“A Brief History of Preston Astronomy”- Guest Blog Post by Steven Gough-Kelly

Hey! I am Steven Gough – Kelly a BSc Astrophysics student at UCLan. At the end of the last academic year, I was awarded a UCLan Through the Ages Bursary. I have written a guest blog post about my project to hopefully inspire others!

The idea for my project was inspired by a conversation with Associate College Librarian for the College of Science & Technology, Bob Frost at the opening of the Moses Holden Telescope at the UCLan’s Alston Observatory. The UCLan library has a special collections room. Items of interest for my department had been assigned to Bob and he expressed interest in bringing some of these items into the university buildings on display for students to enjoy.uclan through the ages

When the UCLan Through the Ages Bursary became available it was the perfect
opportunity to fund this history project. So I met with Bob and he showed me the special collections. There was a treasure trove of books and items from the universities history. It was incredible to see how observatory’s ran in the 1900’s and to learn how astronomy in Preston developed over the years.

It was enough to spark a passion of wanting to allow others to get an insight into this history, so I applied for the UCLan Through the Ages Bursary. I was working at UCLan over the summer on an internship so also took on the challenge of finishing this project in time for fresher’s.

The project was to create a display of the history of astronomy in Preston with particular reference to UCLan and its predecessors. Within the first few weeks of the project, I had to take the physics hat off and become a historian. I was gloved up handling 70-year-old books, journals and charts all tied to Preston’s historic observatories. Through this research, I learnt about UCLan’s history from when it was first formed as the Harris Institute for the Diffusion of Knowledge, from it gaining college and polytechnic status.

Preston originally had an observatory in Deepdale but was closed when it came into disrepair. In 1927 the Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory in Moor park opened and has recently been renovated after being closed for over 10 years. In more recent history the Alston (previously Wilfred Hall) Observatory was opened in Longridge and is still owned and used UCLan for teaching and research.uclan through the ages 1

While exploring the items in the special collections we came across an individual who had made a significant impact to Preston astronomy. His name was George James Gibbs (GJG). He was a civil engineer who invented the Helio-chronometer, the most accurate timekeeper of its day. In 1910 he became the Honorary Curator of the Deepdale observatory and as a result became a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He supported both observatories in observations maintenance and record keeping until his death in 1947. He also gave many public lectures on optics and astronomy. Because of his contribution, I decided to dedicate some of my project and resources to his work.

After the initial research, I identified documents and items I wanted to include in the display. We spent a number of days carefully scanning books a high resolution so they can be included in the UCLan digital archives. These images were then used in two free-standing displays printed by the UCLan Print team. One had a timeline of “A Brief History of Preston Astronomy” dating back to 1828 to 2016. The other had a dedication to GJG displaying his work and images stored in his journals.

The project was a great success, the displayed were printed in time for fresher’s. They also feature at the UCLan Physics Society hosted SU trip: “Get Into Astronomy” at Alston observatory. Now they have found a home in the Leighton building foyer where hundreds of students a day pass through on their way to lectures. This project also encouraged the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute to publicise its history on its website found at http://www.star.uclan.ac.uk/observatories/history/ .

history of astronomy.jpg
Steven’s bursary project on display in Leighton Building

Because of the UCLan Through the Ages Bursary, I was able to explore the history behind the university as a whole, and how my department has developed beyond its place at UCLan. It has enhanced my research and creative skills. And challenged me to present my work in an engaging work. I also felt that while working on this project I was able to save a small piece of Preston history and ensure it survives for future generations of UCLan students to discover and enjoy.

As recognition for the effort put in by Steven and the success of his bursary in sharing this piece of history with students, he was nominated by UCLan Through the Ages team for a UCLan SU Highly Commended ABCD (Above and Beyond Call of Duty) Award. This award recognises the work of student volunteers, so a big well done and thank you from us!

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