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The Astronomical Observatory


Calton Hill Observatory

Edinburgh's Observatory, c 1829

Our original concept, when setting this site up, was to research the history of time measurement from the invention of the pendulum clock in 1656 as it was this invention that allowed astronomy to advance rapidly from that point in time.

This interest arose from the fascination of an Astronomical Observatory located on the Calton Hill within walking distance of the centre of Edinburgh, the city in which we live. This observatory, completed in 1820, was designated as the "Royal Observatory of King George IV" in 1822.

Since starting on the project we have been able to reference important archive material held by various organisations within the city relating to the history of astronomy on Calton Hill. Unfortunately the site has lain semi-derelict for some years, thereby denying access by the public. Although we understood that a significant portion of the site was to be opened to the public during 2013 that is looking optimistic. The main observatory building still contains valuable astronomical instruments. We are working closely with the City Council to ensure appropriate steps are taken to protect these instruments and present them for public viewing.

It was in the years 1834-1896 that major scientific work was carried out on the site and our main focus for the time being will be this period of time. However, the impetus for the development of the site came from the Edinburgh Astronomical Institution which was formed in 1811 and secured the funding to make that development possible. This led to a gestation period of some 23 years and this period contains significant historical events.

Finally, the period 1888-1896 saw a move from this site to a new observatory built on Blackford Hill on the south side of Edinburgh. This newer observatory still holds "Royal" status and remains as an important astronomical research institute on the world stage. Meanwhile, the original observatory on Calton Hill was renamed as the "City Observatory". We will trace some of the events of the move to Blackford Hill.