Observatories: London

Aubert’s Deptford Observatory [AODL] (1769-1788), Loanpit Hill, Deptford, established by Alexander Aubert with a 3¾-inch Bird transit and quadrant with Shelton clocks along with a 3 ¾-inch Dollond triplet refracting telescope (46-inch FL) and a ‘Dumpy’ 6-inch Cassegrain reflecting instrument (24-inch FL) by James Short (Howse 1986, 69; Kitchiner 1825, 26-8 & 71).

Aubert’s Highbury Observatory [AOHL] (1788-1806),  Highbury House, Islington, established by Alexander Aubert with same instruments he used at Deptford (Howse 1986, 74).

Beaufoy’s Hackney Wick Observatory [BHCO] (c.1795-1815), Wick House, Hackney Wick, London, established by Mark Beaufoy. Instruments are not recorded but historical account suggest they were meridian instruments. They may have included the Cary Transit and universal instrument used by Beaufoy at his later Bushey Heath Observatory (Howse 1986, 67; Sexby 1898, 367).

Bessemer House Observatory [BHOD] (c.1880-1940s), Green Lane, Denmark Hill, Dulwich, established by Sir Henry Bessemer in the ground of his large home. The well-built observatory to house a 50-inch reflecting telescope was one of Bessemer’s retirement projects. The domed structure built in the French style, housed a massive altazimuth mounting by W & J Galloway and Sons, using hydraulics to move it and weighed over 10 tons. The making of the large and thin glass mirror was entrusted to G. Calver in Ipswich. However, the method of manufacture, requiring suction, was unsuccessful and the mirror was never completed – current whereabouts unknown (Bessemer 1905; Hollis 1914, 247; Davenhall 2009b).

Bishop’s Regent Park Observatory [BORP](1836-1861) South Villa, Regents Park, established by George Bishop, elder at his home – now Bedford College. The Regents Park Observatory was built and equipped upon the advice of [Admiral] W. H. Smyth, with a 7-inch Dollond refractor, at that time a powerful instrument.  Rutter Dawes its first observer [1839-44] measured double stars. In 1844 the solar system comprised the seven major planets and the four minor planets (asteroids) discovered between 1800 and 1807. In December 1845, after a fifteen year search, Karl Hencke, a German amateur discovered the fifth asteroid, Astraea. In September 1846 came the sensational discovery of Neptune. Bishop decided to devote his observatory to searching for planets. From November 1846 Bishop’s assistant John R. Hind  began a systematic search using the newly available Berlin charts, he discovered two comets, and by October 1847 two asteroids, and in September 1850 his third, Victoria, but by then his health was strained. By 1854 he had discovered ten. Meanwhile Bishop engaged Norman Pogson [1850] then Eduard Vogel [1852] as second assistants, and when Hind left in 1853 he engaged Albert Marth [1853-55] and  George Talmage in 1860. Upon Bishop’s death the instruments were taken by his son, George Bishop, to establish a new Observatory at his home Meadowbank, Twickenham (Weale 1854, 681-3; Howard-Duff 1985Howse 1986, 78).

Brocklebank Observatory [BOUCL] (1932-1938) – see University College, London Observatories below

Browne’s Observatory [BOWL] (1825-1828), 2 Portland Place, Westminster, established by Henry Browne (fi.1798-1820s) at his home.  Here he conducted experiments with Captain Kater on pendulums and gave Edward Sabine advice on magnetic instruments (Howse 1986, 77)

Buckingham’s Observatory [BOW] (1861), Walworth Common, London. Established by John Buckingham and equipped with a 21-inch refractor that was exhibited at the 1862 Exposition in London.  In 1889 it was sold for £700 to Edinburgh Council for the Calton Hill Observatory, where it was mounted by 1898 but dismantled and scrapped in 1926 (King 1955, 255).

Butt’s Observatory [BOSL] (fl. 1815), ‘The Paragon’, off Old Kent Road, Southwark, established by James Strode Butt at his home. It is assumed if housed meridiam instruments as he published details on the adjustment of portable transits instruments (Hutton 1815, 129; Johnson 2021, 34).

Christ’s Hospital Observatory [CHOL] (c.1776-c.1818), Royal Mathematical School, Christ’s Hospital, London, established by William Wales, a master at the RMS. The observatory was equipped at Wales own expense and included meridian instruments along with telescopes. It is likely that the establishment consisted of an observing platform on the roof of the building with a shed for the transit/chronometer and storage of portable equipment. The observatory survived Wales but was in a poor-state of repair by 1813 when a later master, T.S. Evans made use of it for teaching (Hutton 1815, 129; Trollope 1834, 200).

