BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Custodian of Fernley Observatory, Robert Mount, finds an elegance in the past
In the beautiful Hesketh Park in Southport lies the Fernley Observatory, home of a 150-year-old 6-inch refractor telescope.
The original observatory has a deceptively mundane origin – it was purchased from a catalogue by the wealthy Joseph Baxendell in 1869. Upon Baxendell’s death, it was bequeathed to the local council on the condition it was made publicly available. Having little idea what to do with it, the council passed its operation to Southport Astronomical Society (southportastro.org). “The council look after the building. We’re responsible for everything inside it,” says Robert Mount, the society member who manages it. “That includes the 6-inch telescope and its clockwork driven mount.”
Maintaining a 150-year-old building hasn’t been easy, and a little help was needed. “In 2002, Sir Patrick Moore came to Southport at the behest of the council to advise on repairing the observatory
– it had a canvas dome and the roof
had rotted. He wrote five pages on what
needed to be done.”
Though the society runs open days to
show off the scope’s solar filter, public
night-time observations are more of a challenge. “It’s a Grade-II listed building in a Grade-II listed park,” Mount says. “It
can be difficult to organise observations
and even then only one eyeball can look through the eyepiece at a time.”
Mount hopes to add a CCD camera to the telescope, which would allow many people to see the view at once.
“In my funding bid to the council, I emphasised the importance of maintaining things like this, because the past can tell you a lot about the present and the future: what you mean to do.”