Blink and you’ll miss it: The Godlee Observatory

Godlee Observatory in the Sackville Street building

Godlee Observatory atop the Sackville Street building

As part of a new ad-hoc mini series, ‘Blink and You’ll Miss It’, I’m scouring Manchester and Lancashire to find some of the best lesser-known attractions that help make the North West great.

So here’s the first: Manchester’s Godlee Observatory.

Manchester’s city centre is not the most obvious choice when guessing the location of one of Britain’s oldest astronomical societies.

Yet turn your head upwards when you next pass the University of Manchester’s Whitworth Street building and there you’ll find it’s home; a pea green turret amidst the ubiquitous red bricks named the Godlee Observatory.

Home to a group of space enthusiasts from around the county since 1903 it has remained one of the city’s ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ gems, attracting in the know residents, plucky tourists, academics and passing flight crews.

Sir Francis Godlee

Sir Francis Godlee

It contains the now only in use  double telescope of its kind, made by Sir Howard Grubb of Dublin and presented as a gift to the city by one of Manchester’s cotton manufacturing magnates Francis Godlee.

Found at the top of a winding and narrow metal staircase above a simple white-walled room the massive structure, incredibly, is only protected from the Manchester downpours by a moveable papier mache roof.

And due to the size and strength of the refractors inside it it has been allowing members and visitors clear views of the night sky despite being surrounded by urban light pollution.

Godlee Observatory at night

Godlee Observatory at night

The observatory was a long-awaited base for a group of local amateur astronomers who formed in 1892 and included amongst their number people from as far away as Clitheroe such as several teachers from Stonyhurst College.

Open for free to members since 1946 it still holds weekly society meetings in the lower observatory room from visiting academics and other amateur enthusiasts who share their photos of their night sky favourites.

The Godlee Double telescope

The Godlee Double telescope

Even more exciting are the tours around the observatory and opportunities to gaze through the telescope that veteran member Mike Oates offers to visitors.

Mike, a polymer physicist and engineer, is just one of those who has been entranced by the building since he came to visit it in the 1980s to watch the return of Halley’s Comet.

Moon cookies for all at one of the Thursday night meetings

Moon cookies for all at one of the Thursday night meetings

To see why he and so many other members have been known to spend full nights in the observatory go to their website and arrange a visit yourself.


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