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Some astronomical observatories have existed in Wales during the past two centuries. No major instutional observatories have been set up, but a few observatories of modest size were erected.

Only one Welsh observatory appeared in the Greenwich List of Observatories: that at Hakin (see below). [16,17]

Public and institutional observatories

A few public and institutional observatories have been set up. These have included:

  • The Cardiff City Observatory. A municipal observatory existed at Penylan, Cardiff, in the first half of the 20th century, with a 12-inch reflector donated to the city. It was used in public education. [1,14]

  • The University of Wales Bangor had an observatory equipped with a six-inch refractor for a number of years from the 1920's.

  • The Swansea Astronomical Society had an observatory equipped with a 9-inch Newtonian reflecting telescope in the grounds of the Cefn Coed Hospital near Tŷ Coch, Swansea. The observatory was opened in 1954 and was used until 1978, when it was moved to a better observing site at Fairwood Common. [10]

  • The Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratory of the University of Manchester at Jodrell Bank installed a 13-inch aperture Schmidt camera in 1957 at Abersoch on the Llŷn peninsula. It was used to photograph meteors and was accompanied by photometric equipment. [31]

The Hakin Observatory

Construction of an observatory was begun by Charles Francis Greville (1749-1809) at the start of the nineteenth century at Hakin near Milford Haven, as part of plans for a mathematics, navigation and technical college.[16,18,19,30]  Greville had already carried out extensive development work on the harbour at his estates at Milford Haven, and his scheme to establish the College of King George was intended to provide education of practical use for the shipping and mercantile trades. The project was funded with money from the estate of Colonel Alexander Read, who had bequeathed part of a fortune he made in India to the project on his death in 1804: Greville acted as an executor for Read's estate.[25] 

The project progressed, and some buildings were constructed for the observatory and college. Thomas Firminger (1775-1861), previously Assistant to Nevil Maskelyne at Greenwich, was appointed as superintendent for the project.[20,21]  An excellent collection of instruments was assembled, including the celebrated Lee transit circle, originally manufactured in London in 1793 by Edward Troughton for Gavin Lowe of Islington.[17,22,23] 

Greville, however, died in April 1809 and the plans for the observatory and college were abandoned. Some instruments were sold to Rev. Lewis Evans of Woolwich, Kent, including the Lee Circle. Evans later reported,

The fact was, that just as the building, intended for an observatory, was nearly completed, the honorable gentleman died, and the instruments designed for the observatory, after having lain at Milford, in packing cases unopened, for about a twelve-month, were sent to Mr. Troughton's, in Fleet-street, for sale. [34]

The stone structure of the planned observatory building remains today and the word Observatory appears in several place names in the Hakin area, including the streets Observatory Close and Observatory Avenue.

Private observatories

Some observatories have been built by individuals. These have included the following:

  • Nathaniel Pigott (1725-1804) and his son Edward Pigott (1753-1825) erected an observatory at their estate at Frampton in the Vale of Glamorgan in the 1770's. Their instruments included a transit circle manufactured by Sisson and a six-foot focal length achromatic refractor manufactured by Dollond. They moved to York in 1780, taking their observatory and intruments with them. [2,3,15]

  • Robert Roberts (1777-1836) erected an observatory at his home in Holyhead in the early 19th century. It is reputed to have been situated on a tower in Hill Street, although nothing remains today.[9]

  • John Jenkins (1802-1868), a Swansea watch, clock and chronometer maker, erected an observatory above his business premises in Wind Street in 1842. It was equipped with a transit telescope. He provided a time service to ships visiting the port. [7]

  • An observatory was built by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (1810-1882) in 1851 on his estate at Penlle'rgaer near Swansea. It housed a 43/4-inch Dollond refracting telescope on an equatorial mount under a rotating cylinder-shaped roof. The stone building included a laboratory. Llewelyn had an interest in photography and was an early pioneer in the field. He and his daughter Thereza Llewelyn (1834-1926; later Thereza Story-Maskelyne) used the telescope in the mid-1850s to take one the earliest photographs of the Moon. The building still stands in the Penlle'rgaer estate grounds, and some renovations were carried out in 1981 to safeguard the structure. [4,13]
    (There was an article by S. J. Wainwright at the Swansea Astronomical Society's web pages, but this has not been accessible recently; an archived copy can be found at the Internet Archive.)

