Hi John, It is good to know that someone in the local area (you) are interested in this famous old instrument. What can be done I wonder. If a contact with the company that now ownes Closehouse Estate could be made to see if they would be willing to have the telescope removed would be the first step. Does anyone know contact details for this company?
I wrote to two academics in the North East who may have had some association with the observtaory and telescope.
Dr Anne Archibold at Newcastle University Astronomy Dept, who has not replied as yet.
Dr Jurgen Schmoll at Durham University who did reply, copied below:
thank you for your nice email. I am afraid I am not in possession of the 24″ telescope, but of a re-built, unfinished 17″ telescope of the same pedigree.
Reverend Espin of Tow Law had initially a 17″ f/8 Newtonian in his private observatory. Later he upgraded to 24″ (shorter tube, maybe f/5 but I am not sure) on the same mount. The 17″ fell into disrepair.
The 24″ was refurbished I think in the 1990s by the late David Sinden, ex chief-optician of Grubb Parsons in Newcastle. He rebuilt the tube (change from tube to truss) and made an excellent job. This telescope has been set up at Close House and used by Newcastle Uni. Sadly Newcastle closed its Physics/Astronomy section, and Close House was taken over in ownership with the new owners not being interested in astronomy. This is how it all fell apart.
The 17″ mirror was rescued by Alan Heslop and Gordon Percival, both Grubb-Parsons until it shut. I remember both later became teachers. They reground the mirror from f/8 to f/4 and built a new telescope around it, which was never finished. When Alan Heslop passed away end of 2012, his sun asked me to move the telescope away to rescue it. Since then it is in storage. I set it up once, using a crane in my observatory as it is a heavy machine at about 1/2 ton total weight. Currently I have it half-built in my new observatory, after moving house. The plan is to find a new home for it, but there is much to do and some measures are costly – recoating the mirror alone about £500. The ancient motors are to be replaced by contemporary dual axis control e.g. by AWR electronics, but this is about £2000. All money I do not have, and I will have to team up with someone else or an interested astronomical society.
There was also a 12″ Schmidt telescope at Close House. I have the optics of this one, as the mechanics did not survive. Also the optics is damaged, the corrector plate having a large chip on the edge. So probably a display item in a Grubb Parsons exhibit, as there is a science Paper about it authored by David Brown himself, an important figure within Grubb Parsons.
Feel free to contact me again. We may also have a chat on Skype or phone if you like.
So how to proceed from here. Perhaps an online working group to discuss what can be done to rescue this telescope would be a start. I live in the North East of Scotland 40 miles north of Inverness, so any participation on the ground by myself would be impractical. A willing person in the Newcastle area would be ideal. Does anyone know annyone in the Newcastle Astronomical Society who might help?