On this day … 17 March 1883

A Mr G. Sutcliffe, honorary curator of the Corporation’s astronomical observatory in the Deepdale Enclosure (more commonly known as the Little Park), proudly reported that since it opened in October 1881 there had been 1,066 visitors.

Unfortunately, according to Anthony Hewitson in his History of Preston, its neighbours did not share his delight, because:

… it is so very plain in line, and so exceedingly gloomy in colour, that it constitutes an eyesore rather than an ornament, and to people living in the immediate neighbourhood the building is quite an ocular annoyance. By and by, the Corporation, to whom it belongs, may re-colour or otherwise ornament the structure so as to make it, if not more pleasing, at least less externally repellent.

It is pictured in around 1925, shortly before its replacement by the Moor Park observatory, which opened in 1927.

The observatory and its telescope originally belonged Alderman R. G. Watson, and had been built for himself and his friends on private ground, near the southern end of Oxford street.

When he died his trustees tried without success to dispose of the observatory, and eventually sold it to the corporation for the knock-down price of £100. The corporation moved it to the site that was causing consternation to its neighbours.

The observatory possessed a reflecting telescope, 14 feet long, ‘the speculum thereof being by Mr. James Cooke, of Preston’. The speculum was the reflecting mirror used in the telescope. These were originally made of an alloy, named, appropriately enough, speculum metal.

The corporation’s speculum could possibly been fashioned from this alloy, rather than glass, for according to a curator at the National Science Museum:

It was a notoriously difficult material for astronomers to work with, being both brittle and prone to tarnishing quickly. But despite the inconvenience of having to frequently remove and repolish the mirrors, speculum metal remained the material of choice for reflecting telescopes well into the 19th century in the absence of suitable alternatives.

Even though admission was free, it seemed many people would be reluctant to visit until there was ‘some means of heating the place, or affording some measure of warmth’. Mr Sutcliffe also pleaded for a high-powered lens.

The map shows the location of the observatory, and also reveals that the park once had its own keeper’s lodge, which was still there, according to OS maps, before the Second World War.

Plan of the Deepdale Enclosure Preston c. 1890
1890s plan shows the location of the observatory. National Library of Scotland: https://maps.nls.uk/view-full/231280533#zoom=3&lat=5912&lon=8332&layers=BT

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