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The Barnett Observatory in Chesterfield.
The History of the Telescope
Back in the 1950s W. Horace Barnett conceived the idea of building an 18 inch (450 mm) diameter astronomical telescope for Chesterfield. Horace had previously engineered a 12 inch (300 mm) diameter telescope for the Sheffield Astronomical Society. His vision to build a larger telescope in Chesterfield came into reality when he met two Chesterfield members of the British Astronomical Association. The Chesterfield team was Horace, Val Warburtons and Douglas Saunderson.
Many within the astronomical community doubted whether it would be possible for a group of amateur astronomers to build such a large telescope. They were known as the "Newbold Nutters" as a result of the fact that the telescope would be housed in the Newbold district of Chesterfield.
The team obtained support from William Brown, the then Joint Managing Director of the Chesterfield Tube Company. Mr Brown offered both personal support and the support of his Company in the form of raw materials and facilities. Interest in the project grew from many of Horace's friends and colleagues who donated for a year half-a-crown (£2.58 in 2013 money) a week to help finance the project. This generous and enthusiastic support led to the formation on 17th November 1956 of the Chesterfield Astronomical Society. Horace Barnett elected as the telescope Project Director.
The Society at this time was 80 strong with a will to make Horace's vision come true. The Society obtained a lease from the Council for the Newbold site where the Observatory is today.
A Society member and professional architect, Peter F.R. Glossop, designed a 5.5 metre hemispherical dome for the telescope and a fully equipped adjoining lecture room. His design was accepted and in the Spring of 1957, the members with spades commenced work on the foundations. By late summer the lecture room was taking shape. In addition to this the pillar, headstock and main tube of the telescope had been assembled. Public and media interest in the project grew as a result of the Society's achievements. An appeal to local concerns in the area raised over £400 (£7876 in 2013 money) together with help in the form of valuable materials.
The next stage was for Val Warburton to produce by hand, a parabolic mirror 18 inch (450mm) in diameter from very thin plate glass. The task was a difficult one and as such Val had a number of trials and tribulations. Val's persistence paid off and in the autumn of 1958 the mirror was finished.
Work on the dome and telescope continued through into 1959. The first successful observations were made in November 1959. Three years had passed from the idea to it's attainment. In tribute to Horace the observatory housing the telescope was called The Barnett Observatory and in recognition of the contribution made by William Brown the telescope is called the William Brown telescope.
The Society was delighted to have the Barnett Observatory officially opened by the Astronomer Royal Dr Richard van der Riet Woolley on Saturday 23rd April 1960.
Into the 21st Century.
The telescope is lovingly maintained by the current members of the Chesterfield Astronomical Society. If you would like to view the night sky through this magnificent telescope, then please come along (on a clear night) to the Observatory from 8pm on a Friday night. You will be made most welcome.