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Balgay Park, Mills Observatory

A Category B Listed Building in Dundee, Dundee

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.4649 / 56°27'53"N

Longitude: -3.0125 / 3°0'45"W

OS Eastings: 337707

OS Northings: 730769

OS Grid: NO377307

Mapcode National: GBR Z55.83

Mapcode Global: WH7R9.PRNS

Entry Name: Balgay Park, Mills Observatory

Listing Date: 20 September 2002

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 396438

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB48924

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Dundee

County: Dundee

Electoral Ward: West End

Traditional County: Angus

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Description

1935, James MacLellan Brown. Single storey, cruciform-plan observatory with 2-storey drum tower to centre. Red bull-faced sandstone with ashlar margins, papier-mache dome. Base course, eaves course, projecting cornice. Regular fenestration.

Centrally planned single storey, octagonal central core terminating in ashlar blocked parapets, smaller attic storey octagonal drum rising to centre, polymer paint coated papier-mache dome. 2-leaf, glazed timber entrance door to centre flanked by narrow windows. Single storey, 4-bay advanced wing to left terminating in blocked cast-iron balustrade, flat-roofed viewing area. 2-storey, 3-bay advanced stairtower to right, canted end bay with tall stair windows.

Rectangular bronze commemorative plaque on white marble mount in lobby; stylised scrolled scallop pediment to centre, mitred border and square bosses to corner bearing astrological symbols, inscribed: MILLS OBSERVATORY; 1935; JOHN MILLS, MANUFACTURER, DUNDEE, DIRECTED THAT HIS ESTATE SHOULD BE DEVOTED TO THE PROVISION OF A BUILDING EQUIPPED WITH ASTRONOMICAL AND OTHER INSTRUMENTS SUITABLE FOR THE STUDY OF THE WONDER AND BEAUTY OF THE WORKS OF GOD IN CREATION. THIS OBSERVATORY HAS ACCORDINGLY BEEN ERECTED, EQUIPPED AND ENDOWED BY HIS TRUSTEES

Timber frame, plate glass, sash and case windows. Cast-iron rainwater goods.

INTERIOR: terrazzo floor to lobby, glazed timber double doors through to octagonal centre room; parquet flooring, timber box seating fitted to central pier. Small education room to rear, glazed timber double doors to right leading to stairwell. Sun burst patterned Art Deco cast-iron railings to stairs. Low ceiling to 2nd storey central room, painted pine boarded walls and ceiling, pier to centre with fitted bent wood benching, timber door to left opens to large, paved roof terrace with decorative period cast-iron railings. Narrow curved stairs to 3rd storey observation deck within dome. Telescope mount to centre, rotation of dome and opening of aperture operated by original wheel and cog system including canvas screen hoisted to cover lower part of aperture in poor weather.

The present principal (fixed) telescope was installed at the observatory by St Andrews University in 1951 replacing the original 18 inch Newtonian was only capable of photographic work and therefore unsuitable for the observatory's intended use as a public facility. The present telescope itself is an 1871, 10 inch refracting fixed telescope by Thomas Cooke & Son, York previously owned by Walter Goodacre, president of the British Astronomical Association and previously located at Four Marks Observatory, Winchester before its purchase by St Andrews University on Goodacre's death in 1938.

Statement of Interest

This elegant, purpose built Art Deco building includes several interesting technical features. The central spaces are dominated by the chamfered, load bearing and freestanding central pier which runs through the core of the building from the telescope mount down to the bedrock. The building itself is constructed so that a ? inch gap space is left between the floor boards and pier on each level. These combined features were included to insure that the telescope was not affected by building vibration. Of particular interest is the rotating papier-mache dome built by Grubb Parsons & Co Optical Works, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The only other example in the world is the dome of the David Dunlap Observatory, Toronto also manufactured by Grubb Parsons.

The architect, James MacLellan Brown, was successor to James Thomson as Dundee City Architect in the 1930s and was also responsible for developing Burnet's plans for the City Chambers and Broughty Ferry Library as well as numerous tenement schemes. The observatory was designed in consultation with Professor Ralph Allen Sampson (1869-1939), the Astronomer Royal for Scotland.

The Mills observatory is the only full-time public observatory in Britain and was originally funded by a bequest to the City from John Mills, Linen and Twine Manufacturer.

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