Observatory, Bristol

Observatory, Bristol

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The Observatory is a former mill, now used as an observatory, located on Clifton Down
Clifton Down
Clifton Down is an area of public open space in Bristol, England, north of the village of Clifton. With its neighbour Durdham Down to the northeast, it constitutes the large area known as The Downs, much used for leisure including walking and team sports...

, close to the Clifton Suspension Bridge
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Brunel died in 1859, without seeing the completion of the bridge. Brunel's colleagues in the Institution of Civil Engineers felt that completion of the Bridge would be a fitting memorial, and started to raise new funds...

, Bristol
Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. At 337 feet (92 metres) above the gorge, the cliff top is likely to have been used as a lookout post since at least the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

.

The building was erected with the permission of the Society of Merchant Venturers
Society of Merchant Venturers
The Society of Merchant Venturers is a private entrepreneurial and charitable organisation in the English city of Bristol, which dates back to the 13th century...

, as a windmill
Windmill
A windmill is a machine which converts the energy of wind into rotational energy by means of vanes called sails or blades. Originally windmills were developed for milling grain for food production. In the course of history the windmill was adapted to many other industrial uses. An important...

 for corn in 1766 and later converted to the grinding of snuff, when it became known as 'The Snuff Mill'. This was damaged by a fire on October 30, 1777, when the sails were left turning during a gale and caused the equipment to catch light. It was then derelict for 52 years until in 1828 William West
William West (artist)
-External links:*...

, an artist, rented the old mill, for 5 shillings (25p) a year, as a studio
Studio
A studio is an artist's or worker's workroom, or the catchall term for an artist and his or her employees who work within that studio. This can be for the purpose of architecture, painting, pottery , sculpture, scrapbooking, photography, graphic design, filmmaking, animation, radio or television...

.

In 1977, the Merchant Venturers sold the observatory to Honorbrook Inns, however they were obliged to maintain public access to the camera obscura whose ownership was retained by the Merchant Venturers.

It has been designated by English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

 as a grade II* listed building and is currently on the Buildings at Risk Register.

Camera obscura


West installed telescopes and a camera obscura
Camera obscura
The camera obscura is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. It is used in drawing and for entertainment, and was one of the inventions that led to photography. The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side...

, which were used by artists of the Bristol School
Bristol School
The Bristol School is a term applied retrospectively to describe the informal association and works of a group of artists working in Bristol, England, in the early 19th century. It was mainly active in the 1820s, although the origins and influences of the school have been traced over the...

 to draw the Avon Gorge
Avon Gorge
The Avon Gorge is a 1.5-mile long gorge on the River Avon in Bristol, England. The gorge runs south to north through a limestone ridge west of Bristol city centre, and about 3 miles from the mouth of the river at Avonmouth. The gorge forms the boundary between the unitary authorities of...

 and Leigh Woods
Leigh Woods
Leigh Woods is a 2 square kilometre area of woodland on the south-west side of the Avon Gorge, opposite the English city of Bristol and north of the Ashton Court estate. It has been designated as a National Nature Reserve. Small mountain biking circuits are present in the woods and the area is a...

 on the opposite side. Many examples of these paintings can be seen in Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery is a large museum and art gallery in Bristol, England. It is run by the city council with no entrance fee. It holds designated museum status, granted by the national government to protect outstanding museums...

. The pictures which originated from images within the camera obscura he called 'photogenic drawing' and were based on the work of William Fox Talbot
William Fox Talbot
William Henry Fox Talbot was a British inventor and a pioneer of photography. He was the inventor of calotype process, the precursor to most photographic processes of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was also a noted photographer who made major contributions to the development of photography as an...

.

A 5" (13 cm) convex lens and sloping mirror
Mirror
A mirror is an object that reflects light or sound in a way that preserves much of its original quality prior to its contact with the mirror. Some mirrors also filter out some wavelengths, while preserving other wavelengths in the reflection...

 was installed on the top of the tower which project the panoramic view vertically downward into the darkened room below. Visitors view the true image (not mirror image) on to a fixed circular table 5 feet (1.5m) in diameter, with a concave metal surface, and turn the mirror by hand to change the direction of view.

Cave



West also built a tunnel from the Observatory to St Vincent's Cave (also known as Ghyston's Cave or Giant's Cave), which opens onto St Vincent's Rocks on the cliff face, 250 feet (76 m) above the floor of the Avon gorge and 90 feet (27 m) below the cliff top. The tunnel which is 2000 feet (610 m) long, took two years to build at a cost of £1300, and first opened to the public in 1837.

This cave
Cave
A cave or cavern is a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter. The term applies to natural cavities some part of which is in total darkness. The word cave also includes smaller spaces like rock shelters, sea caves, and grottos.Speleology is the science of exploration and study...

 was first mentioned as being a chapel
Chapel
A chapel is a building used by Christians as a place of fellowship and worship. It may be part of a larger structure or complex, such as a church, college, hospital, palace, prison or funeral home, located on board a military or commercial ship, or it may be an entirely free-standing building,...

 in the year A.D. 305 and excavations, in which Romano-British
Romano-British
Romano-British culture describes the culture that arose in Britain under the Roman Empire following the Roman conquest of AD 43 and the creation of the province of Britannia. It arose as a fusion of the imported Roman culture with that of the indigenous Britons, a people of Celtic language and...

 pottery
Pottery
Pottery is the material from which the potteryware is made, of which major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made is also called a pottery . Pottery also refers to the art or craft of the potter or the manufacture of pottery...

 has been found, have revealed that it has been both a holy place and a place of refuge at various times in its history. Although the cave is in limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

, there are few formations in the natural passages.

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