The City Observatory, Liverpool Museum


Every weekday – Wednesdays between 7pm – 9pm at Liverpool Museum, William Brown Street, Liverpool. (Use the disabled entrance, next to museum’s main stairway.)
Liverpool Museum is part of the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside – (NMGM).

Thumbnail of map for Liverpool Museum(link removed as URL is invalid)

The 5″ Cooke refractor at the City Observatory, Liverpool Museum, William Brown Street, circa 1998 The 5" Cooke refractor at the City Observatory, Liverpool Museum, William Brown Street, circa 1998 The Cooke 5inch Telescope at William Brown Street Observatory in 1998
The 5″ Cooke (click images to view full-size)

Thomas Glazebrook Rylands and The 5″ inch Cooke Telescope

October 1993 marked the 100th anniversary of Liverpool Astronomical Society taking possession of the 5″inch Cooke equatorial telescope. Which at present is still situated in the observatory on the roof of the (NMGM) Liverpool Museum. The 5″inch Cooke telescope was donated to the Society by:-

Mr. Thomas Glazebrook Rylands

Mr. Thomas Glazebrook Rylands, 1818-1900

He was the son of John Rylands, a wire mill owner in Warrington. On his fathers retirement Thomas Rylands, together with his two brothers, Peter and John the younger, took over the running of the wire mill and made the family business one of the most successful in the North West. Thomas Rylands had many interests outside the running of his fathers wire mill. one of which was astronomy. Astronomy attracted and fascinated Thomas Rylands early in his life, even before he possessed a telescope. In 1865 at Heath House, one of his many Warrington residences, he built a wooden observatory of two storeys, with a revolving dome. It was there that he placed his newly purchased 5″inch equatorial telescope and a 2″inch transit instrument, both of which were made by Cooke of York. Soon he was able to make frequent observations as and when the Mersey weather would allow, and he would send these observations to the Royal Astronomical Society, having become a fellow in 1866. However his observing nights were often disturbed by boys throwing stones into the open shutter of the dome, to the peril of both observer and instrument. As soon as these “bombardments” began Rylands was forced to close the shutter and wait patiently until as he himself stated ” the enemy raised the siege”.

In 1871 he built a new house at Highfields in Thelwall, and constructed a new observatory consisting of a dome on top of a high tower, which in time became a well known local landmark. By 1888 old age together with cold winter nights may have forced him to give up his observational astronomy, and at the Liverpool Astronomical Society Meeting of December 10th 1888 a letter was read out by the then Hon Secretary Mr W.E.Rowlands, in which Rylands propsed that the society should become the benefactor of the 5″inch Cooke telescope, and other instruments. His vast library of books and other papers, he donated to the University of Liverpool In May 1889 he also contacted the Chairman of the Free Library and Museum sub-committee, Sir Henry Higgins. This contact lead to the City Council Parks, Gardens and Improvements Committee discussing, at its meeting on July 3rd 1889, the building of an observatory in the city centre to house the Cooke 5″inch telescope. In 1892 the company of Raffle & Campbell had won the contract to build an astronomical observatory on top of the Liverpool Nautical College, which at that time was located at the Liverpool Royal Institute building in Colquitt Street. Discussions between the then Liverpool Astronomical Society Council and the City of Liverpool Council resulted in a formal agreement being signed. The minutes of the City Council Library Museum & Arts Committee records:

August 31st 1893:-“That the Lord Mayor be requested to affix the corporate seal to the agreement with the Liverpool Astronomical Society as to the deposit of an equatorial (telescope) in the observatory at the Nautical College”.

Sadly there is no trace to-day of the agreement document and the City Council Solicitors believe that it may have been destroyed in War time bombing.

At the Society meeting held on October 31st 1893, Mr Rylands, who was for many years a member of the Liverpool Astronomical Society appointed trustees of the 5″inch Cooke telescope. The handing over of the telescope may have taken place some years before, but the Society minute books recorded the society taking possession of the 5″inch Cooke in October 1893. The observatory together with the telescope were to relocate to their present home sometime between 1899 – 1901, when a new bigger Nautical College was opened in the newly built Central Municipal Technical College building,(now part of NMGM “Liverpool Museum”), which opened to students in October 1901.

The rest is as they say is “LAS history“, but what became of Thomas Rylands?. Sadly not long after the above events he contracted influenza from which he never made a full recovery, and he died in his sleep on February 14th 1900 at his house Highfields, Thelwall. The House can still be seen to-day, but sadly his observatory has been pulled down.

(This article (© Liverpool Astronomical Society) first appeared in the March 1993 LAS Newscircular)