ASE logo The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh


No 60 - July 2009

A letter to the Journal of the BAA

The City Observatory, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

The City Observatory is a historic complex of buildings. The original Observatory House to the southwest of the site was begun by Thomas Short, telescope maker, in 1776 and completed in 1792 to a design by James Craig with advice from Robert Adam. This building, after lying derelict for some time, is currently being refurbished.

The City Observatory, designed by William Playfair and completed in 1818, housed the Astronomical Institution founded by Prof. John Playfair as President in 1812. A principal objective of the Observatory was to give accurate time for the City, and for ships at the Port of Leith. In 1895, the smoke from railway engines forced the Astronomer Royal to transfer his work to the nearby Blackford Hill Observatory.

In recent times, the City Observatory has been the meeting place of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh. The deteriorating state of the buildings has been a cause for concern for some years. There is dry rot, plaster falls, thieves have stripped lead from the roof and the toilets have been vandalised. In consequence, the ASE, which has a lease of the building from the City Council, has decided to withdraw from the Observatory and meet elsewhere.

City Observatory by Ron Livesey
This watercolour of the City Observatory by Ron Livesey was on display in the City Dome until the Society moved out in March 2009. Click the image for a larger version.

There has been a long and protracted discussion with the City Fathers regarding the state of the Observatory. I once wrote to the then Lord Provost myself. It all revolves around the development of the whole of Calton Hill, which schemes are adopted and who pays. The Council, Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund are all involved.

In total contrast the Mills Observatory on Balgay Hill, Dundee, meeting place of the Astronomical Society of Dundee, is a thriving institution. It has been refurbished by the City Council and staffed to make it accessible to the public for talks, observing sessions and school parties.

It is a sad day when a capital city's historic observatory is allowed to suffer years of neglect, while that of another city is fulfilling its raison d'être and showing what can be done.

Ron Livesey

This letter appeared in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of the BAA. It is reproduced here with Ron's permission.


Cover page

Society news

A letter to the Journal of the BAA

A grand event to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy

Forthcoming events

Obituary: Mary Brück

The international month of the Moon?

About the ASE Journal

This journal as a single web page

This journal as PDF file (780 kByte)

web: ISSN 1756-5111
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