Observatories: Surrey

Barclay’s Bury Hill Observatory (1848-55), Dorking, established by Arthur Kett Barclay (1806-69), the head of a brewing company.  He established an observatory at his home Bury Hill, near Dorking. He was a cousin of Joseph Gurney Barclay, whose more famous observatory was in Leyton, Essex. Sadly Arthur was paralysed in 1855 and unable to continue his observations.  The dome on his equatorial house was the second made by Charles May of Ipswich (after the first for Dr Lee), and was one foot less in diameter than the Hartwell dome, and had first been at his Norbury Observatory. He had a 5.9-inch Troughton & Simms refractor of 8-feet focal length. He also owned a 2¾-inch transit instrument, and a fine Dent clock with mercury compensating pendulum. The  Observatory was built by Decimus Burton in 1847 and over the entrance is a piece by Dante and “Erected by Arthur Kett Barclay, 1848.” It is now a private house.

Carrington’s Observatory (1852-61), Redhill, established by Richard Carrington. After falling into controversy with Revd. Temple Chevalier while Observer at Durham University Observatory, and unable to achieve re-equipment of the observatory there, Carrington moved to Redhill in Surrey. To a 4½-inch refractor which he used to continue sunspot observations, he added a 5-inch Simms transit circle, which cost him £600. With this he and his assistant George Harvey Simmonds (1836-1921) between 1853 and 1857 catalogued 3,735 stars within 9 degrees of the Pole. Generated by what was the last privately owned meridian observatory, this was considered classic work, and was the last useful catalogue of stars produced by a private observatory. It gained him the RAS Gold Medal. His sunspot work was also acclaimed, and nominated for another medal. In 1861 the house and observatory were sold by auction. The Carrington Circle was purchased by the Radcliffe Observatory, and can now be seen in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. See Carrington, Richard Christopher (1826-75).

Evershed’s Observatory (1925- 50), established by John Evershed in 1925 at his home at Ewhurst near Guildford, Surrey. Instruments included refracting telescopes and and built a large spectroheliograph with high-dispersion liquid prism (Stroobant 1931).

Headley Observatory (1916-1942), Headley near Epsom, established by Rev. T.E.R. Phillips.  A friend and associate of Phillips was Percy Mayow Ryves, a British amateur astronomer whose prime interests were the planet Mars and variable stars. Director of the BAA Mars Section 1942–1956. He lived for many years in Spain and earned a meagre living. In 1937 he was obliged to move back to England and lived within easy reach of Rev. T.E.R. Phillips’s observatory at Headley, and apparently was an active observer there from 1937-1941 using the 18-inch With reflector and the 8-inch Coleman Cooke refractor on loan from the RAS – Ryves was director of the BAA Mars Section. The Cooke telescope was later returned to the RAS who donated it for the establishment of a public observatory in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  Phillips made many observations of Jupiter for the BAA.  His main collaborators were B.M. Peek and F. J. Hargreaves (Stroobant 1931; ).

Kew Observatory [1] (1723-28), Richmond, Surrey.  Samuel Molyneux FRS by marriage gained Kew House, Richmond. He ‘erected an observatory in a wing of the house, in which in the year 1725 he made, with a telescope of his own construction, in conjunction with [James] Bradley, the famous observations which, after his death, were continued by Bradley and proved the Aberration of Light. This was the original Kew Observatory  [sic]’. [Henry Scott. ‘History of the Kew Observatory’,Proc.Roy.Soc.Ldn., 39 (1885), 37-86]. Kew House was demolished in 1803, but King William IV in 1832 had a sundial erected on the site of its observatory, with a commemorative plaque (Howse 1986). – see Samuel Molyneux

Kew Observatory [2] (1842-2012), Richmond, Surrey. When the royal family relinquished ownership of the King’s Observatory at Richmond in 1840, it was taken over from 1842 to 1871 by the British Association for the Advancement of Science to be its physical laboratory. It was already often referred to as “the Kew Observatory”, and that now became the norm. The main work was still taking the daily transit of the Sun, and the rating of clocks, pocket watches, and certifying chronometers. Other work became important – the testing of thermometers, barometers, and survey instruments. Magnetic observations, and the correlation of reports from comparable stations world-wide was undertaken by the BAAS.

Meanwhile, from 1861-72 there was a brief revival of astronomy. By the 1850s there was increasing interest in studying the Sun, its influence upon the Earth’s magnetic field, and upon climate especially for any link with conditions that created famine in India. John Herschel urged systematic observation of the Sun by photography, and in 1854 the Kew Observatory Committee of the BAAS adopted the proposal. Warren De la Rue designed a photoheliograph, and the Royal Society funded the £150 required. The Kew photoheliograph had an aperture of 3.4″ (8.9cm) and a focal length of 50 inches (127cm). De la Rue took the instrument to Spain for the 1860 solar eclipse. In 1861 the instrument was again installed at Kew under the superintendent Balfour Stewart (1828-87). Installed beneath a dome, a daily photographic record was made at Kew of a full solar cycle until 1872. Then in response to public pressure for the ROG to adopt some physical work, the photoheliograph was removed there, and the daily records continued.

In 1871 control passed to the Royal Society, and thus allocation to Meteorological Office’s Physical Observatory from 1876 to 1900, including supervising the collection and analysis of world-wide meteorological.

