DOWNSIDE AMONG THE STARS

Today marks 154 years since, ‘By the end of high mass, all that was consumable had perished, and the fire smouldered on among the debris till late in the afternoon’. 

The Observatory was constructed, with one purpose, to play home to the largest telescope in the world, at the time. It was purchased with the idea of turning Downside in to a ‘scientific hub’ where monks and pupils could star gaze and examine celestial bodies. This is what then led to the building of the Observatory. 

The building work began in the early 1860s with Abbot Snow’s description as ‘The appearance of the building was not artistic [but] it was a temple of science, not of art’. Although plans had been met for the two floor building, made from both museum and observatory, the glass surrounding the top floor presented an issue. The space, and the telescope, slowly became unused.  

It was 20th January 1867, whilst the community was at Mass in the Old Chapel, when a great fire broke out in the Observatory. The fire had taken the telescope, and the rest of the contents before anything could be saved.  

The shell of the Observatory, however, still had its uses. The stone and window frames were repurposed and used to build parts of the School and still remains in place today.  

Information on the Observatory, the Telescope and the fire are mentioned in Abbot Snow’s Downside Review article.