  • Murray Gladstone (1816-1875), a businessman originally from Liverpool, moved from Manchester to Penmaenmawr in the 1860s. He built a well-equipped observatory at his Penmaenmawr residence, Plas Tan-Y-Foel. [24]

  • Archdeacon W. Conybeare Bruce (1844-1919) had an observatory with a 12-inch reflecting telescope at St. Nicholas in the Vale of Glamorgan in the 1870s. It was sold to Franklen Evans (1826-1904) in 1882, who in turn made a gift of the telescope and observatory to the city of Cardiff to become the The Cardiff City Observatory in 1906 (see above). [1]

  • William Evans (1828-1904), a medical doctor, constructed an observatory on a tower at the back of his house at Llanerchymedd, Ynys Môn. [11,12]

  • George Williams (1814-1898), following the death of his wife, retired in 1880 to his brother's house at Plas Dolmelynllyn, near Ganllwyd, north of Dolgellau. He established an observatory there with an equatorially mounted 4.25-inch aperture refracting telescope made by Cooke of York. The wooden observatory building has now been converted by the National Trust into a cottage. [32,33]

  • Silas Evans reported that the Rev. David Evans (1858-1910) had an 18-inch telescope manufactured by Cooke in an observatory on a hill above Cynwyl Elfed, Carmarthenshire. It was the largest telescope erected in Wales up to that time. On the death of Rev. Evans, the telescope was sold and was moved to Kent. [4]

  • Arthur Mee had an eight-inch aperture reflecting telescope manufactured by Calver in an observatory with a run-off sliding roof at his home in Llanishen in Cardiff in the 1890s and 1900s. The telescope was later donated to the Barry Astronomical Society and was rehoused in an observatory on the Buttrils in Barry. [4,5]

  • Rev. W. E. Winks had a "telescope-house with sliding roof" containing a 4-inch diameter refractor at his house in Richmond Road, Cardiff, in the 1890s. [6]

  • George A. S. Atkinson had a "telescope house" with a hinged roof containing a 6-inch reflector at his house in Cardiff in the 1890s. [5]

  • Norman Lattey had a "telescope house" with a sliding roof containing an 8-inch reflector in Dinas Powys in the 1890s. [5]

  • William Scott had "an excellent reflector housed in an observatory with a revolving roof on his residence at Brecon Road" in Merthyr Tydfil in the 1900s. [26]

  • Thomas Thorp (1850-1914) was an engineer and inventor from Lancashire who built a retirement home on a hill overlooking Prestatyn around 1910 equipped with an observatory. The observatory consisted of a hemispherical dome on the roof. [8]

  • Rev. Maldwyn Parry had an observatory in Penmon, Ynys Môn, in the 1960s.

  • Philip Curtis had an eight-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope under a rotating dome at Newborough, Ynys Môn, in the 1980s.

Nathaniel Pigott's Observatory near Llantwit Major

The wealthy landowner Nathaniel Pigott (1725-1804) and his family returned to Britain from continental Europe in the mid-1770s, settling in 1777 at Frampton, just north of Llantwit Major (Llanilltud Fawr) in the Vale of Glamorgan, where Pigott had an estate. Pigott had previously operated a well-equipped observatory and moved a number of astronomical instruments to Frampton. [27,28]

He built his new observatory at Frampton. It included a transit circle made by the prominent English scientific instrument maker Sisson. This transit telescope was achromatic with an aperture of nearly two inches and a focal length of three feet. [3]   The observatory also had a quadrant with a two-foot focal length telescope that was less powerful than the transit circle. [3,4]   A description of the observatory was provided by McConnell and Brech (1999). [28]

The Pigotts moved to York in 1780, taking their observatory and intruments with them. [2,3,15] A new two-storey building was erected to house the impressive collection: see the account by S. Melmore (1953) for more details. [29]

Modern observatories

Modern observatories include the Spaceguard Centre (near Knighton, Powys), the observatories of the Swansea Astronomical Society at the Swansea Marina and on Fairwood Common, and telescopes in university institutions. The University of Glamorgan is constructing a robotic telescope at its Trefforest campus called RoCCoTO. Cardiff University has a 3-metre radio telescope and a spectrohelioscope.


