Weather Vanes (7)

It won’t take a genius to know I didn’t take this picture recently. In fact I didn’t take it at all – Stephen did,  at the Altazimuth building up at the Observatory, back in days when there was actually some blue in the sky. 

It’s a pretty little vane, for a pretty little building – here’s another Stephen pic…

and it represents Halley’s Comet, as, in turn, represented by the Bayeaux Tapestry. It’s all very art-nouveau – which is hardly surprising given the building is from the end of the Belle Epoque, in 1899, all quaint curlicues and portholes. I am assuming the weather vane’s original; or a copy of the original, not least because of the surge of interest in the late 19th century in arts and crafts, including tapestry and English history, which would fit with the Bayeux-bit). 

The name, by the way, isn’t for some  exotic long, gone astronomer, as I’d assumed, but from two words – Altitude, (how far you are above the horizon), and Azimuth, (how far east along the horizon you are). The building was built to make observations using these co-ordinates. 

By chance, though, the fiery ball that makes up the central part of the weathervane looks very sun-like to me, appropriate since the instruments the building now houses are sun-related, including the Dallmeyer 2, which was used for those incredible continuous observations of the sun that continued throughout the Second World War despite bombs raining around the ears of the sturdy chaps in the Solar Department when everyone else (and most of the instruments) had decamped to safer places.

These astronomic heroes – a word that is bandied around far too often these days, but truly befits civilians who did something that at first sight didn’t seem that important given the events unfolding around them, had their eyes on the bigger picture. Thanks to them, we have a continuous record of the sun’s condition – only now coming to the fore and informing today’s scientists about matters that may affect the world again, albeit on a rather larger level than man-made. 

I think the Dallmeyer’s the shiny fellow in the picture below, mounted onto the Newbegin 6.25inch refracting telescope, but I’m sure I’ll be put right if I’ve got it wrong. 

Happily the equipment wasn’t actually in the Altazimuth  when the building was heavily bombed in 1940 – it’s been moved there since. 

The pavilion’s doors were unlocked on Open House Day last year and I made sure I trotted along, if only to find out what the view is from that cute little porthole above the door. It was more interesting than even I had imagined – and the view from the little window’s cool, too…

If they open the building again this year, folks, I highly recommend a visit. and while you’re about it, NMM guys, how about letting us up to the time ball? Aw c’mon – if you don’t ask, you don’t get…


the attachments to this post:

telescope altezimuth
telescope altezimuth

altazimuth building low
altazimuth building low

altazimuth building stephen
altazimuth building stephen

altazimuth building stephen weathervane
altazimuth building stephen weathervane


5 Comments to “Weather Vanes (7)”

  1. MikeM67 says:

    You’re correct that the Dallmeyer Photoheliograph is mounted below the Newbigin refractor. Of course, neither telescope have any connection with the pavilion’s original purpose, which was to make precise measurements around all points of the compass. Previously, most instruments at the Observatory were ‘transit’ instruments which measured on the North-South plain only. The discovery of Neptune by French and German astronomers was a major blow to British pride, and highlighted the fact that the Royal Observatory was not geared up to discover new celestial bodies. The first altazimuth instrument was installed in the Royal Observatory by Airy in 1847, one year after the discovery of Neptune.

  2. Thank you, Mike. Sometimes we need to be beaten badly by other countries to make us try harder…

  3. Foe says:

    Hello Phantom,

    The Altaz building is actually open to the public every day now, with occasional exceptions (check latest visitor information when planning a visit: http://www.nmm.ac.uk/visit/latest-info/).

  4. [...] Camden Town by Caroline’s Miscellany Tallis is dead, and music dies by Dainty Ballerina Weather Vanes by the Greenwich Phantom Felix on the Bat by the Greenwich Phantom The Death of Catherine of Aragon [...]