The Manchester Astronomical Society

Introduction &

Godlee Observatory Guided Tour

The Godlee observatory is situated on the roof of The University of Manchester.

The Godlee Observatory (and the telescopes therein) was presented to the City of Manchester in 1903 by Francis Godlee. The tower, which houses the observatory is a well know landmark to commuters using the nearby Piccadilly Railway Station (although few will realise what the building is used for).

The meeting rooms are on floor G of the Sackville Building, University of Manchester, Sackville Street, Manchester. They are situated directly under the observatory which is accessed via a spiral staircase climbing up past the massive telescope pier supported by immense steel I-beams that span the observatory tower. The main. high-ceiling octagon room, with its superb views across the city from the tall windows in six of its eight walls, houses the library which contains a large collection of astronomical reference books (some going back to the 19th century) and journals. The MAS are fortunate in possessing a complete set of Journals of the British Astronomical Association dating from 1890. The library also includes several books presented to the Society by their authors.

The octagon room is an open forum for informal discussions every Thursday evening throughout the year (except the winter session lecture evenings in the currently held at the MMU in the John Dalton Building) where groups of like-minded people can talk about current astronomical topics and events. It is also the room used for telescope making classes. Mirror making is a popular activity thanks to Mr Steve Hodgkinson and complete telescopes are constructed for subsequent loan to members of the Society. Several members assembled electronically controlled, Scotch-type, camera drives for wide field astrophotography.

The octagon room is also the venue for meetings of the North West Group of Astronomical Societies and other visitors to the Society. Over the years these have included a party of Russian delegates to the International Astronomical Union, dignitaries from the University of Manchester and frequent visitors from local bodies; Scouts, Guides, school parties, etc.

An annexed small lecture room is home to our computer, giving members internet access as well as the ability to use astronomical and image processing software. Slides shows and PowerPoint presentations are held in the Octagon Room. Here the novice and experienced astrophotographer alike can share pictures with members and not only learn the craft but is often able to demonstrate new techniques and photographic emulsions for the benefit of all.

Informal Lectures, including monthly sky notes, are regularly given by the more experienced members, usually prompted by some current interest; nova, eclipse, comet or meteor shower. A cable link to a webcam attached to the telescope in the observatory on the floor above allows members to view the moon and brighter planets, collectively, via the digital projector.

Since 1946, members have had free access to the observatory which is equipped with an 8" refractor, counterbalanced by a 12" Newtonian reflector. The refractor is used mostly to view the moon and brighter objects, including the Sun projected as a 15" disk onto a screen fastened to the tailpiece. Unfortunately, the location of the observatory, close to the city centre, no longer permits good views of deep-sky objects - if, indeed, it ever did.

Left: 8" refracting telescope

The Godlee double telescopes (made by Grubb of Dublin), which have been in regular use since 1903, are rather unusual although the precedent for this combination had been set 16 years earlier, when Dr Isaac Roberts discussed with Sir Howard Grubb the particular requirements of a large astrographic reflector subsequently erected at Roberts's private observatory at Maghull near Liverpool in April 1885. Here, a 20" Newtonian designed for taking photographs at the prime focus was counterbalanced by a 7" refractor for visual use. On 10 October 1887 Dr Roberts became the first to photograph the spiral structure of the Andromeda nebula using this instrument. The observatory was later moved to Crowborough, Sussex, from where, in 1893, Roberts published his important 'Photographs of Stars, Star Clusters and Nebulae'.

Right: 12" Newtonian reflector

The Godlee telescopes could therefore be regarded as a tried and tested combination in which the City, members of the branch and, indeed, Sir Howard could have every confidence. The ancillary 6" f/6 plate camera mounted on the refractor was an obvious choice for wide field photography, particularly for mapping starfields and for comets. Again there were precedents in the large number of short focal length astrographic lenses of similar aperture in use at the time in America, some of which had been supplied by Sir Howard after trial and error designs had been tested at Greenwich.

If you examine the photograph of the 8" refractor, the 12" Newtonian reflector can be seen behind.

Close-up of the 8" refracting telescope showing the declination adjustment.
The ancillary 6" f/6 plate camera can also be seen.

The Society

On the third Thursday of the month, from September to April, a free public lecture is held in the Godlee Observatory, University of Manchester, commencing at 7.30pm. Non-members are most welcome. Recent lecturers have included Dr Patrick Moore; Dr Allan Chapman; David Malin: and Professor, Sir Arnold Wolfendale, the 14th Astronomer Royal.

The prestigious Kopal Lecture is given annually by an astronomer from the University of Manchester' Department of Astronomy or Radio Astronomy in honour of an old friend, the late Emeritus Professor Zdenek Kopal, Manchester's first Professor of Astronomy.

Members meet every Thursday at the Godlee Observatory (except when a public lecture is taking place), when Slide shows, informal talks and occasional 'workshops' as mentioned above take place. Of course the telescopes are also used, weather permitting.

To keep members informed on the activities of the Society 'Current Notes' is published.

Contact the MAS by emailing...
Barry Henshall (President)
(e-mail president "at"

Tony Cross
(e-mail mas.publicity "at"
Tel: 0161 3064977 (Godlee Observatory)

Visitors to the Godlee Observatory and lectures are always welcome.

Health & Safety Notice

Safety procedures within the Godlee Observatory are maintained for the safety of members, staff and visitors to the observatory. The minimum age of persons that can enter the Godlee dome area (where the telescopes are situated) and the spiral staircase is 11 years. All visitors must be accompanied by a warden or a trained MAS member when entering the Godlee dome. The walkway on the outside of the dome is no longer accessible, so please do not ask to view or photograph the Manchester skyline. All persons in the Godlee Observatory complex must observe all safety procedures and notices as indicated or advised.

All group visits must be pre-arranged to ensure there is an appropriate number of trained personnel present; this may require a risk assessment - All visitors will receive safety instruction upon arrival.

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Maintained by Michael Oates. Email
Page modified 24 June, 2010