Yorkshire Museum

Astronomy

The York Observatory, in the Museum Gardens, is the major part of our Astronomy Collection. It was built in 1832 and 1833 and is the oldest working observatory in Yorkshire.

Please note: The Yorkshire Museum is home to an extensive and varied collection of items and artefacts. Whilst we make every effort to display a broad spectrum of our collections it is not always possible for all our collections to be on display at once. Please check the latest exhibitions to find out what collections are currently on display or contact us on 01904 687687.

Its 4 inch refractor telescope was built by York man Thomas Cooke in 1850, who went on to make the then-largest telescope in the world. It was installed in 1981 when the observatory was restored.

The Observatory also houses an 1811 clock which tells the time based on observations of the positions of stars. It was once the clock by which all others in York were set and is still always four minutes, 20 seconds, behind Greenwich Mean Time. In the mid 19th century it would cost sixpence to check a timepiece against the Observatory Clock.

Our collection also includes telescopes which are kept with other scientific instruments at York Castle Museum.

During the 1780s leading astronomers John Goodricke and Edward Pigott were based in York and laid the foundations of variable star astronomy, this is the study of stars of varying brightness.

Goodricke has a college at the University of York named after him and Pigott was the first English man to discover a comet then have it named after him.

The Observatory is open every Thursday and Saturday 11.30am-2.30pm.

Please note: the building is manned by trained volunteers, and although we always do our best to open as planned, sometimes this is not possible. If you would like to know about volunteering in the Observatory, please click here.