Derby and District Astronomical Society

John Flamsteed (1646-1719)

The Flamsteed Observatory

The Flamsteed Observatory

The Society's Flamsteed Observatory is situated a couple of miles north of the village of Brailsford, in rolling countryside to the north-west of Derby. It is named in honour of John Flamsteed (1646-1719), England's First Astronomer Royal, who was born in the village of Denby, also a few miles north of Derby. While living at his father's house on what is now 27 Queen Street in Derby, Flamsteed made groundbreaking astronomical observations, before he later moved to London and began work at Greenwich.

The Flamsteed Observatory currently houses a 10-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, mounted on an EQ6-Pro computerised 'GOTO' mount and pier under a rotating dome. This telescope is primarily used for visual observations of the moon, planets and deep sky objects under our dark skies. An 80mm Altair ED refractor is piggybacked on the Meade, and is connected to an Altair GPCAM camera, which provides a live viewing experience on-screen. This setup was installed in 2022 to replace the older 10-inch Newtonian telescope and 'push-to' mount. A major upgrade of the observatory power supply and electrics was also undertaken at this time. As the observatory if 'off the grid', power is sourced from an array of solar panels mounted on the building, which charge a set of batteries, and both 12v DC power and 240v AC is available, the latter via an inverter.

Monthly observing sessions are held at the observatory, usually on the second Saturday of the month. These are open evenings at which both members and visitors are welcome. We also welcome visits by schools, scout, guide and other private groups. If you would like to attend an observing session or book a group visit please contact our Secretary .  The observatory may be found on Google Maps. Please note that anyone visiting our observatory and site, be they members or non-members, do so entirely at their own risk. Members are entitled to some training on the use of our Flamsteed Observatory, and when deemed competent may obtain a key to enable them to use the facility at any time.

The society's Flamsteed Observatory pictured in November 2023 by DDAS member Tony Wright.  Picture Credit: Tony Wright.

An observing sesssion underway in May 2023 using the latest configuration of a 10-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, mounted on an EQ6-Pro computerised 'GOTO' mount and Altair Astro pier. An 80mm Altair ED refractor is piggybacked on the Meade, and is connected to an Altair GPCAM camera, which provides a live viewing experience on-screen.  Picture Credit: Mike Lancaster.

The Society first thought about constructing its own observatory as far back as 1982. The search for a suitable site did not, however, go entirely without incident. The first site to be considered was an old pumping station that belonged to the Severn Trent Water Authority. The site was out in the country under a dark sky. Indeed, there was already a building on the site that could be converted into an Observatory, but the planning authorities turned down planning permission on the grounds of access.

The second candidate site was not all that far from where the observatory now stands. The choice in this case was a narrow piece of land that had access already available. But, unfortunately, planning permission was once again turned down, this time mainly due to objections from local people. During this time the Society was approached by a local farmer, who had heard about the Society's search for a piece of land. The farmer had a small piece of land lying fallow, and was more than happy to lease it to the Society. This time around the authorities were kind to us, and gave us planning permission.

Once the matter of a site had been settled, the Society had to deal with the tricky problem of raising the necessary funds to begin the first stages of construction. The Society staged a number of fund-raising events including sponsored bike rides, walks, raffles and so on. It was during this period that the Society approached various companies and organisations that may have been in a position to help in the construction of the Observatory. The response to this appeal was quite overwhelming. Derby City Council Grants Sub-Committee was also approached and awarded the Society a substantial sum.

In the meantime the construction of the observatory's original 12-inch Newtonian reflecting telescope was proceeding apace. The telescope was built entirely by Society member Dr Ed Spooner, who was later honoured at the opening ceremony by having the telescope named after him, in recognition of his contribution to the Society as a whole. In fact the telescope was completed long before the observatory building was!

The 12-inch Newtonian telescope built by Ed Spooner on display in Derby Museum in April 1984, before being installed at the Flamsteed Observatory.  Image Credit: Mike Lancaster.

The development of the site began on St. Patrick's Day, 17th March 1985. The first job was to clear away top soil for a car park, the first turf being cut by our Chairman at the time, Arthur Tristram. Over the next few weeks the ground was prepared for limestone aggregate to be put down for the car park. By mid-May 1985 an Observatory Sub-Committee had arranged for regular working parties to be held at the site. On 6th July 1985 the Society held its first summer barbecue at the site, a tradition that continues to this day. The foundations for the observatory itself were pegged out on 31st July 1985 and subsequently dug out by JCB.

The foundation pit for the Flamteed Observatory in 1985.

The then Secretary of the Society and founder member, Jane Kirk, sent out letters to various large companies and interested parties to drum up support for the project. This bore fruit with a kind donation by Tarmac Ltd of 30 tonnes of limestone for the observatory foundations and car park, delivered on 25th September 1985. On 13th October nine Society members shifted around 15 tonnes of this limestone in the process of laying the foundations and car park. December 1st 1985 saw the shuttering put in place for the cement base of the observatory building.

