Observatories: Sussex

Brodie’s Eastbourne Observatory [BOE] (1854-8), Eastbourne, established by Frederick Brodie at his mother’s home. Here he re-assembled his observatory, previously sited at his former home, Wadbury House, Somerset.  It consisted of a transit room adjacent to a 12-sided equatorial room with a 15-foot cone-type dome with two metal rings supported by cannon balls. It was equipped with a 3-inch transit instrument (fl 45-inch) and 6.4-inch Merz refractor (fl 8.5-feet) carried on a equatorial mount of Brodie’s own design. The observatory and mounting was then acquired by C.L. Prince who re-erected it in Uckfield, the same village he moved to after he re-married in 1858.  The telescope was sold to Keith Murray of Ochtyre (Brodie 1856; Chambers 1890, 71-2 & fig. 64). 

Brodie’s Uckfield Observatory [BUO] (1858-76 ), Moseley Gore House, Uckfield, established by Frederick Brodie. Here he re-established an observatory that was equipped with a transit instrumet and a 7 1/2-inch refractor by Clarke, formerly owned by W.R.Dawes and later acquired by Wentwork Erck, County Wicklow, Ireland (c.1869). This telescope was probably replaced by an 8 1/2-inch equatorially mounted Cooke refractor that was later erected at his Fernhill Observatory on the Isle of Wight, the former instrument passing to friend, C.L. Prince (Brodie 1856; Kelly & Co 1866, 2134; Chambers 1890, 71-2 & fig. 64; Warner and Arial 1995, 85). 

Chambers’s Observatory [ChOE] (fl.1873-1900s), Northfield Grange,Eastbourne, established by George F. Chambers at his home.  He built a observatory with cone-type dome, on top of a tower of his house, with the dome rotating on three cannon balls.  It was initially equipped with a 6.4-inch Merz refractor, later replaced with a 6-inch Grubb refracting telescope. His observatoryand latter telescope is described and illustrated in his Handbook of Astronomy book series (Chambers 1890, 228-9 & Pl.X). 

Hanbury’s Brockhurst Observatory [HOB] (1910-1939), Brockhurst House, East Grinstead, established by Frederick J. Hanbury a wealthy industrialist  He set up an observatory with a 6⅛-inch Cooke refractor carried on a English style cross-axis mount. Here employed William Franks as observer, in part to host Hanbury’s many guests on visits to the observatory. During seven years Franks made micrometer observations of wide double stars (published 1914-20). For a short period (1925-9), the 24-inch reflector  of T.W. Bush was installed at the observatory under a run-off shed – transferred to Nottingham University. When Franks died, Hanbury invited the 14 year-old Patrick Moore to take charge of the Observatory- until the start of World War II when it was dismantled (Mobberley 2013, 11-3; Shears 2015).

Knot’s Woodcroft Observatory [KWO] (1859-1873), Woodcroft House, Cuckfield, established by George Knott at his home. Equipped with a newly acquired 7-inch Alvan Clark refractor (fl 9.4-feet), on a Merz equatorial mount from W.R. Dawes and a transit instrument. It was employed solely for variable and double star observations – the former being continuous for 34 years, edited by Professor H.H. Turner and published by the RAS in 1899. In 1873 he moved from Woodcroft House building a new residence nearby (Knowles Lodge) that was ready by 1875 (obit, MNRAS, 55 (1895), 195-7).

Knott’s Lodge Observatory [KLO] (1875-93), Knowles Lodge House, Cuckfield, established by George Knott at his newly built residence. Here the observatory was erected, attached to the new building with same instruments. Here he continued his observations until his death, after a short illness.  The Clarke telescope passed to Henry Pratt then to Edward Turner Whitelow and used at his Birkdale Observatory. After Whitelow’s death (1932), the observatory and telescope were donated to Stonyhurst College Observatory.  Knott was a true ‘amateur’, who corresponded with Joseph Baxendell and Espin among other leading observers of variable stars (obit, MNRAS, 55 (1895), 195-7). 

Levin’s Observatory [LOS] (1928-1939), Selsey, established by Major A.E. Levin and furbished with a 6-inch Cooke refractor – later given to the BAA.  Interested in the computational side of astronomy his observation of a general nature but included occultation (Obit. MNRAS, 100 (1940), 253-4; Obit., JBAA, 50 (1939), 75-80; Stroobant 1931).

Noble’s Observatory [NOU] (1857- 1905), Forest Lodge, Maresfield nr. Uckfield, established by Captain William Noble at his home.  It housed a newly purchased 4.2-inch Ross refractor (fl 5-feet) on an equatorial mount with a clock drive and micrometer. He housed it in a wooden observatory with zinc-covered rotating dome along with a 2¾-inch Simms transit instrument and  siderial clock. He regularly observed occultations, sunspots, and reported on the Mercury transit of 1868. He co-operated closely with his neighbour M.C. Lesson-Prince whose own observatory opened in 1857 houseing a  powerful 7-inch Tully refractor (Andres 1874, 165; Obit., MRAS, 65 (1905), 342-3 ; Obit., JBAA, 15, 6 (1904-5), 228-9).

