Jonathan Schofield

The former Municipal School of Technology between Whitworth Street and Granby Row is now part of the University of Manchester and is a terracotta and brick structure with superb stained glass. It’s from 1895-1902 and is by Spalding and Cross.

While impressive the building is not unusual in itself, but look up to the roof from Sackville Gardens and you will see one of Manchester’s little jewels. This is the Godlee Observatory from 1903, in a copper coat with a dome made of sealed papier mâché to ensure it is light enough to be turned to any desired point in the heavens. This is the home of the Manchester Astronomical Society.

Access to the telescope chamber is via a wrought iron spiral staircase that rises in three sharp turns. This is a beautiful piece of engineering but might give the faint-hearted vertigo. Under the dome of the observatory is the original Grubb telescope and refractor made in Dublin especially for this space. The dome of the telescope is manoeuvrable by ropes and wheels and has a cunning mechanism which allows it to follow the polar axis. It is refreshing to see technology that is clear in its function, a break for anybody whose life is ruled by the hidden mysteries of the microchip and the ‘cloud’. It is refreshing also to see the enthusiasm of the people who make up the Astronomical Society.

The name of the observatory comes from the patron and mill-owner Frances Godlee, who had factories in Swinton and a house in Wilmslow. He was obsessed with clocks and mechanisms such as telescopes. He was remarkably progressive when it came to the early adoption of technology too. He got in very early with telephones, and was awarded with the magnificent phone number of ‘4’. Just 4. There is no record of him forgetting it.

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