In 2005, local Astronomer Dave Hawkridge came across an isolated reference to a major astronomical observatory being sited in Scarborough in the late Victorian era. He did a lot of research over the next few months and below is a very abridged version of the story that he unearthed.
Scarborough did indeed have a major observatory that was at the forefront of astronomical discovery and a number of galactic objects were first seen and catalogued through its telescope.
The observatory used to stand in the "V" at the corner of St James Road and Londesborough road. The outer walls of the dome can be seen on the 1892 map of Scarborough, although the dome and telescope had been removed by then. The site is only 5-10 minutes walk from the Oldham Optical works. The observatory was built in 1884-1885 for James Wigglesworth (1815-1888), a businessman and amateur astronomer.
James owned the well known astronomical firm of Thomas Cooke & Sons of York, and it was they who supplied and erected the 30' dome and the 15.5" F/15 Telescope.In the same year of 1885, James was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The Wigglesworth Observatory
James Wigglesworth died in 1888 and his surviving family cannot have thought the observatory was worth keeping because it was sold after his death to another amateur astronomer, a Mr Vincenzo Cerulli of Italy.
We know it was dismantled and removed from Scarborough on or about 30th June 1890. It was transported to Italy, and re-erected on a hill called Collurania, near Teramo where it still exists today.
After 1917, it was formally given to the state and became officially known as the 'Osservatorio Astronomico di Collurania - Teramo V Cerulli'
But we expect the papier-mâché skin to have been replaced with something a bit more durable at some point!
It was this telescope enabled Vincento to end the debate over the canals on Mars that some other Astronomers claimed to see. The 15" was one of the first telescopes powerful enough to confirm that the canals did not exist.
The only remaining evidence that an observatory ever existed at the site is a curved buttress in the garden supporting the boundary wall that must have been part of the original observatory structure.
However about half a mile away in the steeple of South Cliff Methodist Church are set two small white markers (see picture opposite). These are readily visible from Filey Road.
The church was built in the same timeframe as the observatory. It's said that James Wigglesworth arranged for them to be set there in order to assist him in aligning the telescope, but we have no clear explanation of why and exactly how he used them.
On close inspection, the markers are enamelled dials from large pocket watches or small clocks of the late Victorian era. After 100 years in the Sun and salt air, most of the figures have worn off but in early 2007, a telescope revealed faint marks remaining at some of the 5 minute intervals and suggested that the lower dial had a smaller subsidiary dial for a seconds pointer. In some circles the discs are known as "The Lady and Gentleman pocket watches". It is amazing they still remain on the church today, well over 100 years after the observatory itself has been removed.