100 years of the Norman Lockyer Observatory

PUBLISHED: 18:30 15 August 2020 | UPDATED: 13:08 17 August 2020

The McClean Dome.

The McClean Dome.

Archant

The chairman of Sidmouth’s hilltop observatory, David Strange, talks about the history behind the facility, 100 years after the death of its founder, Sir Norman Lockyer.

Norman Lockyer.Norman Lockyer.

Norman Lockyer Observatory chairman David Strange takes a brief look at the history behind Sidmouth’s observatory.

“Sir Norman Lockyer was in his 76th year when he retired to Sidmouth and founded the Hill Observatory in 1912.

The Connaught Dome, opened by Queen guitarist Brian May during the obervatory's cenetenary celebrations on Saturday, May 29, 2012.The Connaught Dome, opened by Queen guitarist Brian May during the obervatory's cenetenary celebrations on Saturday, May 29, 2012.

“Initially, it consisted of two observatory domes, the Kensington and McClean, housing 10” refractors whose work was primarily involved with photographing spectra of stars.

“In 1920 it was renamed the Norman Lockyer Observatory by his son James on the death of his father. This Sunday (August 16) will mark the centenary of Sir Norman Lockyer’s passing.

Norman Lockyer.Norman Lockyer.

“In 1930 Sir Robert Mond donated funds for the Mond dome which housed a large equatorial with wide field lenses. James Lockyer died in 1936 and the work of the observatory continued under the Norman Lockyer Corporation. By 1948, the corporation had run out of funds and the site was taken over by Exeter University, and the NLO grounds were used for geophysics research. At one time in the mid-1960s the NLO had the world’s most sensitive magnetometer.

“However, by the 1980s the site was regarded as obsolete and plans were made for it to be sold off. Fortunately, the good people of Sidmouth raised funds for the purchase by East Devon District Council. A new planetarium was built and telescopes restored. The Norman Lockyer Observatory Society was formed to manage the site and conduct open days for the public and visiting groups.

The Hill Observatory.The Hill Observatory.

“Since then, the society has built a lecture theatre, the Victoria Dome, the Connaught Dome and the Lockyer Technology Centre. In this building we are monitoring the sky 24 hours a day with radar and video cameras detecting meteors.

“The NLO continues in its educational role and last year built a major extension thanks to very generous bequests from the late Jean Edyvean and the Sid Vale Association’s Keith Owen fund.

Jim Lockyer in the Mond Dome which was funded by Robert Mond.Jim Lockyer in the Mond Dome which was funded by Robert Mond.

“Unfortunately, the present pandemic has curtailed our normal operations; however, we did meet recently in the observatory grounds to host a bulletin on Comet Neowise for ITV’s News at Ten TV broadcast.

“The NLO is a friendly society for all those interested in the sky above us, and welcomes people of all ages.”

Astononmy fair.Astononmy fair.

Find out more about Sidmouth’s hill observatory at:

www.normanlockyer.com

Mary Lockyer picture in 1936.Mary Lockyer picture in 1936.

Sir Joseph, Norman Lockyer - better known as Norman Lockyer.Sir Joseph, Norman Lockyer - better known as Norman Lockyer.

Aerial view of the observatory grounds.Aerial view of the observatory grounds.

Zoom meeting during the coronavirus pandemic.Zoom meeting during the coronavirus pandemic.

An aerial view of the observatory grounds.An aerial view of the observatory grounds.

Inside the Jeanne Edyvean Centre during The British Science Week event in March, 2019.Inside the Jeanne Edyvean Centre during The British Science Week event in March, 2019.

The observatory received a donation from Co-op in November 2019.The observatory received a donation from Co-op in November 2019.

The orrery, a Victorian working model of the solar system, restored by NLO members.The orrery, a Victorian working model of the solar system, restored by NLO members.

Weather balloon launch.Weather balloon launch.

Open day event at the observatory.Open day event at the observatory.

Queen guitarist Brian May officially opens the Connaught Dome at the observatory’s centenary celebrations on Saturday, May 29, 2012.Queen guitarist Brian May officially opens the Connaught Dome at the observatory’s centenary celebrations on Saturday, May 29, 2012.

The Kensington telescope.The Kensington telescope.


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