Observatories: Kent

Chatham Observatory  [ChO] (1841-1850s[?]), established by Captain (later Sir) William Denison, within the fortifications, for instructing Woolwich cadets as candidates for the Royal Engineers. He borrowed an azimuth instrument, and a transit instrument.  In addition an 18-inch repeating circle, and a 2¾-inch Jones equatorial was ordered following advice from General Pasley (Weale 1851, p. 56; Weale 1854, 680-1).

Coleman’s Observatory [ColO] (1893-1911), The Shrubbery, Buckland near Dover, established by William Coleman at his home and furnished with an 8-inch Cooke refractor to make observations of double stars, published by the RAS.  On his death in 1911 the telescope was donated to the RAS who loan the instrument to the Rev. T.E.R. Phillips who erected it at his Headley Observatory (Obit., JBAA, 21 (1911), 395-6Obit., MNRAS, 21 (1912), 247-8Marriott 2006).

Dawes’s Cranbrook Observatory [DCO] (1844-50), Camden Lodge, Cranbrook, established by William Rutter Dawes, with a 2¾-inch Simms transit circle, clock.  Having remarried in 1842 a lady with wealth, was able to leave Bishop’s Observatory and move to Cranbrook near his friend John Herschel at Hawkhurst. In 1846 he purchased a 6½-inch Merz refractor on a Dorpat type mount, to which clock drive was added.  With this instrument he discovered Saturn’s crepe ring (Howse 1986, 68; Dawes 1845).

Dawes’s Wateringbury Observatory [DWO] (1850-7) Wateringbury, nr. Maidstone, established by Revd. William Rutter Dawes.  Later he tested a 7½-inch Alvan Clark object glass (Weale 1854, 697Howse 1986, 68).

Freeman’s Observatory [FOM] (1888-1898), Murston, Sittingbourne, established by Alexander Freeman (1838-1897), see Surrey page . An observatory with a 61/2-inch Grubb refractor. In 1891 he was appointed dean of Sittingbourne, and moved it there. From 1893 he was director of the Saturn section of the BAA, and by 1893 had contributed twenty papers (Obit., MNRAS 58 (1898), 136-7).

Dick Chambers Observatory [DCOSH] (2012- ), Parsonage Lane Pavilion, Sutton-at-Hone, established by the Crayford Manor Astronomical Society [CMHAS] after they left Crayford Manor. The brick-built domed observatory houses the Peter Hindle Telescope, a 16-inch SCT reflector and other several instruments.

Hussey’s Observatory [HOH] (1825-37), Hayes, established by Revd. Thomas J. Hussey with a 6½-inch Fraunhofer refractor, a small Simms transit instrument, and clock by Hardy of London. Hussey used these instruments to create one of the star maps published by the Berlin Academy. Due to injury he gave up astronomy in 1838, selling his observatory to the new Durham Observatory in 1841 (ODNB; Hutchins 2008; Howse 1986, 74).

James Irwin Observatory [JIO] (1990- ), London Road, Canterbury, established by the Mid Kent Astronomical Society [MidKAS]. The brick-built domed observatory houses a 14-inch SCT reflector on an equatorial fork mounting. The society also owns a 20-inch Grubb-Parson reflecting telescope formerly at the ROE – awaiting new home.

Langton Boys’ School Observatory [LBSO] (c.2011- ), Langton Lane, Nackington Road, Canterbury, established by Simon Langton School for Boys. It forms part of the Star Centre, the discrete observatory building houses a 14-inch SCT Meade telescope (Rogers 2014).

McClean’s Ferncliffe Observatory [MCOF] (1875-1883), Fercliffe House nr. Tunbridge Wells, established at the country home of Frank McClean, who inherited wealth. He built an observatory to house a 15-inch reflector, and studied solar spectra and prominences (Shears 2013; Obit., MNRAS, 65 (1905), 338-42).

McClean’s Rushall Observatory [MCOR] (1884-1890s), Rushall House  nr. Tunbridge Wells, established by Frank McClean, close to Ferncliffe House where he built a laboratory and heliostat… from 1887 he was a regular contributor to MNRAS. In 1895 he installed a twin 10/12-inch Grubb photo-visual refractor – laterdonated to NLO.  Also a pioneer of objective prism spectroscopy and major benefactor of astronomy (Obit., MNRAS, 65 (1905), 338-42).

Nasmyth’s Penshurst Observatory [NOH] (1856-1890), Hammerfield, Penshurst, established by James Nasmyth (1808-90), who retired to Kent in 1856. By 1845 he had constructed his now famed 20-inch‘comfortable’ reflector for which he had a seat at the focus he contrived through the trunnion, now known as the Nasmyth focus, and widely used for mounting the large ancillary instruments for giant reflectors. In 1851 he had won a prize at the Great Exhibition for a drawing of the Moon. Now he concentrated on many years of lunar observations. In 1874 with James Carpenter he published The Moon considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite. The illustrations were beautiful photographs of plaster models. In 1860 he was the first to discover ‘willow leaf’ patterns on the solar surface. A crater on the Moon is named after him.  Nasmyth’s 20-inch reflector is in the store of the Science Museum, London (ODNB).

Piers Seller observatory [PSO] (2005- ), Cranbrook School, Cranbrook, established by the Grammar School and named after an alumnus who is a NASA astronaut.  The observatory house the Alan Young Telescope, a 22.5-inch reflector.  It is used for research and run by the Cranbrook and District Science and Astronomy Society (CADSAS).

Wilkins’s Observatory [WOB] (1918-1960),  Bexleyheath, established by Hugh Percy Wilkins  who was born in Carmarthen. He began observing in 1909. After service during World War I he settled in Kent. In 1918 he joined the BAA, became a selenographer, and Director of the Lunar Section 1946-56. From his garden in Bexleyheath he observed at first with 12½-inch reflector; later with a 15½-inch reflector. He also made observations using the telescopes at professional observatories in Europe and the United States. He produced in 1924 a 60-inch map of the Moon, which included new names for a number of features. In 1951 he published a revised 300″-diameter map of the Moon, considered by some as the culmination of the art of selenography prior to the space age. However his maps were dense with detail, some of which was fictitious, making them less useful (Obit., JBAA, 70 (1960), 237; Leatherbarrow 2013, 148-9).

Wilkins Memorial Observatory [WMO] (1961-2012), Crayford Manor House, Crayford, Greater London, established by the Crayford Manor Astronomical Society [CMHAS]. Named in honour of H.P. Wilkins, the domed observatory was located in a converted boiler house. It first contained a 12-inch reflector then a larger 24-inch reflecting telescope both made by John Wall.

Wollaston’s Observatory [WoOC] (c.1770-c.1820), Chiselhurst, established by Revd. Francis Wollaston. In his privately printed autobiography The Secret History of a Private Man, he explains that his pursuit of astronomy was intended to separate him at a “distance from the misrepresentations of narrow minded biggots”. He had a Peter Dollond refractor with a triplet object glass (Howse 1986, 68-9).

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