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Manchester Astronomical Society
Established 1903

50 years at the Godlee Observatory

Kevin Kilburn

On 27th June 1996 Kevin Kilburn reminded us that 50 years ago (to the day) the Manchester Astronomical Society moved back into the Godlee Observatory. Kevin read the following extracts from the Current Notes of the day:


MAS Time Capsule

Time CapsuleTo mark the event, members celebrated in the Godlee Rooms with a wine evening. A time capsule was also placed beneath the Octagon Room floor containing the following text with signatures of all present, a one pence coin dated 1996 was also included at great expense! A toast was given by Tony Cross (President), that we may use the Godlee Observatory for a further 50 years.


Current Notes for Members, Second Series, 1946.

President: E Denton Sherlock, FSI.

Society's access to the Godlee Observatory.

CN.March 1946.

At the January meeting of the Society the President referred briefly to negotiations which were proceeding with the administrative authorities of the College of Technology, Manchester, with the object of Members of the Society obtaining regular and full access to the Godlee Observatory. Complete arrangements cannot be indicated for the time being, as many matters have to be considered, such conditions of access, responsibilities of the Society to the Corporation, Education Committee, selection and training of "Observatory wardens" to supervise the use of the telescopes, etc. It is hoped to reach decisions which will permit Members to begin to use the Observatory some time during the coming Spring. The President will keep Members informed at the monthly meetings, and full details will appear in these "Notes" in an early issue.

CN. May 1946.

By the generosity of the Governing Body of the Manchester College of Technology, the members of the Society have been granted the use of the Godlee Observatory in the College. This observatory contains a "Twin Equatorial" instrument consisting of an 8" Refractor and a 12" Reflector mounted on the same polar axis. The Refractor also carries a camera with a 6" Achromatic Doublet. The Equatorial is clock-driven. The Society, therefore, now has at its disposal adequate instrumental equipment for those who choose to take a serious interest in observation, as well as an opportunity for "star gazing" by those who are unable to undertake organised observation. It is hoped that courses of instruction in the use of the telescopes and in observation will provide an additional interest and incentive to members of the society. The repair and adjustment of the telescopes has been undertaken by a panel of experts, who will report when the observatory is ready for use. Members will be able to use the observatory on specific evenings, or at other time by arrangement with the Secretaries.

The Council hopes to be able to book the Reynolds Hall of the Manchester College of Technology for future meetings of the Society, thus providing a "home" for the Society in the College. The Society's thanks are due to the College authorities for their help in offering the use of the Godlee Observatory and the Reynolds Hall. At the time of writing it is not yet possible to state when the Godlee Observatory will be completely available to Members. Arrangements are proceeding apace, and possibly the Secretaries will have advised Members of the completion of those arrangements before these "Notes" arrive in their hands.

The Special Panel of senior members have paid several evening visits to the observatory. The 8" Grubb (sic) refractor, and the 12" reflector have been thoroughly cleaned and overhauled, the bearings lubricated and the optical parts cleaned and adjusted. Minor mechanical faults are being remedied by our engineering members. When these are completed and the lighting of the observatory has been attended to by the College Authorities, Members will be invited to attend, on certain evenings, to be introduced to the telescopes, and as "Summer Time" will have come into force by then, it may even be possible to make some late observations of the sun. The 8" refractor is fitted with gear for projecting the solar image onto a white screen, so that all may see what is happening on the sun without having to wait a turn at the eyepiece.

A lofty observatory such as the Godlee is rather a bleak place in spring-time when the dome is open. Members are advised therefore to come warmly clothed. The lift will take members to the top floor (F) of the College. Access to the observatory (which is officially known as F.11) is gained through room F.10, by means of the staircase immediately inside the door. If a class is sitting in F.10, no notice should be taken, but quietness should be observed when walking upstairs. The staircase opens into the room below the observatory proper, a room wherein we hope sooner or later to meet regularly for informal discussions, in addition to our monthly meetings in the Reynolds Hall. The observatory is finally reached by an iron spiral staircase of 35 steps. On the observatory floor one stands 225 steps above the foot-path in Sackville Street. An open balcony surrounds the observatory from which may be gained unpleasing views of the City and grand open views of the heavens. May our occupation and control of the Godlee Observatory be blessed for many years to come.

CN. July 1946.

By the time Members read this note most of the reconditioning work required at the Godlee Observatory will have been completed. The cleaning and adjustment of the two telescopes have been carried out, and the observatory is now adequately lighted, and is open to Members. The Council paid another visit to the observatory on Thursday, the 20th June, when the final arrangements for the admission of Members and the surveillance of the telescopes were agreed.

The Editor (William Porthouse, FRAS) has presented to the observatory his copy of Elger's Map of the Moon and a copy of Klein and McClure's Star Atlas. Both will be of considerable help to Members. The recently-purchased "Splendour of the Heavens", also, is being reserved for reference in the observatory. If any Member has to spare a copy of the 1946 Handbook of the British Astronomical Association, this would be a very desirable addition to the books of the observatory.

Special Use of the Observatory:

If any Member wishes to carry out special observational work in connection with his astronomical studies, he is invited to indicate such desire to the Secretary, for consideration by the Council. At first it will not be practicable to make special arrangements of this nature, but the Council would welcome the views of Members against the time when fuller access is achieved. W.P.

CN. September 1946.

The Godlee Observatory was thrown open to Members on Thursday, 27th June, 1946, when there was an attendance of eight. In future, for the time being the observatory will only be accessible to Members each Thursday evening commencing at 7 o'clock, without prior or special arrangement. It may be found necessary to re-introduce a system of balloting for access when the dark evenings return but by then it may have been found possible to extend our attendance into at least one other evening in each week.


By November, 1946, a roster of observatory Wardens had been organised and it was agreed that until further notice the Godlee Observatory would be opened to Members every Thursday evening between 7 and 9 o'clock Arrangements to use the observatory for special series of observations at other times could be made on application to the Council. Further overhaul and refurbishment of the telescopes was undertaken in 1953. The tube of the 8" refractor was shortened by three inches to allow easier use of the bifilar micometer and a battery box was fitted near the eyepiece to illuminate the declination circle. The clockwork drive was also replaced by an electric synchronous motor. The observatory was opened on Saturday evenings in the early 1960's but poor attendance soon resulted in this being terminated.

KJ Kilburn, 27th June 1996