Hampshire Astronomical Group

Celebrating 50 years (1960 - 2010)

5" and 4.5" Dome

Vice-Admiral B.C. Watson CB DSO RN saw action in both World Wars, having served with the Harwich Force of Light Cruisers during the First World War and, following promotion afterwards, held several important service posts. He was Director of the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich from 1934 to 1936; Rear Admiral Submarines from 1938 to 1940, and Commodore of Convoys before being appointed Admiral Commanding and Governor of Iceland from 1943 to 1945.


The famous telescope makers, Thomas Cooke and Sons of York and London built this fine professional instrument sometime in the early 1890 period. It is believed to have been previously owned by a former Astronomer Royal, Sir Harold Spencer Jones (1890-1960), from whom Admiral Watson obtained it many years ago, and used it from a small observatory at his Hambledon home.

The Admiral bequeathed it to the Royal Navy, and sometime after his death in 1976 action was initiated to restore and re-house the telescope. Hampshire Astronomical Group became involved in this project, and offered a suitable site at its established Clanfield Observatory, just two miles south of HMS Mercury, who became the recipient of the bequest.

In 1981-1982 the telescope was completely refurbished, jointly by HMS Mercury and the Hampshire Astronomical Group and then put into private storage awaiting the provision of a suitable dome to house it.


Through the interest and help of the respective officers concerned at the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) then based at Herstmonceux in Sussex, an old redundant dome was made available at a scrap price.

The decision to move the Royal Greenwich Observatory from Greenwich Park in London to the cleaner air of Herstmonceux, Sussex was made before WW2, but hostilities held up the move. Only after the war was the move able to begin.

This dome was the first dome to be installed at Herstmonceux in 1948 after being donated, along with a solar telescope, by the active amateur astronomer, A.M. Newbegin. This was to become the RGO Herstmonceux Observatory’s solar dome and telescope until 1982.

Interestingly this dome was also constructed in the 19th Century by the telescope manufacturers Thomas Cooke and Sons and through completely separate routes have been brought together along with the 5 inch Thomas Cooke and Sons telescope to form an observatory of significant heritage.

Back to 1982…. After inspection, the dome was removed, dismantled, and transported to the Clanfield Observatory where it was reassembled and placed in its present position upon the concrete wall that had been built for it jointly by members of the Hampshire Astronomical Group and ratings from HMS Mercury.

The wall and dome building project took over three years to complete with much dedication and resourcefulness, especially from Group members, who operated on a "shoe string" budget as there was no public money or grants made available at the time.


In 1990, the clock drive, with its falling weight mechanism, was disconnected and replaced with an electronic stepper motor to provide improved tracking. However, the original drive mechanism has been retained on the mount.

The Cooke telescope has a 5-inch diameter achromatic doublet objective lens and has a focal length of 88 inches (f/17.5). Additionally we also retain a full set of the original eyepieces and accessories (star diagonal etc.) in their original wooden cases.

The original German equatorial mounting includes setting circles however the telescope is believed to have been originally built for use in the Southern Hemisphere.

During 2007, the telescope and dome was completely refurbished and the addition of a Victorian 4.5" Smith Beck & Beck Refractor, increases the historic nature of this observatory. Despite their age they are still very useful as training tools for our astronomy courses, and for general planetary and lunar observations.

Although both telescopes are Victorian, the restored telescopes do provide excellent views of the night sky and will do so for many more years to come, educating and instructing Group members and visitors alike.

Also in the summer of 2007 the dome was upgraded to take a motor drive system, as the dome is extremely heavy and could not easily be operated by hand.


Refurbished Refractor Telescopes

Here is an image of the final twin mounted Smith Beck & Beck and the Cooke telescopes following the summer (2007) refurbishment

The ' Smith Beck & Beck' telescope (shown on the right in this image) was kindly donated to the Group by Roger James who purchased the telescope in the 1920's. The telescope, we believe, was built between 1857 and 1867 when Smith and the two Beck brothers worked together as a company.

The image performance has been shown to be superb and optically as good as the Cooke refractor. Brian Knight, one of our members’, re-engineered the mounting so that the original Cooke mounting could safely accommodate the additional telescope and still remain balanced and perform with the motors and electronics.

With the telescopes ‘twin mounting, we find this greatly enhances the ability to see objects with two differing magnifications; for instance visitors seeing the moon in high magnification through one telescope and then showing the moon in a lower magnification through the other telescope.

Electrical engineer, David Harris, installed electrical power to the dome and this enables motors and gears to be fixed to the dome structure. The dome rotation is now fully automated and rotates with ease.

The telescope and dome was formally re-opened by the Group in late October 2007 with the late Roger James, who was then 99 years old, and his family in attendance.

In the picture (right) are the twin telescopes along with the paint sprayer, Christopher Smith, who works at White Rose Body Shop in Liss. Christopher painted the telescopes for the Group - The Group extends its thanks to him and White Rose for their support.