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Centre for Atmospheric Science

History of the Whitworth Meteorological Observatory

Sir Joseph Whitworth
Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887)

In 1893 the Residuary Legatees of the late Sir Joseph Whitworth, the Manchester Whitworth Institute and the Owens College (which later became The Victoria University of Manchester which merged with UMIST in 2004 to create The University of Manchester) provided through endowment an agreement for the maintenance of the “Meteorological Observatory in Whitworth Park” which had been in operation since August 1892. This observatory was to serve as a source of scientific and popular interest and of education. Data from the Whitworth Observatory were provided by the University to the Guardian newspaper for daily and weekly weather reports for the benefit of Manchester citizens. They were also forwarded to the Met Office. Unfortunately the observatory subsequently fell into disrepair due to repeated and extensive vandalism in the park location where it was situated and eventually burned down in 1958 under mysterious circumstances. At that time the Victoria University of Manchester, which had taken over the endowment, decided to capitalize the funds until the future of the observatory could be decided. It was agreed in 2003 that the shares in the fund and the unspent balance should be transferred to the School of Earth, Atmospheric & Environmental Science (SEAES) since we "do work relevant to the purposes listed in the original 1893 Agreement."

The Whitworth Observatory in 1921
The Whitworth Observatory in 1921 (click on image for a larger version). Photo courtesy of Bruce Anderson & The Rusholme Archive.

The increase in urbanization, and concerns with the climatic and health impacts of pollution from the urban environment have highlighted the need for high quality meteorological information in urban areas. In 2009 it was felt an opportune moment to re-visit the original legacy and its aims, thus a new observatory is being constructed to provide data both for scientific research within growing cities on urban environment and climate issues, as well as for dissemination to the general public.

In the establishment of the new observatory it is the School’s intention to honour the original spirit of the conditions of the endowment stipulated by the Whitworth family; namely to “keep scientific records of the observations made therein for such publication from time to time as the college may think fit”, “service of some qualified person with the care of the instrument…and tabulating for scientific purposes the usual daily observations of a meteorological observatory”. Overall the purpose of the legacy terms stipulates use of this observatory as “a source of scientific and popular interest and of education.”

With new technology we hope to enhance and expand on the original measurement capabilities over the coming years and so extend the potential user community of this facility.


Further information

Further information about the history of the Whitworth Observatory can be found in the following articles:

Contributions of Sir Arthur Schuster to the field of Meteorology
Extract from the obituary of Sir Arthur Schuster

Description of meterology at the University of Manchester in 1906
Extract from "The Physical Laboratories of the University of Manchester: a record of 25 years work" describing the history of the observatory till that date and detailing its current facilities

An early article on urban meteorology
Published in "Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society" this article compares measurements from two observatories close to Manchester city centre and comments on some interesting differences between the two.

Historic data from the observatory has been archived by the Met Office