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A public observatory existed in Cardiff between 1906 and the 1970's. The telescope was donated to the city council by a benefactor named Franklen Evans (1826-1904). It consisted of a 12-inch reflector in a circular wooden building with a revolving roof.

The gift of the observatory

The 12-inch telescope was originally manufactured in the 1870's by the leading telescope maker George Calver for Archdeacon Conybeare Bruce (1844-1919), who erected it at St. Nicholas in the Vale of Glamorgan where he was a Rector in the Anglican Church. He was highly pleased with the quality of the instrument. Writing to the manufacturer, Bruce stated,

The 12-in. surpasses all expectations. It has the perfection in figure of the incomparable 10-inch of yours which was its immediate predecessor, and in grasp of light the difference in favour of the 12-in. over the 10-in., a most brilliant mirror, is simply astounding. You may equal the 12-in. - I am sure you will whenever you make one - but you will not easily beat it.

[Quoted in the Cambrian Nat. Obs., 2, 10, March 1899.]

As his church duties increased, Bruce found it difficult to use the telescope regularly.

The telescope was sold in 1882 to Franklen George Evans (1826-1904). He was a medical doctor in Cardiff who maintained a strong interest in meteorology and astronomy. The Western Mail newspaper published a suggestion from a reader that a public observatory be established in Cardiff. Franklen Evans responded by donating his telescope, the observatory building and an astronomical clock. Writing to the Editor of the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales, he stated,

I strongly sympathise with the desire expressed by some of the inhabitants of Cardiff that a good telescope should be provided for the use of the town. If the idea is adequately taken up by the Astronomical Society of Wales, educational bodies, and others interested in the welfare of the town, I should be disposed to present my 12-in. Reflector, Observatory and Astronomical Clock, all complete, for the benefit of the town.

[J.A.S.W., 2, 68, May 1896.]

Progress was slow at first. The Western Mail newspaper alleged that the local council did not want the gift and was trying to back out of the project. Cardiff Council considered a number of possible sites in the city, including the roof of the Free Library in the Hayes - but objections were raised by insurers to the fire risk - and in public parks. Eventually, the council found a site at Penylan in Cardiff. A committee was established to manage the observatory, consisting of councillors and leading figures from the Astronomical Society of Wales. The observatory was moved to the new site. It was formally opened in 1906, a full decade after the initial offer by Franklen Evans, and two years after Dr. Evans's death.

The Cambrian Natural Observer reported the official opening:

The City Observatory at Penylan (which houses the Franklen Evans reflector) was formally opened by the Lord Mayor (Alderman Robert Hughes, J.P.) on Saturday, Oct. 6th, 1906. There was a very good attendance and the weather was perfect. His Lordship, who wore his insignia of office, was introduced in a short speech by Mr. Councillor Kidd as Chairman of the Observatory Commitee. The Lord Mayor in a few graceful words declared the observatory open, and Mr. Taylor, F.R.A.S., delivered a most lucid address, explaining the telescope and the mode of using it.

[C.N.O. for 1906, p. 26, 1907.]

The telescope

The telescope was a newtonian reflector with a 12-inch (300mm) diameter mirror. It was held on a sturdy equatorial mount, which enabled it to be driven by a clockwork mechanism to compensate for the Earth's rotation.

The observatory building was constructed from wood, being about 15 feet in diameter. The walls were fixed, but the conical roof rotated. Two panels in the roof opened on hinges to give access to the sky.

Cardiff council erected the observatory on Penylan Hill to the north of the city centre, 200 feet (60 metres) above sea level.

Left: the Cardiff City Telescope. (This picture was taken from page 281 of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr, although it had appeared earlier in the booklet The Cardiff City Telescope by Arthur Mee.)
Left: The observatory building. (This picture was taken from page 280 of Seryddiaeth a Seryddwyr, although it had appeared earlier in the booklet The Cardiff City Telescope by Arthur Mee.)

The telescope was used for amateur observing and public education, rather than for serious scientific research.

The Observatory Rules (printed in the booklet The Cardiff City Telescope by Arthur Mee) specified the conditions under which the telescope could be used at the time the observatory was opened. To observe through the telescope, a member of the public had to obtain a permit from the Cardiff Town Clerk, which was valid for one visit only. The observatory was normally open to the public on three days a week during the period from September through the winter to May, between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. The Caretaker had to be present whenever the telescope was in use.

In reality, the observatory was not used heavily by the public in the period from 1906 up to the First World War, while during the War it was substantially neglected and the condition of the telescope deteriorated. Significant improvements were consequently made in 1919 and a dedicated curator with scientific experience, Dan Jones, was appointed. He supervised renovations. The telescope's popularity increased and it began to be used regularly for public education.

The observatory building proved, however, to be inadequate to accommodate appreciable numbers of visitors, having too little space and no heating for the winter months. Cardiff City Council responded by building a new, larger observatory building, which was opened in a ceremony in December 1925. The duties of the curator included visiting local schools to teach astronomy. By the early 1930s, hundreds of people would visit the telescope each week during the winter. Eminent visitors included the Sir Frank Watson, the Astronomer Royal, and Prof. Alfred Fowler of the Imperial College of Science, London.

Left: the observatory manager (curator), Dan Jones, seated in front of the telescope, c. 1930. (Taken from The Cardiff City Observatory Handbook by Dan Jones.)

Responsibility for the telescope continued to rest with the curator. This postion was filled in the 1920s and 1930s by Daniel James (Dan) Jones (1876-1965), in the 1940s by Arnold Buxton (c.1893-1949), and in the 1970s by Ron Lane.

The demise

After many years of successful operation, the observatory began to fall into disrepair. It became vulnerable to acts of vandalism. It was closed in 1979 and was dismantled, the telescope being taken into council storage.

In a breathtaking incident of municipal vandalism, the telescope was disposed of, the mounting being melted down for scrap.


The description above is based on information in the booklet The Cardiff City Telescope by Arthur Mee, printed by Philip Bourlay and Co., Cardiff, 1906. A welcome reprint of the booklet was made by the Cardiff Astronomical Society in 1995.

Further details were given in a later publication, The Cardiff City Observatory Handbook by Dan Jones, the curator (published by the City of Cardiff Education Committee, 1931).

Developments in erecting the observatory are described in the Journal of the Astronomical Society of Wales and the Cambrian Natural Observer up to the observatory's opening in 1906 (e.g. J.A.S.W., vol. 2, p, 68, May 1896; C.N.O., vol 1, p. 88, October 1898; C.N.O., vol 2, p. 5-10, March 1899; C.N.O., vol 2, p. 47, July 1899).

The formal opening of the observatory was described in the Cambrian Natural Observer for 1906, vol. 9, publ. Philip O. Bourlay and Co., Cardiff, 1907, p. 26.

The closure of the observatory is briefly described in the Cardiff Astronomical Society's Astronomical Information Pack, sheet 1 (1998). A more recent phtograph is reproduced there.

Angie Crumb kindly provided information about Dan Jones.

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