New look for interior of Sidmouth's Norman Lockyer Observatory

Norman Lockyer Observatory

Norman Lockyer Observatory - Credit: Archant

The Norman Lockyer Observatory is undergoing a revamp, and the Sidmouth Herald has visited it to see what changes are being made. 

The observatory will not be opening fully to the public until the new year, although it has reopened to members, and some group visits have been taking place in the last few months. 

But when it does open its doors again, people who have not visited since the start of the Covid pandemic will see a lot of changes.

Dave Alexander, a director of the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth

Dave Alexander, a director of the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth - Credit: Archant

 One of its directors, Dave Alexander, explained that the lockdown had given him and his team a chance to think about how the ‘tired-looking’ facilities could be improved, and access made easier for wheelchair users. 

The new-look foyer at the Nornan Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth

The new-look foyer at the Nornan Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth - Credit: Archant

The biggest change has been to the main foyer and display area, which has been cleared of clutter and some of the furniture. It still has its big circular mirror, made for a telescope that was never built, several displays around the walls, and the glass cabinet that houses the orrery- a working 19th-century clockwork model of the solar system. 

The orrery - a 19th-century clockwork model of the solar system - at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth

The orrery - a 19th-century clockwork model of the solar system - at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth - Credit: Archant

Display in the corner of the foyer at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth

Display in the corner of the foyer at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth - Credit: Archant

The library has also been tidied up, with old bookcases removed to provide clear access to the toilet for wheelchair users. 

The multi-media display unit in the foyer will be rebuilt with a new touchscreen TV as its centrepiece and other screens displaying live data from the observatory’s instruments, including one of its telescopes. 

Most Read

A new display area will be created for the observatory’s Mond telescope – originally set up in the observatory in the 1930s, but transferred to a scientist on the Isle of Man after Exeter University sold the site in the 1980s. Following his death, his family returned the telescope. It has been dismantled and stored in a cardboard box for some time, but there are plans to reassemble it and reinstate it for display. In principle the Mond could still be used, but the observatory has nowhere to put it as a working telescope. 

Dave Alexander is pleased with the new look of the public areas, but admitted that progress has been slow. 

“It’s taking a lot longer than we thought,” he said. “We’re all volunteers and doing everything ourselves." 

The lecture theatre at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth

The lecture theatre at the Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth - Credit: Archant


Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter