Coats Observatory

Thomas Coats Observatory Paisley

Thomas Coats Observatory in Paisley is a fantastic gem hidden at the back of Oakshaw in Paisley, this is a building you must visit when in town, read the following history of Thomas Coats Observatory to find out more information about how it came to be built in the town of Paisley.

coats observatory

Opening hours
  • Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 4pm (closed for lunch 1pm – 2pm) ^ Access via Museum
  • Sunday 2pm – 5pm * Access via Museum
  • 1 November 2012 – 28 March 2013
  • Solar viewings (June – September) 2pm – 4pm
  • FREE
    During the winter months, the observatory is open for night sky telescope viewing depending on the weather. These sessions are free and there is no need to book. On clear nights, the telescope is trained on the moon, the planets and other interesting sights in the sky. Tuesday & Thursday only.

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At the 1880 Annual General Meeting of the Paisley Philosophical Institution, it was proposed that the Society should purchase an astronomical telescope, the telescope to be housed in the then new and expanding Museum-Library complex. Mr Thomas Coats of Ferguslie, then a member of the council, offered to relieve the Institution of the expenses incurred, and with the advice of Professor Grant of Glasgow University, a 5 inch equatorial telescope by Thomas Cooke and sons of York was obtained.

Mr Coats next proceeded to provide a substantial building to house the instrument on the present Oakshaw site on part of the ground which had been purchased by Sir Peter Coats for possible Museum and Library extensions. The memorial stone was laid in March 1882 by Mr Thomas Coats who also endowed the new Observatory with a sum of £2,004 In October 1883 the new Observatory designed by Mr John Honeyman, one of the best equipped small observatories in the country, was officially opened to the public. Sadly Thomas Coats was prevented from opening the building by ill health and he died only two weeks later. His trustee added yet further equipment to that already supplied and made an additional gift of £2,000 to the established trust.

Besides the 5 inch telescope, a variety of other equipment was installed, including a transit instrument, sidereal clocks, specialised eyepieces for the telescope and other items. One of Professor Grant’s assistants, Mr Donald McLean, was appointed the first curator. From 1892 to 1898 further equipment was added by Mr James Coats, culminating in the 10 inch Grubb telescope, together with new premises to the west of the main building and an addition to the endowment fund raising it to £10,000.

In 1884 the weather recording activities, which had been carried on for many years at Ferguslie House. were transferred to the Observatory where they have continued without break ever since. Daily returns are made to the Meteorological Office of wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, hours of sunshine, visibility, cloud cover, humidity, rainfall and temperature. Also installed in the early part of the century were two seismic recorders, placed in a specially constructed building, and records from these include readings for the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
After a generation of activity the Philosophical Institution began to suffer, in the 1920s, from the fall in the value of money after World War I. The telescopes were overhauled in the early 1920s. Apart from meteorological recording, some winter lectures on Astronomy and tours by local groups and societies round the premises, activity dwindled. World War II cu further into the value of the endowment and eventually the running costs of the Observatory were partly met from the income of the Philosophical Institution’s winter lectures. The final financial crisis was brought about in 1957 by the retiral of the last curator Mr John Woodrow. His salary had remained at its pre-war figure and it was impossible to increase it to attract a successor. Indeed, it was difficult to find adequate funds for maintenance and repairs.

The original Coats deed of gift contained a proviso that if ever the Philosophical Institution should find itself unable to continue the Observatory, it should be offered to Paisley Town Council. Negotiations to this end were opened and in the meantime, to avoid a break in the weather recording work which had continued since 1884, the Museum staff took this over on an unofficial basis.

Negotiations took longer than anticipated arid it was not until the spring of 1963 that management was Finally transferred to the Town Council putting the premises in charge of the Museum and Art Galleries Committee. Repairs and decorations were put in hands, and the telescope, after forty years, was given a much needed overhaul. An Observatory technician was appointed and the building was opened once a week for visits from the general public. An Astronomical Society was founded and made good use of the facilities and library of specialist books.

Following local government reorganisation in 1975, and in preparation for the centenary of the Observatory, considerable works were put in hand by the Arts and Community Committee of Renfrew District Council The exterior of the building was cleaned, defective stonework was repaired, railings at the front replaced and the whole floodlit. Internally the building was rewired, central heating installed and redecorated throughout. The Observatory technician was promoted to Meteorological Officer and equipment was renewed. A variable drive was fined to the telescopes by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle. The seismic equipment was updated, with the assistance of the Institute of Geological Sciences, to become tie major seismic station in south west Scotland. In 1995, after a century of service, the original Observatory dome was replaced with a new one built to original specifications and using original materials.