Bolton Astronomy

The Holden Telescope of 1894

While researching the history of astronomy in Bolton, BAS founder member, Peter Miskiw was able to track down the “Holden” telescope to the Bolton Museum store room. He presented the following research to our society members in October 2011.

The 4-inch refractor was manufactured by W. Wray Opticians of London and was supplied by William Banks of Corporation Street Bolton. William Banks was a local astronomer of some note being a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and having his own observatory in the Bolton area. The telescope was donated to the Bolton Corporation in 1894 by Councillor T.W. Holden, hence the telescope's name. The Bolton Chadwick Museum housed the telescope inside a wooden structure surmounted by a revolving dome on top of the pavilion building, which was located at Chorley New Road Park, later to be known as Queens Park after Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

A decline in interest in astronomy in 1907 forced the museum to dismantle the 4-inch refractor but the newly formed astronomy section of the Bolton Field Naturalists society in 1911 applied for it to be re-instated. It was agreed by Bolton Parks Committee that access to the wooden observatory was to be made via the main gate on Chorley New Road. Access to the observatory was given by permission of the Bolton Parks authority.

In January 1913, after a disagreement between the committee of the Bolton Field Naturalists Society and the curators of the museum regarding how a key had been obtained for the gate and then as to why the park gate was left open, the society agreed to pay the cost of moving the wooden observatory to its new location at the Markland Hill nursery. This time the wooden observatory was maintained by the astronomy section of the Bolton Field Naturalists Society and the Chadwick museum agreed to loan the telescope to them.

Attempts were made in 1923 to obtain an equatorial mount as the original mounting was deemed to be unreliable regarding keeping an astronomical object in its field of view. However, Bolton Corporation considered that such a mount would be much too expensive and the purchase appears to have been abandoned.

In 1930 a letter was sent by Bolton Field Naturalists Society proposing that the telescope be returned to the museum citing “The chief reason for our decision is the fact that those of our members interested in astronomy now have instruments of their own better equipped than Markland observatory telescope”. Upon its return in 1932 it was noted for its bad condition resulting from poor maintenance. The Bolton Field Naturalists Society attempted to make some repairs to the telescope itself but several missing lenses (eyepieces) were not replaced.

The fate of the original wooden observatory is unknown but believed to have been abandoned in 1932 as attempts in 1935 by the Bolton Field Naturalists Society to relocate the telescope to Moss Bank Park were deemed unsuitable by the corporation. The telescope would remain locked away perhaps until 1963.

The current curator of the Bolton central museum suggested that the telescope may have been used by an astronomy class at the civic centre in 1963. However, given the extremely poor condition of the Holden telescope it is much more likely that it was the second telescope in the keeping of Bolton Museums (see video) that was actually loaned out. Evidence also suggests that a telescope was used in 1966 by the WEA at the Technical Teaching Training College, which was located near the University of Bolton, Chadwick Campus but now derelict. Again it is more likely that it was the second telescope that was used. In relation to this, it should be noted that the training college once had an observatory dome located on its roof.

From this point, it is unknown as to when the telescope (whichever one it was) was finally returned back to the museum's care. In October 2011 members of the Bolton Astronomical Society visited the museum storeroom to examine both telescopes.

Bolton Astronomical Society claim no official ownership of the “Holden” telescope but we do consider it to be a vital part part of our local heritage. Any further information regarding the telescopes or the history of astronomy in Bolton would be gratefully received.

Enjoy the video (7mb) -->

Research:- Peter Miskiw | Video:- Filmed by Dave Southworth | Website:- Carl Stone