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

Update Closed For Refurbishment:

Cultural Services Update

Work is well under way on a £100m investment in Paisley town centre venues and cultural infrastructure over the next few years. This is being led by Renfrewshire Council and its partners as part of wider plans to change the area’s fortunes using heritage and culture.

The aim is to turn our historic venues into 21st century facilities which can host the new visitors, events and cultural activity the area is attracting. Work on venues operated by Renfrewshire Leisure includes:

  • a £42m transformation of Paisley Museum into a world-class destination showcasing the town’s unique heritage and collections.
  • a £22m revamp to make Paisley Town Hall a flagship performance venue for Renfrewshire and the west of Scotland, and preserve its place at the heart of life in the town;
  • an extension and refurbishment of Paisley Arts Centre
  • a new learning and cultural hub housing library services in a formerly-vacant High Street unit,
  • investment to create new outdoor events space and sporting facilities at St James Playing Fields

This complements investment by the council in town centre transport links and outdoor spaces, and ongoing work to help owners restore historic buildings;

What are the benefits?

The venue investment is central to the wider work to use the power of Paisley’s internationally-significant heritage and cultural assets to change its future by making us one of Scotland’s key destinations for culture and events.

Aside from preserving our precious architectural legacy and museum collections, the revamped venues will host activity which will bring huge volumes of new visitors and footfall to the town, bringing new life to the town centre and creating chances for business to thrive.

The museum alone is forecast to attract 125,000 visitors a year and create hundreds of new jobs during construction and once it opens. The revamped town hall will double attendees to 100,000 and – along with the arts centre – will be able to attract more and bigger shows, bringing more footfall into the town. The revamped St James will be able to host major outdoor events – such as big outdoor music gigs. And the investment in outdoor spaces will make the town more attractive for visitors, residents, workers and students to spend their time and money.

What is the timetable for closures?

For investment of this scale, we do have to close some of the venues while work is ongoing. Paisley Museum, Paisley Central Library and the Heritage Centre are planned to close on 20 September and reopen in 2022. Paisley Town Hall shuts at the end of 2018 and reopens in 2021, and Paisley Arts Centre will close in summer 2019 and reopen in autumn 2020.

Opening hours
  • Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 4pm (closed for lunch 1pm – 2pm) ^ Access via Museum
  • Sunday 2pm – 5pm * Access via Museum
  • 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.
  • Check here for regular updates – 

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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.