Durham University Observatory Records

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 33 OBS
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      12 metres

Scope and Content

Records of Durham University Observatory, ca.1839-1953, including also records of Thomas Backhouse's West Hendon House Observatory, Sunderland, 1858-1920, papers of the Rousdon Observatory of Sir Cuthbert Edgar Peek and his son Wilfrid, Lyme Regis, East Devon, ca.1886-1921, which came to Durham with the Peek telescope in 1921, and papers of Prof. R.A. Sampson (1866-1939), professor of Astronomy and Mathematics in the university, relating to his work on the satellites of Jupiter.

The deposited records comprise astronomical records, meteorological loose papers up to ca.1953 (volumes of meteorological records and later loose papers remain at the Observatory), some seismograph readings 1931-1939 and 1946-1957 (but the original traces and current records are in the care of the Dept. of Geology), and administrative records, together with the Backhouse, Peek and Sampson papers mentioned above. Precisely how the Backhouse material came to the Observatory is not recorded.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Observatory was founded in 1839, when the University accepted an offer from Rev. T.J. Hussey of Hayes Court, Kent, an amateur astronomer, to purchase his astronomical instruments. Astronomical observations began at Durham in 1840 and continued until ca. 1937. Meteorological observations began in 1843 and still continue today. A seismograph was installed in 1930.


  • I. Astronomical Records:
    • Volumes and notebooks
    • Backhouse Journals
    • Observers' papers
    • Professor Sampson's papers on the Satellites of Jupiter
    • Rousdon papers
  • II. Meteorological Records:
    • Volumes [retained at the Observatory]
    • Papers [with main Observatory collection in Palace Green Library]
  • III. Seismic Records
  • IV. Administrative Records, 1838-1937
  • V. Administrative Records, 1937-1953
    • Correspondence with officers of the University (Warden, Registrar, Secretary, Architect etc.)
    • Financial records
    • Papers concerning the order, supply and repairs to equipment
    • Correspondence with the Meteorological Office
    • Correspondence concerning the seismographs
    • Correspondence and papers concerning the Observatory Library
    • Correspondence with solicitors, insurance companies etc., concerning claims arising from weather conditions
    • Correspondence with students requiring information for theses etc.
    • General correspondence concerning requests for meteorological and other information
    • Correspondence concerning visits and talks
    • Miscellaneous
  • VI. Photocopies of material relating to the Observatory in other collections

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

The Observatory Library and the bulk of the Observatory records were deposited with the University Library, around 1953.


Part of : Observatory Collection

Other Finding Aids

List, not indexed, which includes the volumes of meteorological records still in the Observatory, but not the seismic records in the care of the Dept. of Geology. Online version available at online catalogue

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail PG.Library@durham.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


There is still some material held by the observatory.

Related Material

Observatory Library: printed material

Additional MSS: Add. MSS 837 - Correspondence of Revd. Temple Chevallier. 129 letters.Add. MSS 852 - 853: - Meteorological register (Add MSS 852) for Heighington, Co. Durham, and related papers (Add MSS 853/1-9) of Revd. Charles Clinton Chevallier.


Baxter, E.F., Durham University Observatory, Weather 11 (1956) 218-222.

Manley, Gordon, The Durham Meteorological Record, 1847-1940, Q.J.R. Meteorolog. Soc. 67 (1941) 363-380.

Rochester, G.D., The History of Astronomy in the University of Durham from 1835 to 1939, Q.J.R. Astronom. Soc. 21 (1980) 369-378.

Sampson, R.A., The University Observatory, Proc. Univ. of Durham Philosophical Soc. 2 (1900-06) 1-7.