Peck telescope engraving

Our telescope

Our Society has a range of observing and teaching equipment to encourage interest in astronomy, and we have the use of, and are involved in preserving, a 12.5 inch Newtonian reflecting telescope built in 1889 by William Peck of Edinburgh. Our historic telescope is located in a dedicated observatory on the roof of the former Stirling High School, now the Stirling Highland Hotel.

The telescope belongs to Stirling Council. A Newtonian reflector, it has a primary (concave) mirror of diameter 12.5 inches and 9 feet focal length (i.e. aperture f/9). The mirror sits at the lower end of an oak telescope tube. Near the top of the tube, a small diagonal flat mirror reflects the primary image into an eyepiece outside the tube. It has a German equatorial mount supported by a cast iron framework, which in turn sits on a bedplate on top of a massive brick plinth extending through the observatory floor. The observatory has a rotating domed roof sheathed in copper whose green surface makes it a familiar landmark above the tower entrance to the Highland Hotel in Spittal Street, Stirling.

The telescope (as shown in this original illustration) was designed, constructed and installed by William Peck (1862-1925) in 1889. He was then City Astronomer of Edinburgh, and became famous as a writer of popular astronomy books and as a prolific inventor. He was knighted in 1917. The illustration of the telescope is taken from: William Peck, FRSE, FRAS (1890) A Popular Handbook and Atlas of Astronomy. (Designed as a Complete Guide to a Knowledge of the Heavenly Bodies; and as an Aid to those Possessing Telescopes). Published by: Gall and Inglis, 25 Paternoster Square, E.C., London; and Edinburgh.

Early use

The telescope was given to the school by Mr Laurence Pullar of Bridge of Allan, in September 1889. The observatory was the gift of Mr Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Liberal MP for Stirling Burghs, who was knighted in 1895 and served as Prime Minister from 1905 to 1908.

The observatory tower was built as part of a High School extension in 1888-89. Its architect was James McLaren, a former pupil of the school, who died before construction was complete. The design incorporates the 17th Century gateway from the Town Mint and the entrance includes twelve stone carvings of the signs of the zodiac. A carved figure, Astronomy, was presented by Sir Donald Currie MP.

The observatory was originally in the care of Mr Lowson, Maths Master at the High School. By 1891, evening classes were being given during the winter months. Former pupils from 1906 onwards have no recollection of the telescope being used. A rumour persists that the eyepieces were requested by an observatory in Edinburgh, and were handed over about 1920. At a later period, but before 1960, a refractor telescope was taken from the observatory by sixth-year pupils as an end-of-session prank. Despite several reported sightings in various parts of Scotland, that has not been recovered.