Observatories: Cambridgeshire

Cambridge Colleges

Christ’s College Observatory [CCO] (1760-80), Cambridge, established by Anthony Shepherd (1721-96) who used a 20-inch mural quadrant, a transit instrument (3-foot FL) and two clocks (Graham & Allam) to make observations from the college premises (Howse 1986, 67).

Gonville and Caius College Observatory [GCCOC] (fl. 1764)

Newnham College Observatory [NCOC] (1890- ), established at the college after the donation of William Wakling’s Boreham’s telescope and observatory by the daughter-in-law of his son (Walter Long), Mary Oliver Alsop Dabney Boreham (see Suffolk Family History Society).

Pembroke College Observatory [PeCOC] (fl.1752), Cambridge, solar observations were undertaken to ascertain meridian measurements utilising a sundial containing objective lens from a 14-foot telescope (Gunter 1937, 163-4).

St. John’s College Observatory [SJCOC] (1765-1859), Cambridge, first established by Richard Dunthorne (1711-1775) over the west gate (Shrewsbury Tower).  The role of director was then taken by William Ludlam (1717-88) later by Thomas Catton (bapt. 1758-1838). The observatory is known to have been equipped with both a clock and transit instrument by Sissons (Gunter 1937, 169-74, 193-9; Howse 1986, 68; Mobberley 2006).

Trinity College Observatory [TCOC] (1739-1797), Cambridge, established by Roger Cotes (1682-1716), the first Plumian  professor at Cambridge.  Following earlier efforts to create an observatory by the master, Richard Bentley (earlier in 1705 (?), it was housed over the Kings/great gate at the college ).  It is known to have been equipped with a sextant by Rowley and a clock by Street (Gunter 1937, 162-2Howse 1986, 67).

Madingley Road site  (Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0HA [Tel. 01223 37548])

Institute of Astronomy [IoA] (1946-  ), Madingley Road, Cambridge, established with the merger of the University College Observatory and the Solar Physics Observatory which occupied the same site. Later and briefly (1990-8) the administrative wing of the Royal Greenwich Observatory would share the site (Stratton 1949).

Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory [MRAO] (1940s- ), Lords Bridge Station,  founded by Martin Ryle of  the Radio-Astronomy Group at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University  with funding from Mullard Ltd. The current instruments consist of ; Ryle Telescope (RT); Cosmic Anisotropy Telescope (CAT); Cambridge Low-Frequency Synthesis Telescope (CLFST); Very Small Array (VSA).

Royal Greenwich Observatory [RGOC] (1990-1998), Cambridge, the administrative headquarters and workshops of the RGO in Cambridge located on the site of the Institute of Astronomy.

Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge [SPOC] (1912-1946), Madingley Road, established in the grounds of the University Observatory, after the donation of the Newall Telescope under the leadership of Prof. H.F. Newall. In 1913 it merged with the Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington, with that institution moving to Cambridge from London and its associated government funding. Later it merged with the University Observatory in 1946 to form the Institute of Astronomy (Stratton 1949).

The University Observatory [UOC] (1823-1946), Madingley Road, Cambridge, established from public subscription and funding from Cambridge University with supervision from the Plumian Professor of Astronomy. The original neo-classical building housed meridian circle and an equatorial telescope, followed by 12-inch refractor in a separate building fund by the Duke of Northumberland in 1838. Later the 8-inch Cooke  ‘Thorrowgood Telescope‘ was loaned to the IoA by the RAS. In 1867 an attempt to buy the telescope for the Cambridge Observatory was made by J. C. Adams. He argued that it was of superlative quality – superior to the 9.6-inch at Dorpat and Herschel’s 20-inch reflector at the Cape. Dawes asked only £580, but after four months the Observatory Syndicate withdrew its provisional approval. Formerly owned  W.R.Dawes, W. Henry Maw and William John Thorrowgood (1862-1928) – the last owner of this telescope. It was bequeathed to the RAS, which offered it to Prof. Eddington, Director of the Cambridge Observatory – now on extended loan. It would later merge with the Solar Physics Observatory in 1946 to form the Institute of Astronomy. (Weale 1854, 670-4Gunter 1937, 172-8Howse 1986; Stratton 1949).

Wandlebury Observatory [WOCAA] (1960s), Wandlebury nr. Cambridge, established by the Cambridge Astronomical Association. The observatory was fitted with a 6-inch refracting telescope on an equatorial mounting. The instrument was moved from a large wooden shed on iron rails – from bakery oven (Clark 1985, 71).


Selwyn’s Observatory [SeO] (1863-74), ‘The College’ Ely, established for solar observation by Canon William Selwyn, – exact location unknown. Selwyn commissioned for a series of high quality photographs of the sun  to be taken (1863-73) using a 6-inch achromatic lens by the photographer J. Titterton in the cathedral precinct (Obit., MNRAS, 36 (1875), 147).