120 Year Old Telescope Returns Home

The 120-year-old Calver reflecting telescope, which has been located at the Armagh Observatory since 1919, has recently returned after restoration at Tyne and Wear, England.

The Newtonian telescope, with a main mirror a little over 18 inches diameter, was originally constructed in 1883 by the well-known English telescope-maker George Calver. It was bought for £800 by an affluent amateur astronomer, Colonel Tupman of Harrow and was later sold to John Pierce of Wexford Engineering Works for £200. It subsequently passed into the hands of Revd William F.A. Ellison, who was appointed Director of the Armagh Observatory in September 1918, and who duly presented the telescope as a gift to the Observatory the following January.

A Suffolk man, Calver was born at Walpole near Halesworth in July 1834, the son of farm labourers who died when George was very young. (Census records at various dates give him birth places as far apart as Ipswich and Great Yarmouth!) By the 1850s he was apprenticed to a local shoemaker, eventually moving on and setting himself up in business at Great Yarmouth where he met his wife to be, Hannah. Calver's latent astronomical interest was fired by his local non-conformist clergyman, the Rev Matthews, who showed him the splendours of the night sky through his excellent reflecting telescope, the mirror of which had been ground by the leading maker of the day, G H With of Hereford. With, a college Professor of Science was a pioneer in the manufacture of silver on glass mirrors, which were rapidly gaining popularity over speculum mirrors.

Revd Ellison, himself an accomplished telescope maker, gave the concave main mirror a more accurate figure before erecting it in Armagh as the largest operational telescope in Ireland. He employed the telescope for lunar eclipse photography, for planetary work – especially a series of drawings of Mars at its November 1926 opposition, and for taking spectra of stars, in particular the nova in Hercules (DQ Her discovered by Manning Prentice of the British Astronomical Association in December 1934).

Rev William FA Ellison
(Image courtesy of Armagh Observatory)

George Calver (1834 - 1927)

A Royal Society grant was received around 1948 to convert the Calver telescope into a wide-angle Schmidt photographic telescope. The optical parts, including a 12-inch corrector lens, were made by the firm of Cox, Hargreaves and Thompson and arrived in June 1950. The new 18/12-inch Schmidt camera was erected later that year. The telescope was used in this new form to obtain photographs for variable star and stellar distribution research programmes and for successful comet photography. The current restoration of the telescope to its original Newtonian design was made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and was carried out by the Sinden Optical Company Ltd, Tyne and Wear. This grant also provided for a new dome to house the telescope.

The Calver Newtonian telescope being reinstalled in its new dome on 31 May 2021
(Image credit Dr John Butler)

The restored Calver Newtonian telescope after initial installation
(Image credit Miruna Popescu)

For more photographs, check out the Armagh Observatory online photo album of the Calver Restoration Project.

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Last Updated : Wednesday, June 8, 2021

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