About 20 years after Galileo used the telescope for astronomy, William Crabtree and Jeremiah Horrocks used it to observe a transit of Venus in 1639. Carl Barry and Lilian Fletcher researched documented this unique event. If you missed it a 19mb video here.
Former executive Paul Allen (Allen Telescope Array) from Microsoft and Wayne Rosing (LSST Observatory) from Google are modern examples of private investors in space research.
Emerging from the the industrial revolution in the 19th century Lancashire were two similar individuals who contributed to making large mirrors and large telescopes. James Naysmith and William Lassell.