In 1900 the observatory was transferred to the newly formed National Physical Laboratory, becoming its Observatory Department. In 1908 a separate observatory was established at Eskdalemuir to undertake magnetic work for which Kew was no longer suitable. On 1 July 1910 control of meteorological and magnetic work at Kew and Eskdalemuir Observatories passed to the Meteorological Office, Kew becoming styled the office’s Central Observatory, until 1914 when it was transferred to new buildings erected for the purpose at Teddington. The work of the Meteorological Office at the Kew Observatory came to an end in 1980 (Howse 1986). – see King’s Observatory, Richmond (below); Balfour Stewart (1828-87); Warren De la Rue; Edward Sabine.

King’s Observatory (1768-1840), Richmond, Surrey. At the suggestion of his friend and former tutor Dr Stephen Demainbray, the Observatory was completed in 1768 so that King George III and his family could observe the transit of Venus. This the King did, using a Thomas Short 6-inch brass reflector (now in the Science Museum). In this period before The Royal Observatory Greenwich [ROG] under George Airy began in 1851 to give standard time to the nation, local time prevailed in each part of the country. ‘The prime meridian’ was established through the transit instrument of the King’s Observatory, and observations of the Sun were made at mid-day to correct the excellent Regulator by Benjamin Vulliamy (1747-1811). The Observatory gave time to the Houses of Parliament, the clock on Horse Guards used by government offices, and also to other locations. No research was done or published.

In 1840 with the ROG now run efficiently by Airy, and the Nautical Almanac up to date, the government did not wish to maintain the King’s Observatory where the incumbent observer was now elderly. The King relinquished personal ownership to the Crown Estate; King George III’s collection of natural philosophy instruments, and Queen Caroline’s natural history collection, were disbursed to major museums. The principal astronomical instruments went to Armagh Observatory.

The Thomas Short 6-inch brass reflector with which King George III observed the Venus Transit in 1769 is displayed in the Armagh Observatory Museum, and several excellent photographs of it can be found on their 2011 website. The Benjamin Vulliamy regulator clock of 1780 which became the principal timekeeper for London until 1840, can be seen in the Science Museum, South Kensington, and there is a photo of it on their website.

The Observatory was in 1842 put at the disposal of the British Association of the Advancement of Science to use as its physical laboratory. It now became universally known as the Kew Observatory (Howse 1986). See: Dr. Stephen C.T. Demainbray (1710-82); Rev. Stephen G.F.T. Demainbray (1759-1854); Stephen Peter Rigaud (1774-1839). See: Kew Observatory (2) 1840-2012.

Kowloon Observatory, Sutton (1908-1931), established as a private institution by Dr William Doberck and furbished with a 7 1/4-inch Cooke refractor.  Assisted by his sister Anna N. he undertook double star observations (Stroobant 1931).

Lockyer’s Observatory (1862-1869), Wimbleton, established in 1862 in his garden, with a 6¼-inch refractor, in 1869 moved to St John’s Wood, Middlesex. Here in 1868 he discovered a new element in the Sun’s atmosphere – helium, and that solar prominences were upheavals in the Sun’s atmosphere from a region now called the chromosphere.

Maw’s Observatory, (1896-1927), Outwood, established by William Henry Maw.  This observatory is notably for being the site of the first long fruitful period in the history of the famed Thorrowgood Telescope when it was in the ownership of William Henry Maw (1838-1924) who installed it at his house at Outwood in 1896, and used it until 1927 for measurements of double stars.

The ‘Thorrowgood Telescope’ was built by T. Cooke and Sons of York and London in 1864, as recorded by the small embossed plate at the top of the pillar. The achromatic doublet object glass has an aperture of 8 inches and a focal length of 114 inches (f/14), and is of excellent quality. The first owner was Rev. William Rutter Dawes from 1865 until his death in 1868. 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 to Herschel’s 20-inch reflector at the Cape. Dawes had asked only £580 but after four months the Observatory Syndicate withdrew its provisional approval. The first long fruitful period in the history of the telescope was in the ownership of William Henry Maw (1838-1924) who erected this telescope at his house at Outwood in 1896, and used it until 1927 for measurements of double stars.  William John Thorrowgood (1862-1928) was actually the last private owner of this telescope. After his retirement in 1927 he installed the telescope at Wimbledon, Surrey, but had little time to enjoy it. He bequeathed it to the RAS, which offered it to Professor Eddington, Director of the Cambridge Observatory, initially for a period of 10 years. It is still there on extended loan, and used regularly. [Mark Hurn:http://www.srcf.ucam.org/astronomy/thorrowgood.html]

Pearson’s Observatory (1811-21), Temple Grove, East Sheen, established by Revd. William Pearson (see Howse 1986).

Simms’s Carshalton Observatory (1851-60), established by Wiliam Simms (1793-1860).  A timber frame room 16-feet x 8-feet, with a nearly flat roof, at his home ‘Bramblehaw’, Carshalton. Half was a computing room, half had a run-off shutter. His transit instrument was the 1.6-inch of 18-inch focal length, as described in Smyth’s Bedford Catalogue. Simms originally had a 3¼-inch Fraunhofer equatorial, but no clock. In 1852 he replaced it with a 4-inch refractor.


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