Southport Astronomical Society
To encourage a passion for astronomy and help inform enquiring minds.
The Southport Astronomical Society was formed in 1927 as an offshoot of the Southport Scientific Society, by members who had been using Joseph Baxendell’s observatory for private observing, which following his death in 1887 had been donated by his son to the then Southport Corporation in 1901, who installed it in their older Victorian Hesketh Park. Despite fluctuating membership the Society continues today with 39 enthusiastic members with varying levels of knowledge about astronomy. Members are drawn from the surrounding area, and are inspired by a shared interest in learning about the stars, moon, planets and the nature of the universe.
Our Society is run by a group of members consisting of a President, Secretary, Treasurer and Membership secretary, and meets monthly at the Scarisbrick Bowling Club between September and May, and during the summer in the Grade II listed Hesketh Park Observatory (English Heritage Listing Ref: 1379586). Our friendly meetings include educational talks about different aspects of astronomy given by either invited speakers or members with a deeper knowledge of the subject, and depending on the weather may be followed by some observing. Our Society’s website opens with our “Welcome” page, which provides helpful information for anyone thinking about buying and using a telescope, and/or contemplating joining our Society to find out more about astronomy. Several members give presentations, usually in PowerPoint, at meetings held by other Astronomical Societies in the North West, as well as local organisations like Scout, Cub, Guide, School and U3A groups.
Following WW2, management of the Observatory passed to Southport Technical College who organised public open days until the 1960’s, when conditions at the observatory deteriorated to the point where they prevented its use, although the Society continued using it for meetings. Following a minor refurbishment in the 1980’s, a Society member with the specialised knowledge and skills carried out repairs to this rare Victorian telescope. Subsequently our Society was asked to manage public open days, which they did until 1991, when problems with the observatory’s fabric again prevented its use. Following a major refurbishment of the Park in 2008 that included the observatory, our Society resumed its former role, but unfortunately structural faults soon re-emerged preventing its use. Sefton MBC has now issued tenders for repairs to the observatory fabric, which should return it to full working order early next year, enabling it to again be used for public open days, use by our Society, and other interested groups. Fortunately our Society still includes the member involved with the previous repairs to the telescope, and these are currently being carried out to ensure the telescope will be in working order when repairs to the observatory’s fabric have been completed.
In summary, our Society has a long history of informing the public and groups about astronomy, the history of this Victorian observatory, and importantly, has been able to undertake the specialist work needed to restore this superb Victorian telescope.
How would this funding have an impact on your community?
The Southport Astronomical Society requests funding to commission a commemorative and educational noticeboard outside the unique Victorian Astronomical Observatory located in Southport’s popular Hesketh Park. This Grade II listed Observatory houses a rare working telescope manufactured in 1869, which was 100 years old when Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon. Our Society’s expert continues to spend significant time renovating the telescope for the benefit of future generations. For reasons given below, we believe this project will benefit the people of Southport and the thousands of annual holidaymakers visiting the Park for years to come.
As a result of over 2 years of public Open Days and encouraging Sefton MBC, the owners, to renovate the building, they have now issued tenders to undertake repairs that will ensure the Observatory becomes operational again early in 2017, benefitting all age groups irrespective of their level of knowledge about astronomy.
It’s paramount this rare icon of Victorian engineering and science is kept at the forefront of public awareness, especially given its location in a popular public park. This allows people to appreciate Victorian engineering and the optical skills that were well ahead of their time, their foresight, inventiveness, ingenuity, confidence, and dedication to science. Even now, 147 years after the telescope was manufactured by the skilled optical engineer Thomas Cooke, it remains in working order subject to periodic specialised restoration and alignment. When repairs to the observatory fabric are finally completed, we will again be able to organise public visits to observe the major solar system objects, for which the telescope is well suited.
With no external indication as to the function of the building or of the unique telescope it contains, many Park visitors remain ignorant of its purpose, which is unsatisfactory. It’s proposed that an informative, educational, and inspiring description of its function and history would be displayed on a permanent museum quality noticeboard adjacent to the Observatory, with content and location acceptable to the owners, Sefton MBC. Whenever the Observatory was closed this would allow the public to read about its purpose and heritage, and perhaps encourage a wish to find out more about astronomy and want to use it to observe the night sky. This would be consistent with Sefton MBC’s longer term aim of converting the brick ground floor part of the observatory into a small educational visitors center.
This Grassroots Grant would enable us to permanently and publicly commemorate the huge achievements of these Victorian philanthropists, engineers and pioneers of Astronomy, which would inspire the many thousands of annual visitors to the Park for years to come, informing them of the invaluable work at the frontiers of astronomy carried out in Southport over a 100 years ago. The Grant’s legacy will help perpetuate the restored Observatory’s heritage ensuring its educational use and its importance in local history for years to come.
Several photographs of the Observatory and telescope are included. If our bid’s successful we would include a credit to the Skipton for their generosity in providing funding.
"“The Southport Astronomical Society exists to inspire people to go out at night and enjoy the wonders of the night sky, and to enlighten them about the nature of the things they see.”
Edwin Vanner (Secretary of the Southport Astronomical Society)"