Saturday 13 March 2021

The Cooke Darlington Telescope


The Cooke  Darlington Telescope

The story of the telescope begins in 1890, when the vicar of Eryholme, in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire the Reverend Walter Stewart, had it installed in his home, Ellcott House, in Hurworth near Darlington.

It was "a 5-inch equatorially-mounted refractor" built by T Cooke and Sons of York.

It cost £374, and was regarded by one and all as a very fine instrument , a vast amount of money at the time.

In 1904, Mr Stewart, who was born in Hurworth, was offered a new living in Longley, Gloucestershire. Because Longley is a long way, the telescope had to remain, and so Mr Stewart offered it to Darlington council for about £130.

It seemed natural to place the telescope at the new technical college in Northgate, built in 1896, but the college was still £2,163 in debt and the councillors were in no mood to increase its overdraft for the sake of a telescope.

At the last minute, 29 of the town's leading citizens emptied out their pockets and scraped together enough money to prevent the telescope being sent to the saleroom.

They formally presented it to the town on November 8, 1904, and the following year it was set up in the college's back yard.

But its view of the skies was not good and it was planned to move it to the college roof for "an uninterrupted view of the heavens".

But an astronomical advisor reported: "If the telescope is to be regarded as a pastime then that position would be satisfactory enough, but if a scientific use is to be made of the instrument the position is absolutely unsuitable. The ordinary tram and other forms of traffic set up a great deal of vibration."

North Lodge Park, next to the college, was dismissed as a site because town centre smoke would have obscured the heavens, so a site in South Park, next to the bowling green, was chosen.

The telescope was installed in December 1906 in its wooden, revolving observatory. Students of the skies had to pay 6d each, and inform the park superintendent if they intended to arrive after the park gates were locked for the night.In February 1908, Professor Dixon, one of the telescope's supervisors, even started an astronomy class at the technical college to make use of the instrument.

But in October 1910, the class was discontinued because it had no students.

In 1912, it was reported that "very little use is being made of the telescope", and by 1919 there was even less.

In January 1931, the Darlington and Stockton Times reported: "The telescope is seldom used now; in fact very few people know of its existence."

At the request of Darlington Grammar School, which is now the Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, the telescope was removed to playing fields off Abbey Road.

There, its 100 ft high observatory was not popular with residents of Westbourne Grove.

In February 1951, the observatory was broken into, but police recovered the stolen equipment a couple of months later.

In 1979, Barry Hetherington, then chairman of the Cleveland and Darlington Astronomical Society, reported that the telescope needed a major overhaul.

In 1992, there was a fire in the wooden observatory and a lump of melted metal was sold as scrap. Six months later, someone seems to have realised that this lump was in fact the remains of the Darlington Telescope.

Later that year, it was reported that the base, the internal workings and the observatory wheels had survived the blaze and were being kept in a metal container.

There was some vague talk about them one day being included in a new, £50,000 telescope, but that that idea was quietly eclipsed.

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