Craig Telescope Observatory [CTOW] (1852-6), Wandsworth Common, a large refracting telescope commissioned by the Rev John Craig of Leamington, Warwickshire. The 24-inch aperture refractor was housed outdoors with its tube carried on a chain cradle suspended from the side of a brick tower. The optics wer made by Thomas Slater with the engineering designed by Messrs Rennie and supervised by engineer William Gravatt. The refractor, briefly the largest in the world, was a failure as the optics proved defective with the aperture having to be stopped down to give a useable image. Few observations were made with the telescope and the tube was dismantled by 1856 with the tower going some years later (Wiki; King 1955, 254-5; Steel 1982).

De la Rue’s observatory [DROC] (1849-1857), Canonbury, Islington, established by Warren De la Rue., in his garden.  It was equipped with a 13-inch speculum reflecting telescope that was later moved to Cranford, Middlesex.  It was used to take early photographs of the Moon using the wet-plate process (King 1955, 224)

Evans’s observatory [EOW] (1799-1820), Woolwich was, established by Revd. Lewis Evans. It was furnished with a 2-foot transit circle of 1810 by Troughton – later the ‘Lee Circle’ at Smyth’s Bedford Observatory (Howse 1986, 83).

Finsbury Square Academy Observatory [FSAO] (c.1800s-1820s), thought to have been established by Dr Patrick Kelly at the Finsbury Squre Academy, London. Used for teaching astronomy and navigation it probably equipped with navigational and meridian instruments along with telescopes (Hutton 1815, 129; Johnson 2021, 32).

Groombridge’s Observatory [GOB] (1806-1832), established by Stephen Groombridge at his home at Blackheath. As a youth he taught himself astronomy, and then had a small observatory built at Goudhurst. After moving in 1802 to 6 Eliot Place, Blackheath, less than a mile from the Royal Observatory, he converted a stable adjacent to his dining room into an observatory. He persuaded Edward Troughton to build him a large reversible transit circle, of 3½-inch aperture and 5-feet focal length – ‘Groombridge Circle‘. It was superior to any meridian instrument in Europe. With it the observer could observe simultaneously the RA and Dec of an object at a single observation. So began the huge amount of meticulous observation and many years of reduction that eventually yielded his famed catalogue of 4243 circumpolar stars for epoch 1810, published in 1838 (Howse 1986, 66).

Hampstead Observatory[HOHH] (1910- ), Hampstead Heath, established by the Hampstead Astronomical and General Scientific Society that was formed in 1899 to utilise the gift of Colonel Henry Heberden’s 10 1/2-inch reflector. The observatory was completed in 1910 on top of the Metropolitan Water Board’s underground reservoir on the highest site in London. Observing was led by Patrick Hepburn as joint Astronomical Secretary, who later became director of the BAA’s Saturn Section. The principal instrument today is a 6-inch Cooke refractor (origin c.1900) presented in 1923 by George Avenell. The original Observatory was completely refurbished in 2011-12, and now continues its long tradition of public viewing nights (WIKI; Daniels & Daniels).

Hooke’s Observatory [HOGC] (1669), Gresham College, Bishopsgate, City of London, established by Robert Hooke at his college quarters.  He install a 36-foot Zenith Telescope to a attempt to measure Stellar Parallax (Howse 1986, 76).

Huggins’s Observatory [HOTHL] (1856-1908), Tulse Hill, Lambeth, established by William Huggins at his Upper Tulse Hill home, south of the river Thames. In May 1856 he had a 5-inch Dollond, and observed mostly planets. But in 1858 he purchased an 8-inch object glass by Alvan Clark from Dawes, and had it mounted by Cooke (in 1868 he sold the instrument to Charles J. Corbett of Thames Ditton, Surrey). In 1870 he had the Cooke mounting adapted to carry a 15-inch refractor or 18-inch Grubb Cassegrain reflector funded by the Royal Society ( which was controversial, when others also sought funding). In 1882 the mounting was improved to carry both instruments coaxially. In 1859 Kirchoff’s discovery had inspired him to study stars spectroscopically. His neighbour Dr Miller, a chemist, helped him build a spectroscope. In 1862 his report to the Royal Society identifying elements in space was received on the same day that the Society received the report of Rutherford’s work. In 1864 Huggins proved that the Draco nebula was gaseous. In 1875 he tackled dry-plate photography as soon as that method was available, and subsequently his wife Margaret has been fully recognised for her vital contribution to their work for which he received most of the contemporary credit. She spent many hours of skilled guiding at the telescope, so that they achieved a sharpness of definition in the photographs that was hard to surpass. They also established the motion of stars in the line of sight. In 1908 the instruments, owned by the Royal Society, were given to the Solar observatory at Cambridge, which helped considerably to consolidate the University’s national leadership in astrophysics (King 1955, 285-9).

