Observatories: Durham

Backhouse’s Observatory [BaO] (1863/4-1920) West Hendon House, Sunderland (Lat. 54d53m51s N. Long. 01d22m47s W).  Constructed 1863/4 for Thomas William Backhouse F.R.A.S., F.R.Met.S.(1842-1920). The observatory was constructed on the western roof of the property and is still there today. Renovated in April 1997 by Don Simpson.  It housed a 4 1/4-inch f/15 refractor by T. Cooke & Sons (York, 1863) on an equatorial mount. The telescope is no longer in the observatory but has been located. Berthon style roof with one hatch, out-over opening (Obit., MNRAS; 81 (1921); 254-5).

Cygnus Observatory [COW] (2002- ), Washington Wetland Centre, Washington, Sunderland, established and run by the Sunderland Astronomical Society (SuAS). The domed building contains a computer-controlled 14-inch SCT reflector used with the club house for public outreach.

Durham University Observatory [DUO] (1842-1939), established by subscription at the initiative of the Revd. Temple Chevalier, professor of mathematics. Equipped with the 6½-inch Fraunhofer refractor of 1825 (in 1842 said to be the finest refractor in the country, but a wooden tube), and 3¼-inch transit all from Rev. T. J. Hussey’s observatory in Kent. During the Chevalier  period Richard Carrington worked at the observatory. By 1883 only observations from 1846-52 had been published, and the refractor was obsolete. In 1900 the observatory was re-equipped with a more or less experimental almucantar, with 6-inch object glass by Cooke and 9-inch flat by A. A. Common, but the instrument was not a success. In 1911 E.H.G. Hill was appointed honorary director. Always short of funds, latterly compromised by light pollution, observing was ended in 1939, but the meteorological observations have continued uninterrupted (Howse 1986; Rochester 1980; Hutchins 2008; Stroobant 1931).

Ladies College, Darlington Observatory [LCO] (1887-c.1909), ‘The mount’, Carmel Road North (now Highbury Rd.), Darlington. Established by Prof. C.A. Dixon at ‘The Mount’ Ladies College and equipped with a 4-inch Cooke refractor on an equatorial mount that was used for variable star observations (Stroobant 1907, 71).

Newall’s Observatory [NO] (1871-91), Ferndene House, Gateshead, established by Robert Newall who ordered a 25-inch refractor from Cooke in 1863, plus a 7-inch meridian circle. When finally delivered in 1870 it was the largest in the world, 6½-inch larger than the Dearborne, Chicago refractor. Newall intended it to be “of the greatest importance to the advancement of science, … where the instrument is properly fixed, in a good climate, to place it at the disposal … of any competent observer who will take the trouble to travel to it”. He had intended it for Madeira, but it was so much delayed that he decided to keep it in England.(Astronomical Register, 103, July 1871, p. 167). He employed Albert Marth for a while as Observer, but the climate in Gateshead was inimical to its utility, and in truth it was little used. Norman Lockyer called it ‘the finest telescope … in the Old World’ (Letter to theTimes, 16 July 1874). But the problems of building it are said to have broken Thomas Cooke’s health. Robert Newall would surely have been utterly delighted to see the good use to which his youngest son Hugh put the instrument at Cambridge, compounded his bequest, and created an astrophysical observatory to lasting effect. Wonderful philanthropy by father and son (ODNBObit., MNRAS, 50 (1890), 164-6)!

Pattinson’s Observatory [PaO] (1855-8), Scots House nr. Gateshead, established by Hugh L. Pattinson with a 7½-inch Cooke equatorial which he loaned to Charles Piazzi Smyth for Smyth’s expedition to Teneriffe. He lived near Robert Newall, and his daughter married Newall (Obit., MNRAS, 19 (1859), 124-5).

Wynyard Planetarium and Observatory [WPOW] (2002- ), Wynyard, Stockton-on-Tees, originally established by Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council and Darlington Astronomical Society – now operated by the charity, Teesside Astronomical Science Centre. The site accommodates a 54-seat planetarium building along with a separate domed brick-built observatory, originally housing a 19-inch reflector – now replaced with a 14-inch SCT catadioptric telescope (Valks 2008).

Wolsingham Observatory [WoO] (1888-1939), Tow Law, established by the Revd. Thomas Henry Espinall Compton Espin after he moved from the Wirral in Cheshire. While at Exeter College Oxford, he had used De La Rue’s 13-inch reflector at the University Observatory. In 1885 he used a 17¼-inch clock driven Calver Newtonian reflector, which he then took to Tow Law. In 1914 he obtained a 24-inch Calver Newtonian, and used it to observe red stars and doubles. Since 1912 he was assisted by William Milburn (1896-1982), the grandson of a family friend. After Espin’s death in 1934, Milburn continued full-time observations until 1939 (Stroobant 1907Stroobant 1931).

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