Thomas Gwyn Empy Elger

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The Elger family are another family that contributed a great deal to the development of Victorian Bedford. They originate from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk but at least three generations held the office of Mayor of Bedford.

Thomas Gwyn Elger an architect and builder was the son of Thomas Elger himself a Carpenter and Builder. The family also had a victuallers or grocers shop in St. John’s Street run by Isaac Elger.

Thomas himself had a son born on 27th. October 1836 in Cauldwell Street and who he named Thomas Gwyn Empy Elger. When of age this Thomas was sent to be educated at Bedford Grammar School where he demonstrated a talent for mathematics and physics and after School he attended University College London where he qualified as a Civil Engineer and was engaged on a number of important projects including the Metropolitan Railway and the Severn Valley Railway, but like others he too was a passionate amateur astronomer.

In 1864 having inherited his father’s estate, he relinquished his profession and devoted himself entirely to his scientific studies. He lived with his mother at 46 Cauldwell Street and then at what we now know as College House where he erected his own observatory.

In 1880 he married Fanny Gissing the daughter of a local solicitor and they had a new house, Manor Cottage, built in Kempston where he also constructed another observatory equipped with two telescopes. Elger became a member of a number of astronomical societies and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in February 1871. He is most remembered for his book ‘’The Moon – A Full Description and Map of the Principal Physical Features,’’ the first accurate map of the moon, and which is still in use and highly respected.

After Kempston, Elger had a house built at 43, Shakespeare Road where he died in January 1897 aged 60 years and was buried in Bedford Cemetery. In 1912 he was honoured by having the lunar crater ‘’Elger’’ named after him.

Fanny moved to Bexhill on Sea and Elger’s extensive and important collection of papers and drawings remained in the basement of Bedford Library for many years until they were passed to the British Astronomical Association..

Crater Elger
Crater Elger

Text kindly submitted by Trevor Stewart