Observatory Science Centre [OSC] Herstmonceux (1990-  ).  Following the closure of the RGO in 1990, a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has allowed the buildings of the Equatorial Group to restored as a Science Centre, an innovative and exciting hands-on experience for ‘children of all ages’! This work has been undertaken under the aegis of Science Projects Limited, an educational charity devoted to the promotion of science and technology to the all. Three of the original six telescopes have been restored to working order and are used on public viewing evenings arranged during the year. Also site estate is the Space Geodesy Facility, working under the auspices of the National Environmental Research Council.  The principal attractions include the 13-inch Astrographic Refractor; the Yapp 36-inch Reflector and the Thompson 26-inch Refractor and the Thompson 30-inch Reflector (1896). Two other domes at the Observatory contain telescopes which were not at Greenwich, the 38-inch Congo Schmidt and the 34-inch Hewitt Camera. Other facilities include an Aluminising Plant for recoating the telescope mirrors. The Equatorial Group houses over 100 themed exhibits demonstrating a wide variety of scientific principles and discoveries. In early September each year, the Centre hosts an Astronomy Festival to raise funds for the essential maintenance of the telescopes (Howse 1975; McCrea 1975 ). 

Patrick Moore’s Observatory [PTO] (1968-2012) ‘Farthings’, Selsey, Sussex established by Patrick Moore at his Selsey home. His original principal instrument was 12½inch reflector which he acquired in the 1950s at Langton Green, before moving it to Selsey in 1968. Here he specialised in lunar and planetary observations. It operated continuously until 2012, when Patrick announced that arthritis prevented him making further observations. Other instruments included his original 3-inch Broadhurst Clarkson brass refractor acquired in 1934; a 12.5-inch reflector acquired 1945 with a Henry Wildey mirror on a Ron Irving altazimuth mount; a 8.5-inch With-Browning reflector (1908) in a Broadhurst Clarkson tube, acquired in 1953 from the RGO – in 2006 given to Bruce Kingsley who restored it by 2008 for his Maidenhead Observatory, Berkshire; a 5-inch Cooke refractor on a Charles Frank equatorial mount, restored by Steve Collingwood; a 15-inch reflector, the mirror of unknown origin but re-figured by George Hole, on a Fullerscopes fork mount (Mobberley 2013) – See Middlesex.

Prince’s Crowborough Observatories [POC] (1872-1899), Beacon Observatory/Observatory House & The Observatory. The Observatory, Crowborough, established by Charles leeson Prince at two separate homes. First equipped with a 6.8-inch Tulley refractor (1823), originally owned by William Pearson and purchased from William Noble (1853). It was used to make stellar, cometary and planetary observations.  The first observatory was located in a tower with a turret dome. Contemporary maps (1879) label this as ‘Observatory House’, but by 1899 it is known as the ‘Grange’ – from 1896 a school. Sometime after the 1870s a new house appears to  next to the ‘Grange’ labelled ‘The Observatory’.  It is assumed that Prince sold the first property and moved into the latter (Andres 1874, 165; Obit., MNRAS, 60 (1900), 321-3).

Prince’s Uckfield Observatory [PUO] (1854-72), High Street, Uckfield, established by Charles Leeson Prince at his home (?).  His observatory was initially furbished with a 7-inch refractor by Tully that he purchased from William Noble – originally owned Dr pearson. This was later added to with another 7 1/2-inch refractor, optics by Clarke, which he acquired from Frederick Brodie along with a mount designed by him. Prince then moved Crowborough where he established a new observatory (Kelly & Co 1866, 2134).

Robert’s Crowborough Observatory [ROC] (1890-1904), Starfield House, Crowborough,  established by Isaac Roberts after he retired and moved to Crowborough Hill (800 ft.) from Maguall nr. Liverpool. He re-located his 20-inch Grubb photographic reflector of 1886 with dual mounting also to carrying a 7-inch Cooke refractor as guide scope. In 1888 he replaced the Grubb mirror with one by Calver, and mounted a superb quality 5-inch Cooke camera. In 1890, he engaged William S. Franks as photographic assistant who brought his special skills to the project.  After Roberts’s death, in 1904 his widow Dorothea Klumpke she took charge of nagative plates, arranging publication  of two photographic atlases and a catalogue.  This left Franks unenployed when the Observatory closed (Roberts 1899; Obit., MNRAS, 65 (1905), 345-7; James 1993).

Royal Greenwich Observatory [RGOH] (1948-1990), Herstmonceux, established after World War II due the urban pollution, and disturbance of the telescopes by underground trains. Harold Spencer Jones supervised site surveys and movement of his staff into Herstmonceux Castle by  1948.  The scientific staff and instruments could not move until the completion of new observatory buildings in 1957. The location allowed desirable collaboration with the physics department of the University of Sussex. After long delays, the 100-inch Isaac Newton Telescope was completed in 1967, but by 1979 it was transferred to the much better site of La Palma in the Canary Islands. By the 1980s the RGO had developed great expertise in telescope and observatory design, and made a great contribution to building the twin 8 metre Gemini telescopes on Mauna Kea and in Chile. Altogether the RGO employed some 230 staff. But as completion neared, the government wanted to cut the engineering staff and divert scarce resources to fund the astronomers and PhD students with the observatory closing in 1990. The instruments were left on site as it became the Observatory Science Centre – an educational charity Science Projects. The remaining staff  moved to a new building adjacent to the Institute of Astronomy at the Cambridge Observatory, which then closed in 1998 (McCrea 1975).

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