Science Museum Special Collection – 10th and 17th November 2006

On Fridays 10th and 17th November, groups of OAS members visited the Science Museum’s Astronomy collection. Jim Metha reports:

A very enjoyable visit was organised to the Science Museum Stores in Olympia over two Fridays in October. We attended the first of these on 10th November. The Stores are based at Blyth House, a magnificent Edwardian building originally built to house the National Savings and their hundred’s of lady “Computers” who worked out the nations finances! Now the building is used for storage by the Science, British and V&A Museums.

We were met and shown round by Jane West and her assistant, both curators of the Astronomical collections. The main collections are housed in one huge room with shelves up to the ceiling. Jane gave us a tour showing us instruments used by Smyth, Lee, the Herschels, South, Groombridge, Lord Rosse, and many others. Of particular interest were a replica of Newtons original 4-inch reflector as well as the Airy’s Altazimuth Telescope, and Caroline Herschels own 8-inch reflector. After an hour we were free to look around at leisure and take pictures. A further tour was organised to look at the extensive sundial collection which included instruments from ancient Arabia as well as more modern examples from the 16C to the 19C. It’s frustrating that all these instruments are not on view to the general public, indeed that there is no Astronomy gallery in the Science museum, and this is keenly felt by the curators. However Jane hopes that in 2008 a major exhibition of many of the items will be shown in the museum so we look forward to that.

It was a great privilege to be able to walk around and look at these instruments, many thanks to Jane and her team for their time and interest.

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