4 August 2022 at 9:07 pm #611770
Attached is a link to a Utube video of the abandoned observatory that was once operated by Newcastle University in the NE of England (home of Grubb-Parsons). The three domes are ina poor state (I visited in the 1980’s) with David Sinden. The tragic shame is that the most famous of the telescopes a 24 inch Calver reflector used by T.E.Espin is still in there. It was restored by David Sinden (once chief optician at Grubbs) and placed in the that observatory after restoration. The telescope was used by Espin to compile his catalogue of red stars, valuable double star measures and estimates of variable stars, amongst other ground breaking observations. The University should hang their head in shame at leaving this historic telescope to deteriorate in the way it has.In 2007 they proudly announced that the 24 inch was once one of the lasrgest telescopes in England.They could have at least dismantled it and stored it .It would only take a day to dismantle and take away. I wish I was 30 years younger, I would tackle the problem.
Attachments:5 August 2022 at 4:21 pm #611807Trevor EmmettParticipant
Thanks for this. Very interesting.
I have a personal interest insofar as I was a Geology PhD student in Newcastle 1976-1979 and my supervisor was the late Dr M. Hugh Battey. I seem to recall that he was one a select few who used the telescope for their own devices – he frequently invited me to join him in observations but, alas, I never was able to. This failure I have always regretted.
I believe the observatory was located at the Closehouse Estate to the west of Newcastle – at the time this was the University’s main sports centre and I often played football there. I believe the University sold off Closehouse some years ago. I always wondered what happened to the observatory/telescopes. A few years ago at a BAA meeting in Newcastle I was told that the observatories were no more and that the telescopes were in store (= lost). Believing this, I felt the University had committed a gross act barbarity.
Closehouse is now, I think, some sort of luxury hotel. It was suggested to me that the hotel now owned what was left of the observatory but my informant was not sure. I haven’t been able to find much information about it.
Are we talking about the same place? Or has my age-addled memory failed (again)?
I would be very keen to see these items at least preserved if not restored. I would help as much as I can, but I fear this would be not much in a practical sense.
Trevor5 August 2022 at 6:02 pm #611808
Thanks for your interest. I can see why you are as interested in knowing the current situation regarding the telescope. I have written to member of the Astronomy group at Newcastle University, Dr Anne Archbold, to see if she can shed any light on the matter. Here is a copy of my letter:
Hello Dr Archibold,
I hope you can help with this enquiry. I am an amateur astronomer and a member of the British Astronomical Association since 1979. At present I live 40 miles north of Inverness. I have had a particular interest in the telescopes that were used by pioneers of observational astronomy in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The reason I write to you is to ask if you can shed any light on the current situation regarding the telescope used by The Rev.T.E .Espin (a founder member of the BAA and a recipient of the Jackson-Gwilt medal of the Royal Astronomical Society). He lived and worked at Tow Law in County Durham.This telescope has historical significance and was donated to Newcastle University in the 1990’s by David Sinden (who was chief optician at Grubb-Parsons and worked on the construction of the Issac Newton telescope and the Anglo Australian telescope). It was situated at the University Observatory site at Closehouse Estate west of Newcastle along side two other more modern telescopes that were owned and operated by Newcatle University. The University sold off the site and removed the two modern telescopes (still in storage at the University?).However I believe the 19th century Espin 24 inch Calver reflector was left in situ and may still be there, abandoned. Can you shed any light on the current situation regarding this telescope. I realise that this may be outside you sphere of interest and certainly the move away form Closehouse was before you time at Newcastle University, but I hope the subject and its historical aspect may interest you enough to make some enquiries about the telescope. I attach two links
1) a utube video made in 2021 showing the abandoned observatory
2) a link to the Society for the History of Astronomy webpage for this telescope whcih gives the historical background.
I hope you can find time to look at these and respond
5 August 2022 at 9:11 pm #611812Trevor EmmettParticipant
- This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by Denis Buczynski.
Please keep me in the loop.
I suppose the first thing is to establish who owns the old observatories (I assume the hotel). Since the buildings are essentially derelict the owners may be prepared to sign them over to a trust or such like.
I see from Googlemaps the once hallowed football and cricket pitches are now golf courses…
Trevor22 August 2022 at 11:51 am #612046John NicholParticipant
Yes, a great shame about the demise of this historical instrument. I have attached some images of the telescope and David Sinden with the 24 inch mirror. Perhaps Beamish museum would be a suitable home of the telescope?
Attachments:22 August 2022 at 2:55 pm #612061
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?
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