Campaign to restore Bury St Edmunds’ hidden telescope is launched

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury.

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury. - Credit: Archant

A campaign is being launched to raise thousands of pounds to restore a little-known 19th-century telescope in Bury St Edmunds and open it up to public use once again.

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury. Dr

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury. Dr Richard Young is pictured with the telescope. - Credit: Archant

Believed to be one of only two astronomical observatories in Suffolk, the telescope is in a dome on top of the Athenaeum in Angel Hill, though many townspeople do not know it exists.

It is the ambitions of the Athenaeum Club, which owns the observatory, to restore the telescope and bring in back into the public domain, with visits to the very top and also a camera feed so the stars and planets can be viewed in a room below.

The project, which is initially seeking to raise about £6,000, already has the backing of current Astronomer Royal, Professor Martin Rees, from the University of Cambridge, who said it was “highly worthwhile” to preserve the observatory and it would have an educational role in the region.

This week an initial meeting is taking place with a view to forming a Bury astronomy club, which it is hoped will help galvanise support and funding for the work.

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury. Dr

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury. Dr Richard Young (right), Jill Staplehurst and Paul Deane are pictured. - Credit: Archant


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It was down to crowdfunding in the mid 1800s - due to the excitement roused by a talk by then Astronomer Royal George Airy - that achieved the telescope in the first place.

Amateur astronomer Dr Richard Young, astronomy advisor to the project, said: “It’s an important piece of Bury history and it ought to not only be restored but there for people to see.”

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He added: “People have used it since Victorian times and you go up there and it’s just as it would have been in the day.”

Paul Deane, chairman of the Athenaeum Club, said being able to see a piece of astronomical equipment from more than 150 years ago was an “eye opener” and reminded people of their history.

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury. Dr

A project has been launched to restore the telescope in the observatory at The Athenaeum in Bury. Dr Richard Young (left) and Paul Deane are pictured with the telescope. - Credit: Archant

“And it just has that imaginative thing about it: looking at the heavens, something that people before us were really enthusiastic about as well. I think these links are hugely important.”

To view the stars and planets using the telescope, setting circles need to be used to set the co-ordinates, whereas today, with modern telescopes, this can be done automatically.

Mr Deane said it was a “lost skill,” adding: “It teaches about the relationship of one star to another as opposed to just having a figure you enter and it does it for you. That’s why we would like to see people up here actually doing it, relaying it to people downstairs.”

The initial £6,000 would pay for the restoration of the telescope, but it is hoped £20,000 can be achieved to include the camera feed and some modern equipment so the astronomy club can be active in the field.

Dr Young, who is a clinical psychologist, said it would be particularly exciting to reproduce how the telescope first began, if the campaign could be boosted by a talk by well-known scientific broadcaster and physicist Professor Brian Cox.

To support the campaign, which has so far raised about £1,000, email Mr Deane.

Cheques should be made out to the Athenaeum Club, with ‘for use of the Athenaeum observatory’ written on the back.

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