Observatories: Bedfordshire

Maclear’s Observatory [MOB] (1828-33), Biggleswade, established by Thomas Maclear (b.  County Tyrone), who became a house surgeon at the Bedford Infirmary. Befriended by W.H. Smyth and observing with him, he became an assiduous amateur. In about 1828 he set up an observatory in a garden behind Shortmead Street – Ken page. The Transit Room was 8-feet square, with an octagonal Equatorial Room with a rotating roof, all of wood. This housed a 2½-inch transit by Jones, and a 3¾-inch Dollond refractor (fl 45-inch) the ‘Wollaston triple achromat’ (1771), which Smyth arranged for him to borrow from the RAS – total cost £50.  In 1833 he became the third Astronomer at the Cape, and from 1835 to 1845 employed Smyth’s son Charles Piazzi Smyth as his assistant (Maclear 1833; Howse 1986, 65-6).

Smyth’s Observatory [SOB] (1827-39), Bedford, established (1827-30) by Capt. W.H.  Smyth established in the garden of his house, No. 4 [or 6?] The Crescent,. First just a meridian building (17 x 12 ft.) – brick and ‘lathed and plastered over stout oak battens’ with a lead roof. From the RAS he borrowed the Beaufoy 3-inch transit (fl 4-foot) and a  altazimuth both by Cary, the latter replaced by the Lee Circle (1793) by Ed. Troughton. He also used a  3¾-inch Dollond refractor (fl 10-foot) with a regulator clock by Henry Baker. He later attached an equatorial room (dia. 15 feet)in 1830 where he mounted his  5.9-inch Tully refractor (fl  8½-feet) on a Sisson type cross-axis mount. It bore magnification of 1200, and with the micrometer 850. It was fitted with a clock drive by Sheepshanks (probably his first).  When his Observatory was dismantled in November 1839, the dome went to the Rev. J.B. Reade’s Stone Vicarage Observatory (Smyth 1844, 325-424; Howse 1986, 65).

Whitbread’s Observatory [WOC] (1851), Southill Park, Cardington, established by Samuel Whitbread (1796-1879), a member of the Hartwell Synod lead by John Lee (see Buckinghamshire). Within the walled kitchen garden at his home he built an observatory equipped with a 4⅛-inch Troughton & Simms refractor on a German mount with clock drive, a 1½-inch transit on a brick pier and Ed. Troughton’s first ever Altazimuth instrument. The brick built building has an office and transit room. At the east end is a circular drum about 10-feet across, upon which a truncated cone turns upon wooden balls. It is made from tongue and groove mahogany board, copper sheathed outside. Whitbread also had a beautiful Troughton & Simms eyepiece micrometer. He engaged John McLarin as observer in order to render the observatory useful. The French astronomer Charles Andre reported that observations had been made of lunar occultations of stars and planets to determine the observatory’s longitude and those of minor planets and comets.  By 1874 the observatory was ‘abandonné’ This account draws on Allan’s report of his visit in November 1992, which found the Observatory like a time-capsule (Weale 1851, 62-4; Andre 1876, 171-2; Chapman 1998, 84-5).