During the nineteenth century, savants in England continuously improved the science of astronomy, bringing it to a high professional level by the end of Queen Victoria's reign.
In January 1820, fourteen gentlemen and scholars, one of them the future computer pioneer Charles Babbage, had founded the Royal Astronomical Society, which received its Royal Charter from King William IV in 1831. Sir William Herschel, the discoverer of Uranus, the builder of giant telescopes and the most accomplished sidereal observer of his age, became the society's first president. In 1834, the British government provided the society with suitable premises free of charge, an arrangement that continued uninterrupted until 2004. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge had important observatories from 1794 and 1823 respectively, together with endowed professorships. At Greenwich, the Royal Observatory, one of the world's oldest scientific institutions, flourished in the age of Queen Victoria, and was noted for its accurate observations of the positions of stars. In 1884, an international conference in Washington, DC, convoked by President Chester Arthur of the United States, selected Greenwich as the world's prime meridian.
By the early twentieth century, British astronomy could hold its head high: a small community of professionals at the Royal Observatories and in the ancient universities conducted world-class research. Furthermore, they encouraged the development of astronomy in the dominions of the British Empire, with the establishment of observatories in Australia, Canada and South Africa, where the practitioners still looked to Greenwich for guidance.