The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Committee Announcements
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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For details of our activities, and for more information on recent events and current programme, please contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434.

The Athenaeum, the Dome and the Telescope: Tuesday 11th September

About 25 members gathered at a meeting of the district society in Foxearth Village Hall on Tuesday 11th September to hear Dr Richard Young talk about the Victorian observatory dome and telescope on the top of the Athenaeum Club building in Bury St Edmunds. Although the town is not short of historical features the presence of the observatory was not widely known until the Club - which owns the observatory - decided in 2015 to launch a project for its restoration seeking to raise initially £6,000. The purpose of the project is to preserve a rare piece of astronomical history, show to the public views of the stars and to teach their location. Dr Young, Founder and Chairman of the enterprise described, with many photographic examples, the work involved with the first priority being the repair of the access stairs to the dome. In its present form the Athanaeum building dates from 1789 with the dome being added after the Astronomer Royal, George Airy, had given a talk on Donati's comet which was then - in 1858 - causing great excitement to local sky watchers. Rev. Lord Arthur Hervey was President of the Athenaeum Society and a leader in the dynamic scientific community who added his weight to the movement for a dome.

The restoration will include a complete overhaul of the telescope which was made by the 19th century renowned firm of instrument makers - Troughton and Simms. It is a 4 inch retractor with a magnification capacity of between 30X and 300X and complete dismantlement, cleaning and re-assembly will be neccessary to ensure its valued use for generations to come.

Dr. Young also talked about the rare sundial situated in the Abbey gardens. The dial is on the side and at the top of a tall stone column - a Victorian drinking fountain -and dates from 1870 when it was given to the people of the town by the 3rd Marquess of Bristol. It is thought to be possibly the earliest example of a dial which allowed people to set their clocks by Greenwich mean time. Many photographs showed the details of the apparatus and its various astronomical inscriptions and calculations.

This was a fascinating insight into a hitherto unexplored aspect of local history which generated a large number of questions and earned a warm response for Dr Young.

Secretary Clare Mathieson informed members that a reservation had been made for the Annual Dinner of the Society on Tuesday 11th December at the George, Cavendish. Members will shortly receive the menu and booking and deposit details. The writer has had his arm twisted (nay- dislocated) to produce a quiz - so please pay attention!

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