If you live in Calne but haven't heard of Joseph Priestley, or maybe you have - but you're not too sure who he was or what he did to gain such notoriety in our town - prepare yourself for a summer to turn that around.

The 1st August 2024 marks the 250th anniversary of oxygen being isolated in the Laboratory at Bowood House by Dr Joseph Priestley.

From 1773 to 1780, Priestley lived at The Green in Calne after Lord Shelbourne employed him as librarian and tutor to his children at Bowood House. It was in 1774 that Priestley ‘discovered’ oxygen, in a lab built specially for him at Bowood.

To mark this anniversary, community group Priestley250 have been busy securing funding to enable them to put together a truly packed programme of events which will take place across the town this summer. 

Co-chair of Priestley250, John Boaler told us the group have been successful in gaining significant grant funding from both Arts Council England and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

These grants have enabled them to commision science activity packs for all ten local primary schools, materials for a children’s writing and art competition on the theme of ‘Priestley and/or Oxygen', a sculpture by Richard Cowdy and Geoffrey Stephenson, two new murals, and four days of a travelling science 'demonstrator' who will be taking his 'science cart' to various locations in town. 

In addition, Calne Town Council are funding a reception for the unveiling of the Priestley Community Quilt, a brochure telling the story of the quilt, and a general leaflet about ‘Joseph Priestley and Calne’.

The Priestley Community Quilt group have been working on the quilt since the beginning of the year when a call went out for anyone interested to collect a square and create their own embroidered patch based on the life and times of Priestley. Final touches are being made to the quilt now and from what we have seen, it will be stunning. 

But the anniversary celebrations don't end there!

Other events and activities include a special peal of bells by the St Mary's Church bellringers and an 'Oxygen Cry' at the Calne Town Criers' competition being held on 20th July.

There will be guided walks 'In the footsteps of Joseph Priestley', a banner designed by youngsters from the Rise Trust, and a book by 'Calne Wordfest' which will include pieces by its members, together with the best entries from the children's writing competion.

Dr Norman Beale will be giving a talk on 'Priestley in Calne' and there will be a public lecture on 18th century science being hosted by St Mary's School. 

'Oxygenfest' day will be held at the Pocket Park on 13th August  where British Oxygen Company will performing four free interactive shows of experiments. 

Throughout August, Calne Heritage Centre will be hosting a Priestley exhibition, at which the winning entries in the children's art competition will be displayed. 

Later in the year, the annual Calne Music and Arts Festival will include a concert of music from the 1770s - the time period when Priestley was living in Calne.

And if you are thinking this packed programme of events doesn't have something for absolutely everyone... the Stealth Brewery will be launching a special celebration ale ‘Hidden Oxygen’ at the Piggy Bank.

Co-chair of ‘Priestley250’ John Boaler commented: “This adds up to an ambitious, imaginative, exciting and varied programme.

"Hopefully there is something for everyone here."

If you wish to get involved or have further suggestions please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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