The York Observatory

The York Observatory in Museum Gardens.

1832AD - 1832AD

The York Observatory in Museum Gardens was built in 1832.  It is the oldest working observatory in Yorkshire. 

The building has an distinctive cone-shaped roof, which was easier to construct than a hemispherical one. There are doors in the roof for the telescope.  All the major astronomical events during the 19th and 20th centuries were seen from the observatory, though no major discoveries were made from it.

The York Observatory was the result of a promise made at the very first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which took place at the Yorkshire Museum in 1831.  The vice president of the Royal Astronomical Society, Dr Pearson, said that if an observatory was built in York he would personally supply the telescope .  He duly obliged, also providing other scientific instruments - including a clock.

One reason for building a small observatory in a city centre was not actually astronomical but for time keeping.  Time was often expressed in a vague sense – you would wait for the 'morning stagecoach' rather than one due at a specific time.  But with the advent of the industrial age and the railways people wanted greater accuracy.
The clock donated by Dr Pearson, which tells the time based on observations of the positions of stars, is still in situ.  In its day it was the most accurate timepiece in York and it would cost you sixpence to check your timepiece against it.

After the WWII the building fell into disrepair and the original telescope disappeared some time in the 1950s.  By the 1970s the York Observatory was in danger of demolition.  Fortunately for us, a public campaign raised £50,000 to restore it to its original glory in 1981.

Today the observatory is regularly open to the public, staffed by volunteers on behalf of York Museums Trust.


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