Huddart’s Observatory [HOI] (c.1788-1816?), established by Captain Joseph Huddart at his house at Highbury Terrace, Islington, London. It housed a equatorially mounted (English cradle) 3¾-inch refracting telescope. Optics were provided by Peter and John Dollond while the mount was built and devised by Huddard with circles supplied by Edward Troughton (Herschel and South 1824, 4-12Howse 1986, 74; Schmidt 2020).

Imperial College Observatory [ICOL] (1903-36), South Kensington, established after Norman Lockyer retired as director of the Solar Physics Observatory and his son William took over. The instruments belonged to the Lockyers. His former assistant, the brilliant spectroscopist Alfred Fowler (1868-1940), had now achieved independent status, teaching laboratory spectroscopy to astrophysics students at the Royal College of Science. He borrowed a 6-inch Cooke ‘Simms No. 2-inch refractor from the ROG, and a small transit instrument, installing them in a roof-top observatory, and in 1905 he added a 2-prism Evershed spectroscope, and a 5-inch Zeiss triplet and object-glass prism. The students observed sunspot, solar prominence spectra – see: Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington (Stroobant 1907; Stroobant 1931Stroobant 1936).

Larkin’s Observatory [LOB] (c.1790s-1800), ‘Point House’, West Grove, Blackheath was established by William Larkins at his home. He equipped it with  a Herschel 7-foot reflecting telescope and 45-inch achromatic refractor by Peter Dollond and employed T.S. Evans as his observer (Johnson 2021, 31; Kitchner 1825, 172).

Lockyer’s Hampstead Observatory [LOHH] (1865-1873), 24 Victoria (later Fairfax) Road, Hamstead, established by Norman Lockyer after moving from Wimbledon in 1865. Here he  established an observatory for 6 1/4 inch Cooke refractor now on an equatorial mount. He added an spectroscopic laboratory Herschel-Browning grating (1865) and  7-prism spectroscope. Here in 1868 he discovered a new element in the Sun’s atmosphere (helium), and that solar prominences were upheavals in the Sun’s atmosphere from a region now called the chromosphere. With the establishment of the Normal School of Science (later Royal College of Science), in South Kensington, he moved his observatory and equipment to the new site (Lockyer and Lockyer 1928, 27 & 72-3).

Lowe’s Observatory [LOIL] (fl.1815), Paradise Row, Islington, established by Gavin Lowe at his home.  It housed meridian instruments, including a fine fine altazimuth circle by Ed. Troughton (later Lee Circle used by W.H. Smyth) and a regulator clock. Its design may have followed that of Stephen Groombridge observatory – see above (Hutton 1815, 129; Johnson 2021, 34).

Marlborough House Observatory [MHOL] (c.1750s-c.1772), established by George Spencer,  fourth duke of Marlborough (1739–1817) at his London house in St James, Westminster.  His main instrument was an 18-inch reflector by James Short (1742), which he donated to the University of Oxford in 1779 (Howse 1986, 76; ODNB).

Maw’s Kensington Observatory [MOKL] (1887-1924), 18 Addison Road, Kensington, London, established by W.H. Maw at his home. It was equipped with a 6-inch Cooke refractor on an equatorial mount that he used for double-star observations. (Obit., MNRAS, 85 (1925), 311-4; Stroobant 1907, 112).

Neison’s Observatory (see Nevill’s Observatory)

Nevill’s Observatory [NOHL] (c.1870-1882), Hampstead, established by Edmund Neville Nevill at his London home. It was was equipped with a 6-inch equatorial refractor and a 9.5-inch With/Browning reflector. The instruments were used for lunar observation making Nevill, whose pen name was Edmund Neison, the foremost selenographer of his day. In 1882 he moved to South Africa to establish the Durban Observatory (Obit., MNRAS, 101 (1941), 137-9; Garfinkle 2001).

Old Royal Observatory, Greenwich [OROG] (1957-98), name given to the museum site and buildings of the original observatory at Greenwich [ROG] after the observatory moved to Herstmonceux in Sussex [RGOH]. The site reverted to ROG once the administrative part of the observatory ceased to exist when it was disbanded in 1998 (Howse 1975, 72-3).

Royal Hospital School Observatory [RHSOG] (1840-1930s), in operation by 1860, with instruments by Gilbert donated by the Admiralty that were made for the East India Company – St Helena Observatory.  The building in Portland stone was originally fitted with two cylindrical domes but later extended with a larger 13-foot that  housed the Lawson Telescope, a 7-inch refractor of 11-foot focal length by Dollond (Turner 1990).  This telescope, originally owned by Henry Lawson, was first offered to the city of Nottingham for the establishment of its own observatory, but when the finances failed to materialise it was donated to the Royal Hospital School.  The observatory at the Royal Hospital School was established under the supervision of the Rev. George Fisher (1794–1873) who was appointed headmaster in 1834 (ODNB). Fisher reported observations of the 1860 solar eclipse made from the observatory (Fisher 1860).

