Andy Heath and Craig Corbett, is part of the Tide and Time exhibition at the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool. The exhibition showcases two tidal prediction machines – the Roberts-Légé and the Doodson-Légé. The film also explores the history of tidal science in Liverpool and its development as a port.


Tide & Time Exhibition opens

The Tide & Time Exhibition  is now open to the public.

The exhibition – at the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool – showcases some of the fascinating achievements made in the Liverpool area in understanding and predicting the tides. The highlights of the exhibition are the rare Roberts-Légé and Doodson-Légé tide prediction machines, extraordinary analogue computers that calculate the rise and fall of the ocean tide. See these beautifully intricate machines up and running at the only place in the world where you can see two of them together.

Continue reading “Tide & Time Exhibition opens”

My early life at Bidston Observatory

Joyce Scoffield

Originally, from 1955, I worked in the Met Office at Speke Airport (later to be called Liverpool Airport and subsequently John Lennon Airport). I very much enjoyed being a weather observer – sending observations up to the control tower to be passed on to aircraft, but the job involved shift work, which included regular night duties. This was fine till I got married in 1961. At that stage, I became less enthusiastic about shift work and about the amount of travelling involved between Greasby and the airport: bus – ferry – bus – at least an hour each way. I didn’t drive in those days.

So I decided to look for another job. Bidston Observatory came to mind. It was much nearer home and I knew they had a weather station there. So I wrote to the Director asking him if there were any job vacancies. He – Dr. Rossiter – invited me to go for interview and duly offered me a job! It was as easy as that in 1961. Nowadays, with high competition for every post, people can’t believe that it could ever be that easy.

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Reflections on Time

Kevin F. Taylor

I was recently invited to attend a garden party to celebrate 150 years of the Bidston Observatory, hosted by Stephen and Mandy Pickles on Saturday 17 September 2016 in the grounds of Bidston Lighthouse. This gave me a deep sense of déjà vu, as it reminded me so much of my first day as a member of Bidston staff at the start of 1972.

On that day, I drove up the same well-worn drive, past the sandstone wall entrance, and into the grounds. On my right hand side was a lawn that was shortly to be occupied by the new Proudman Building. But in early 1972 that area looked almost the same as it does now, except for a small vegetable patch that was attended to by a Mr. Connell. He and his family occupied the cottages that belonged to the lighthouse and had been built by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. On that balmy Saturday evening in September, I thought it quite strange that, here I was celebrating 150 years of the Observatory, and yet the ‘new’ Proudman Building had been built and demolished (in early 2013) within little more than 40 years, a fraction of the Observatory’s lifetime.

Continue reading “Reflections on Time”