We had a highly entertaining and informative talk on the history of Thomas Cooke telescopes and other business enterprises, from Martin Lunn.  Andrew Farrow also gave us an update on our work on the Cooke telescope on Calton Hill.

You can find out a lot more about Cooke telescopes on Martin’s blog: Thomas Cooke Telescopes.

A large audience of members and YouTube guests from around the world heard how Cooke telescopes became a byword for quality throughout the middle and late 19th Century. When a man from humble beginnings became a successful Victorian entrepreneur making everything from telescopes to large clock movements and steam cars to scientific instruments.

Martin revealed just how successful and pervasive the Cooke name was throughout the ‘British Empire’ when it came to telescopes. We also heard that Cooke theodolites were used on many major construction projects including the Forth Railway Bridge and Sydney Harbour bridge to name but two.

A testament to the quality of the equipment is just how many Cooke telescopes are still in use today having found homes in private and public observatories around the world. These ranged from the behemoth made for the millionaire Robert Newall which at 25 inches of aperture and 30 feet long, was the biggest in the world at the time, to the prolific 6 inch aperture Cooke telescopes and used worldwide by many amateur observers and housed in many national observatories.

Following the death of Thomas Cooke his two sons took over the business which continued to grow as it changed ownership over the years. The business provided high quality optics for the army during the Crimean war and did the same for the navy in WW1 and WW2.

Martin went on to discuss the success of Cooke camera lenses having made the first achromatic camera lens for an astronomical camera. These were developed and Cooke’s portrait lens set the standard for all cameras thereafter. They were used on Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition when Frank Hurley took his iconic photos of the expedition and the ship ‘The Endurance’ when she became stuck in the ice. The photos of Mallory and Irvine attempting to climb Everest was also recorded on cameras using Cooke lenses.

What we found more amazing was Martin’s comments of their continued dominance in high quality cinematography today. Still used by the BBC amongst many other film companies.

Cooke left a huge legacy in the world of Telescopes and high quality optics but sadly there is a dearth of records charting the Cooke business over the years of their industry. So if you are aware of any of the company records that have been hidden away please get in touch with Martin Lunn.

Andrew Farrow