[1.]   A. B. P. Mee, The Cardiff City Telescope: Written for the Committee by Arthur Mee, publ. Philip O. Bourlay, Cardiff, 1906.
[2.]   E. Pigott, Account of a Nebula in Coma Berenices, Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 71, 82-83, 1781.
[3.]   N. Pigott. Double Stars discovered in 1779, at Frampton-house, Glamorganshire, Phil. Trans. Royal Soc., 71, 84-86, 1781.
[4.]   J .S Evans, Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr, publ. William Lewis (Printers) Ltd., Cardiff, 1923.
[5.]   W. E. Winks, Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales, vol. 2, p. 79, June 1896.
[6.]   W. E. Winks, Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales, vol. 2, p. 30, March 1896.
[7.]   Obituary of John Jenkins, Monthly Notices of the R.A.S., vol. 29, pp. 121-122, 1869.
[8.]   Obituaries of Thomas Thorp, Monthly Notices of the R.A.S., vol. 75, pp. 250-251, 1915; Journal British Astron. Assoc., vol. 24, p. 503, 1914; article in Daily Post, 6th May, 1996.
[9.]   Y Rhwyd, no. 18, April 1981, p. 11.
[10.]   Swansea Astronomical Society - The historical background,, publ. Education Section of the Swansea Astronomical Society, 2005.
[11.]   R. Hughes, Enwogion Môn (1850-1912), publ. E. W. Evans, Dolgellau, 1913.
[12.]   R. Môn Williams, Enwogion Môn (1850-1912), publ. North Wales Chronicle Co. Ltd., Bangor, 1913.
[13.]   J. L. Birks, The Penllergare Observatory, The Antiquarian Astronomer, issue 2, pp. 3-8, 2005.
[14.]   D. Jones, The Cardiff City Observatory Handbook, publ. City of Cardiff Education Committee, 1931.
[15.]   H. C. Plummer, The Observatory, vol. 65, no. 816, pp. 92-94, 1943.
[16.]   D. Howse, The Greenwich List of Observatories, Journal for the History of Astronomy, vol. 17, part 4, no. 51, pages A1 to A100, 1986. (A list of worldwide observatories established up to 1850 having permanently mounted telescopes.)
[17.]   D. Howse, The Greenwich List of Observatories Amendment List No. 1, Journal for the History of Astronomy, vol. 25, part 3, no. 80, pp. 207-218, 1994.
[18.]   S. Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Wales, second edition, published S. Lewis & Co., London, 1840.
[19.]   J. Gorton and G. N. Wright, A Topographical Dictionary of Great Britain and Ireland, published by Chapman and Hall, London, 1832, vol. II, p. 822.
[20.]   H. P. Hollis, The Observatory, vol. 49, no. 630, pp. 330-333, 1926.
[21.]   C. E. Thomas, The Observatory, vol. 36, no. 468, p. 477, 1913.
[22.]   Monthly Notices R.A.S., vol. 1, pages 93, 104 and 152, 1829.
[23.]   W. H. Smyth, Monthly Notices R.A.S., vol. 1, pp. 197-200, 1829.
[24.]   Obituary of M. Gladstone, Monthly Notices R.A.S., vol. 36, pp. 142-143, 1876.
[25.]   Information kindly provided by Richard Torrance based on his work on the Alexander Read and the Greville papers.
[26.]   Obituary of William Scott, Cambrian Natural Observer for 1906, vol. 9, publ. Astronomical Society of Wales, Cardiff, 1907, pp. i-ii.
[27.]   A. McConnell, Pigott, Nathaniel (1725-1804), astronomer, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, publ. Oxford University Press, 2004.
[28.]   A. McConnell & A. Brech, Nathaniel and Edward Pigott, Itinerant Astronomers, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 305-318, 1999.
[29.]   S. Melmore, Nathaniel Pigott's Observatory 1781-1793, Annals of Science, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 281-286, 1953.
[30.]   J. F. Rees, The Story of Milford, published University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1954.
[31.]   J. Davis, Quarterly Journal R.A.S., vol. 4, p. 74, 1963.
[32.]   Obituary of George Williams, M.N.R.A.S., vol. 59, no. 5, p. 231, 1899.
[33.]   G. Williams, The Observatory, vol. 10, p. 195, 1887.
[34.]   L. Evans, The Monthly Magazine or British Register, vol. 41, part 1, pp. 483-484, 1816.

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