With the help of Bernard Bryant (Store Manager) and Louise Devoy (Curator of the ROG) we were able to take two dozen FAS members to see behind the scenes at Kidbrooke, a secure storage site not normally open to the public.
Bernard greeted the group with a short history of the site (it began life as a military hospital) and a rundown on the present contents – navigational and astronomical instruments, furniture, ordnance, etc, etc).
Louise followed with around a half-hour peruse of some of the objects from the astronomy collection. The models made for the 1975 tercentenary of the Observatory are always a fascination. Some depict instruments now lost – Flamsteed’s mural quadrant and sextant, Airy’s altazimuth, and also Flamsteed House in its original appearance.
It was probably our last chance to view easily the remaining large objects – a 7-ft Newtonian by William Herschel and one of the original speculum metal mirrors from Herschel’s 48-in reflector; Airy’s water telescope; the original mounting for the 13-in Astrographic telescope (now at Herstmonceux); the Sheepshanks equatorial; and parts of Airy’s water clock (the original water turbine drive from Airy’s Great Equatorial). These objects will soon be disassembled and put on pallets for ease of storage.
Louise had also taken the trouble of getting out several interesting small objects to show us, all with some connection to the Observatory – an early instrument for measuring the magnetic variation; a spectroscope; a solar ‘chronometer’; and a cute paperweight containing a photograph of the Observatory. Louise gave us a rundown on each and had prepared copies of diagrams and explanations. A lively Q&A accompanied Louise’s talk.
After enjoying our study of the astronomy objects we had a small amount of time in hand to browse the Aladdin’s cave of nautical stuff in the forklift storage area. All manner of things are there. Peter was determined to make the most of his trip down memory lane to his earlier days in submarines, but time ran out and he was left planning to return.
Finally we had a few moments to look at Bernard’s ‘secret’ collection of splendid ship models, left at Kidbrooke because there isn’t enough room at Chatham – and long may it be so! The models are always favourites and trigger all kinds of conversations. Brian’s special interest in Brazil had us studying a terrific model of the Minas Geraes built in Britain for the Brazilian navy in 1907.
It is always a thrill to be able to look behind the scenes and members regard it a real privilege to get a glimpse of these treasures normally locked away from view – a shame really when the Sammy Ofer Wing is crying out for a sprinkling of nautical objects.
Many thanks to Louise and Bernard for all their time and trouble, and sharing some of their impressive expertise.