Wessex Astronomical Society


Construction of the Observatory

The building and equipping of the observatory was planned and supervised by Alan Jefferis, then Secretary of the Wessex Astronomical Society (WAS) and also a member of Friends of Durlston (FOD). The selected site was behind a 1.8m high fence that separates a wildlife area from the open public spaces of the park. With the help of members of the FOD Wednesday Working Party and volunteers from WAS the ground was cleared, foundations dug, concrete base for the telescope pier cast and footings and floor cast. Concrete block walls were built by local stonemason and then the roof constructed by WAS volunteers John Hooker and Brian Carter.

The first assembly of the dome was done "dry", i.e. without the sealant between the sections, in situ on the roof. Smooth rotation of the dome was verified before removing it for final assembly on the ground. After the roofer had finished his felting the dome was lifted into its final position. At first it would not rotate now that the felt had been applied to the sides but an error in the assembly of the wheel runners by the supplier was rectified and the dome now rotates easily.

Once the whole roof was weatherproof work continued on the inside - plasterboard, floor screed, painting, making and fitting the doors and locks (by WAS volunteers Roy Wadham and Derek Sawyer) ending with the building being both secure and weatherproof by late August. Over much of this period Alan Jefferis had been building up the 450mm diameter, 1.2m high concrete plinth in stages using a split drain access chamber as the mould. Brian Carter ran the power supply extension lead from the Visitor Centre building.

The telescope was delivered and installed on its plinth, but initial testing revealed it was faulty. It was another week before the importer had replaced the faulty hand controller and the telescope behaved itself. Meanwhile, local Swanage plasterers made an excellent job of rendering the walls and WAS volunteer Eric Dixon painted them. Inside we laid the carpet, installed a desk and the computer and established a computer-to-computer link between the observatory and the lecture room in the Visitor Centre.

On 17th October 2008 Lembit Opik MP formally opened the observatory before media representatives, counsellors and representatives of school science departments. On the 16th October Dr John Mason gave a talk about the next Hubble space telescope servicing mission before formally launching the start of serious astronomy at the observatory. This event was used to say a big thank you to WAS members both those who had helped and those who had donated.

This gallery of images illustrates the construction.

WAS expresses its thanks to the following local trades people for their generous help given freely:
Neil Harding (constructing the walls)
John Flavin (felting the complex roof)
Tony Merrick (walls rendering)
Derek Lovell (supply of materials for rendering)
Derek Sawyer (supplying the door locks)

Durlston Country Park, Rangers - 01929 424443 or
Durlston Country Park, Rangers (on the day of an event) - 01929 427965
Alan Jefferis - 01929 422961 or