When the Physics with Astrophysics course was set up in 1980 it was decided that he students should have access to a telescope to make their own observations. The telescope was purchased from Astronomical Equipment of Luton, Bedfordshire, who provided the telescope structure, optics and gears. The electronic drive system was designed by Chris Eyles and was built in house. The telescope control program was written by Ken Elliott, with programming help from Patrick Wallace. First light was on 8th December 1982 and the Observatory had its official opening by the Astronomer Royal, Professor F G Smith on 13th June 1984. The original observations were photographic, either by imaging at the Newtonian focus or by means of a low dispersion spectrograph, which employed a grating in the converging Cassegrain beam.
In 1984 we obtained a UBV photometer from EMI-Gencom, which was used extensively for photometry of short period variables. This was interfaced to an Acorn A5000 computer to allow high speed photometry.
In 1985 as zoom lens spectrograph was built by Applied Photophysics. It was originally used with a 35mm camera using Kodak Spectroscopic film as the detector.
A new primary mirror cell and support system was installed in 1986 with an intensified acquisition camera and auxiliary optics for spectrograph slit viewing and spectral lamp calibration.
A CCD camera using an EEV P8603 device was designed by Ken Elliott in 1987, and was built in house. The CCD was controlled by a BBC Master computer using code written by Rob Jeffries as a second year student! The spectrograph was modified to have a turret with 3 gratings allowing it to be used for a much greater variety of observations. This CCD camera was used as the detector for the spectrograph until February 1998, when it was decommissioned and replaced with an Apogee AP7 CCD Camera.
The original Cassegrain secondary support consisted of a single vane, which was rigid in the EW direction but flexible in NS. A new top end was designed in 1994 with interchangeable Cassegrain and Prime Focus operations. A new Cassegrain support system was built with a rigid pyramid structure to improve the pointing.
A Prime Focus Camera using an Apogee AP7 was installed in 1998 and has been used extensively. The Prime Focus was decommissioned in 2006, when the Meade LX200R was installed for wide field imaging.