Royal Observatory, Greenwich [ROGL] (1675-1958), Greenwich, established by King Charles II to make observations for determination of longitude. The Observatory was in Kent until 1889, then the County of London. Due to the spread of London, with its associated smoke and lights, the observatory was re-located. Between 1948 and 1958 it moved to Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex being renamed Royal Greenwich Observatory, Herstmonceux [RGOH] (Weale 1854, 630-67; Howse 1975, 72-3; Krisciunas 1988; see: Sussex page).

Royal Observatory/Royal Observatory Greenwich [ROGN] (1998- ), name given to the museum site and buildings of the original observatory at Greenwich [ROG]. The name reverted to the site once the administrative part of the observatory at Cambridge ceased to exist.

Royal Society’s Observatory [RSOL] (fl.1815-1820s), Somerset House, London, established by the Royal Society. Used by the assistant secretary to make meridian observations with a portable transit instrument through an anteroom window using a watch dial mounted on an opposite wall as a meridian marker (Hutton 1815, 129; Johnson 2021, 31).

Russell’s Observatory [ROWL] (c.1777), 156 Strand, London, established by William Russell (Howse 1986, 77).

Sellers’s Observatory [SOMHL] ( c.1931), 42 Church Crescent, Muswell Hill, London, established by Francis J. Sellers. He converted the attic of his home into an observatory for an 8-inch reflector and a solar telescope. Notable was his construction of a heliospectroscope,  based on a Hale example from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which he had examined in detail (Stroobant 1931Obit., QJRAS, 1 (1960), 242-4Obit., JBAA, 70 (1960), 235-8).

Sheepshanks’s Observatory [SOWPL] (c.1824-1841), Woburn Lodge, Upper Woburn Place, established by Richard Sheepshanks at his London home. Thought to be a small affair, it is unclear as to the instruments installed, but would have probably included a transit instrument and a refracting telescope as he owned a large selection of refractors and other surveying and navigational instruments (Obit., MNRAS, 16, [4](1856), 94).

Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington [SPOSK] (1879-1911), Exhibition Road, London, was established by  Norman Lockyer to be an astrophysical facility to observe the Sun.  Funded by an annual government grant the observatory was moved Cambridge when the funding was transferred to Cambridge University (Lockyer 1928; Meadows 1972; Johnson 1998; Hutchins 2008; RAS 1913).

South’s Southwark Observatory [SOSL] (1816-24), Southwark, established by James South at Blackman Street. From 1816 he used a 3¾-inch aperture refractor of 5-feet focal length  with optics by Dollond and circles by Edward Troughton (1753-1835) on an English equatorial mount – former Huddart Telescope from Highbury. In 1820 he acquired a superb 5-inch Tully achromatic refractor of 7-foot focal length and a 4-inch  transit instrument by Troughton – later given to the RAS. The Huddart instrument was used by South and John Herschel in 1821-23 to observe and complete a Catalogue of 380 double stars, which gained them the joint RAS Gold Medal in 1924. In the following year South observed a further 458 doubles, for which he was awarded another Gold Medal in 1826 (Herschel and South 1824; Howse 1986, 77).

South’s Campden Hill Observatory [SOCHL] (1826-70), Campton Hill, Kensington, established by James South.  Built to house a new 11.8-inch refractor mounted with an English type mount by Edward Troughton and the Groombridge meridian circle – see James South (Weale 1854, 681Howse 1986, 77).

University College, London Observatories [UCLO] (1904-1946) University College, London campus,  Gower Street. Consists of three separate observatories relating to the teaching of astronomy as a separate degree – first in England. These observatories consisted of two circular buildings in the college quadrangle and a rooftop facility. They were funded by the Chadwick Trust, the London Drapers Guild and Brocklebank.  The donations respectively provided a 4½-inch refractor, later replaced in 1932 by the 6-inch  Cooke telescope donated by Mr Joynson (Chadwick Dome – northside), a Cooke transit instrument (South Dome) and a rooftop Observatory on college buildings that housed a 10-inch Calver reflector – destroyed during World War Two. The Joynson telescope was transferred to the Mill Hill Observatory, along with the transit instrument, in 1946 (Hutchins 2008, 18, 413-7).

Wrottesley’s Observatory [WOBL] (1829-41), 22 Montpelier Row, Blackheath,  London, established by Sir John Wrottesley to house a 4-inch transit by Thomas Jones for taking RA  meridian measurements only. From 1831-35 he made ten observations of each of 1,318 stars of 6th and 7th magnitude, a catalogue published by the RAS in 1836, for which he received the RAS Gold Medal in 1839. In 1841 he moved the observatory to Wrottesley House, Staffordshire, and added a 7¼-inch Dollond refractor (Howse 1986, 66).