Observatories: Cumberland


Tarn Bank Observatory (1848-79), established by Isaac Fletcher, a Quaker, near the village of Greysouthen, near Cockermouth, close to the River Derwent. He aspired to work with the simplest means. Admiral Smyth was his inspiration and adviser, his purpose to re-observe some multiple stars from the Cycle. Fletcher built am 18-feet tower and 14-feet dome. From 1847 to 1864 he used a 4¼” Cooke refractor on a Dollond long polar axis mount, an instrument “of little dimension but great optics” with seven eyepieces and powers up to 500, on an Old English mount. Fletcher observed until 1864 and determined the orbits of three doubles, and measured many others. In 1859-60 he obtained a 9½” Cooke of 12¼-feet focal length, for double star work. His purpose was to re-observe Smyth’s Bedford Catalogue, and produce a new edition, for which purpose Smyth assigned to him his entire interest in that work.

Source: Andre and Rayet, Vol. 1, (1874) pp 160-62.

The Observatory also had a transit by Simms, and a clock by Frodsham. The 9″ refractor is still in use in Wanganui Observatory, New Zealand. For a good account of Fletcher and his observatories, see Peter D. Hingley, ‘The Shuckburghs of Shuckburgh, Isaac Fletcher, and the history of the English Mounting’, AntAs, Issue 7 (Spring 2013);  Howse 1986.

Whitehaven Observatory (1850-56), established by John Fletcher Miller, FRS (1816-56) was a cousin of Isaac Fletcher of Tarnbank, and had a reputation as a meteorologist before he joined the RAS and the RS. He built an observatorywith an elegant revolving conical roof, adjacent to the family’s tannery in Wellington Row. Miller observed double stars, Encke’s Comet, Saturn, the Sun and Mercury. Like Fletcher had a 4.14″ Cooke achromat with Simms micrometer, but German mounted with clock drive. Perhaps that was an earlier instrument, because another source says Miller mounted a 9½” Cooke at Whitehaven. Fletcher had a high regard for Miller’s measurements and used them to compare to his own observations.


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