In the spring of 1986 a path was laid between the car park and the observatory building. An attempt at getting the foundations completed had to be aborted when heavy rains meant the cement mixer was unable to drive past the boggy entrance to the site! A second attempt on 23rd August 1986 was successful when six members helped to lay the foundations. Two concrete hard pads were also placed at the site a few yards from the observatory itself for members telescopes.

Tarmac delivers a load of concrete to the site in August 1986.

Left to right: Mike Dumelow, Dave Maynard, Dave's son, Arthur Tristram and Arthur's daughter, levelling concrete for the observatory foundations in August 1986.

Left to right: Arthur Tristram's children, Arthur Tristram, Dave Maynard's son, John Hickling and Mike Dumelow after the concrete for the foundation is laid in August 1986.

On the 8th March 1987 the main frame of the observatory was transported to the site and erected. Eight members put the 5m x 5m structure together in 4 hours and another significant part of the site was complete. The frame was then painted by a couple of members over 3 evenings in September 1987. By December 1987 Ed Spooner had started work on the sections that would make up the dome.

The frame of the observatory was completed in September 1987. Mike Dumelow is at right mowing the grass.

The completed frame in winter. Left to right: Steve Parkin, Mike Dumelow, (unknown person behind Mike), Ed Spooner, John Holmes, Jane Kirk, unknown person.

The next major step was not until the summer of 1989 when the telescope pillar was built. The pillar was designed and constructed by Sam Baker and is comprised of a stack of square concrete sections, the whole filled with steel reinforced concrete. This provides a very stable platform for the telescope, and is isolated from the from the first floor level of the building to prevent vibration being transmitted to the instrument. Following assembly of the pillar came the construction of the dome ring, which forms base of the dome and the track upon which it runs. Credit is again due to Ed Spooner for the design and construction of this component.

Sam Baker (left) and John Holmes begin work on the pillar in the summer of 1989. Sam cast the sections at work in his lunch hour.

John Holmes (left) and Mike Dumelow with the completed pillar in the summer of 1989.

The track for the dome is added. Summer 1989. Left to right: Steve Parkin, John Holmes, Ed Spooner.

The summer of 1989 also saw the completion of the first floor, together with a flight of stairs to allow access to it, all this work being done by Society members. By the end of that summer the panels which would form the walls of the building were delivered to the site. The dome was assembled at the site from separate aluminium segments in September 1990. As it was now some time since the 12 inch telescope had been completed, the surface of the primary mirror had degraded to such an extent, that it was decided that it would have to be re-aluminised. This was done in early 1992 by Orion Optics of Crewe, Cheshire.

John Holmes working on the timbers for the first floor in the summer of 1989.

DDAS members working on the observatory in the summer of 1989. Left to right: Steve Parkin, Mike Dumelow, Sam Baker, 3 unknown persons, Anthony Southwell and Mike Lancaster.

The completed stairs and pillar in the summer of 1989.

A completed dome segment is ready to be fitted. September 1990.

The observatory with completed walls and dome.

The Ed Spooner Telescope inside the dome.

The Flamsteed Observatory was officially opened on October 2, 1992, by well known astronomer and TV presenter, Heather Couper, who was in turn accompanied by Nigel Henbest, science writer and presenter of Radio 4's The Litmus Test. The then Deputy Mayor of Derby, Robin Wood, also took part in the ceremony.

Heather Couper opens the Flamsteed Observatory on October 2nd, 1992. Meanwhile DDAS members Dave Maynard (left) and John Holmes (right) look on under their umbrellas.

Heather Couper with DDAS member John Holmes (right) at the opening of the Flamsteed Observatory on October 2nd, 1992.

The original 12 inch telescope was of open frame design and sat in a massive concrete horseshoe mount. Due to problems which developed with this mount the Ed Spooner Telescope was replaced in the summer of 1996 by a 10 inch Newtonian reflector built by Rod Tippett. Originally constructed by Rod in 1986 this telescope was also of an open frame design. This instrument also had a 3 inch refracting telescope with a CCD camera attached to it. The re-furbished Observatory was officially re-opened on Monday August 19, 1996 on the 350th Anniversary of the birth of John Flamsteed. Mr Alan Heath, local astronomer and former Director of the British Astronomical Association's Saturn Section, conducted the re-opening ceremony. In 2022 the observatory underwent a major upgrade of both optics and electrics, with the 10-inch 'Rod Tippett' telescope and mount being replaced by a 10-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, mounted on an EQ6-Pro computerised 'GOTO' mount, with a piggybacked Altair ED-80 refractor and CMOS camera.

Next two photos: The 10-inch 'Rod Tippett' telescope inside the dome.

In 2022 the 10-inch 'Rod Tippett' telescope was replaced with 10-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, mounted on an EQ6-Pro computerised 'GOTO' mount, with a piggybacked Altair ED-80 refractor and CMOS camera.  Image Credit: Mike Lancaster.