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Other telescopes and equipment past and present

Beginning at the beginning I bought a pair of specialist binoculars second hand from a camera shop called ‘Photosound’ in Bishops Stortford Hertfordshire. They turned out to be an excellent purchase, I didn’t realise at the time just how good a make they were! You see they are made by Takahashi, I was attracted by the fact that they were large, 10x70’s and were called ‘Astronomer’ so I just had to have them.

This was way back in 1999 I think and I recall paying about £250 for them which to a potential astronomer was serious money, my wife thought I had lost the plot and serious matrimonial discord followed the purchase. I must add that I haggled the price down from £400. I have never seen another pair like them and would be delighted to hear from anyone who reads this who has.

Build quality is superb and they have fold back rubber dew shields that are very handy, they still sport a retailer’s sticker on them saying ‘Norman Fisher Ltd’ whom I have been told was the first to import Takahashi equipment into the UK !

Takahashi 10x70 Astronomer binoculars

My first telescope followed some 6 months later after the binoculars had worked their magic by showing me M13, M31, M42 to name but a few, although I have to admit I was looking for M13 every clear night for a month before I found it!

I bought a 4” Celestron achromatic refractor on a GEM EQ4 mount from the newly opened retailer Greenwich (then) of Dry Drayton, Cambridge. I remember vividly that Friday afternoon as I deliberated over the many and bewildering options in their show room. I narrowed it down to the Celestron or a slightly cheaper 5” Bresser badged refractor, in my ignorance I didn’t know that they had been produced in the same factory and the extra inch of aperture at the lower price was were my money should have gone instead of being swayed by the better known ‘American’ but made in China, Celestron for around £650.

So off I went with my shiny new 4” refractor home to Chipping where I still live, but had only just moved to then between buying the binoculars and this first telescope. Once again the purchase caused quite a reaction at home! In fact I believe that I actually moved out for a day or so over it

Since that point there have been arguments over astronomy and spending but never as bad again, phew!

I used and loved the refractor alongside the binoculars for the next year enjoying not only Lunar and planetary observation but continuing my search for Messier objects picking up around 80 over that first  12 ‘telescopic’ months staying out late on the lawn for just about every clear night working with my Norton Star Atlas.

Like most visual astronomers the 4” not only gave me first and memorable views of many wonders in the night sky but it infected me with ‘aperture fever’. It was this ‘condition’ which lead me to purchase my first large telescope, an amazing 14” Celestron ‘Starhopper’ Dobsonian. I bought this rather crude but optically superb and very usable reflector second-hand but unused from a chap who was to become a very close observing buddy for the next 5 years Ian ‘Buzz’ McKinnon of Luton.

I paid £800 for the scope which I think Buzz paid around £1300 for from David Hinds a year or so previously. Buzz had come into a little money and during a rush of blood to the head had bought a Celestron C8 and also the biggest telescope in the show room on the same day, the Star Hopper. It wasn’t long before he realised that the big Dob wasn’t suitable for his small garden & light polluted skies.

This was one if not the best purchase that I have made in astronomy it allowed me to go deep, way beyond the Messier catalogue which I soon completed. I took it to darker sites & star parties and became a very serious almost obsessive deep sky observer.

14” Star Hopper and 4” Celestron C102 refractor taken circa 2001 on the spot where the main observatory now stands

One man and his Dob, the trusty 14” Star Hopper in the garden at Chippingdale

By 2003 I had parted with the C102 refractor and with a summer opposition of Mars fast approaching I decided that I needed a planetary observing set up to enable me have my first good look at the red planet !

I bought a secondhand 5” Intes, Mak Cass 127 from Paul Yates in Yorkshire (now a friend) and I picked up a CG4 driven mount from someone who bought it with a Celestron C9.25 and ditched it straight away. These two made a great pair and during that long hot summer I made many early morning observations and started my drawing of celestial objects.

It was my good friend Mike Atkins who lives in Hoddesdon Hertfordshire that persuaded me that to build an observatory was the way forward and to do so would enhance my enjoyment of astronomy.

Mike was so right and I’m delighted that I followed his advice and accepted his assistance in building one, but that is another story !

So for now we have to accept that I have an observatory but my telescope remains a 14” Celestron Dobsonian, not exactly the ideal observatory telescope.

The very successful partnership of Intes 127 and Celestron CG4 mount to which I owe a great deal (they got me sketching)

I looked at the options and then looked at our finances! (yes he wanted a bigger mount too) what we saw and what we had were not the best match in history but there was one option that was affordable, that was to commission a driven fork mount from Barrie Watts of Beacon Hill Telescopes.

Mike and I drove up to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire where Barrie lived and work then before he moved to Louth. We discussed our requirements; looked at some examples of his work in progress and left to drive back home, rather bemused at why Barrie had insisted that we had drive hundreds of miles to accomplish what we could have done via phone? Anyhow not to worry, for Barrie soon sent us various options and prices. We made our choices and sent off our deposits. We were going for identical fork mounts; the only difference was mine would have wider forks to allow an up-grade one day to my dream 20”. Mike was happy to stick with 14” as under his heavily light polluted sky he saw no point in going any larger.

During the build which I think took maybe 6 months or so I made a lucky purchase, via a small ad in Astronomy Now I picked up an OTA assembly again 14” with a David Hinds F5 mirror and skeleton style open tube, made by Beacon Hill and for the princely sum of £250. This was offered by an Essex astronomy Society who were then ‘up-grading’ to a 12” SCT. The lovely couple selling it on behalf of their society Dave & Pauline McMillan remain good friends.

When I made this purchase I didn’t know how good David Hinds mirrors were! I know but we all have to learn in this life. It was my intention at the time to put the Celestron (actually made by Starsplitter) mirror into that tube and into the fork mount. This never happened the Beacon Hill set up went straight into the mount and kept me happy for years until the 20” observatory up-grade in early 2010.




The Dob remained my star party scope for a while before being replaced by the 20” Derek, more of that later, when the 14” Dob went to my friend Grant Ashman’s farm in darkest Wasdale, Cumbria for use on my then frequent visits.

Mike and I collected our mounts from Barrie in spring 2004 they had been fitted with full AWR GOTO capability for the total price of £2200 which we considered and still do excellent value.

Beacon Hill 14” Tube and cradle

The Starhopper during its Star Party days (Moat farm 2006)








Barrie Watts of Beacon Hill with the 2 very large mounts just fitting into Mike’s van!

The Mount



Newly installed mount prior to painting

It wasn’t long before I began to ‘stick’ refractors onto the 14” tube, first was an 80mm F5 Bresser rich field job, to act as finder, that remains to this day on the now 20”. I fitted a 150mm Helios Star travel F5 which I used for wide field observing and working with the deep sky video cameras when I got into those.

I then purchased a superb 105mm F15 Antares refractor from Mike Atkins who bought it down at Hertsmonceux, this was a first rate Lunar and solar White light scope and a great back up when seeing was too poor for planetary observation with the 14”, it was light as a feather and a cheap buy at £250 to this day I lament selling it. The Antares got considerably less use once I made my next acquisition, that  being a simply outstanding 153mm F9 Triplet apochromatic refractor, built by Phil Stone of Luton under his ‘Superscopes’ trade name.

The lens was designed by my close friend and glass maestro Es Reid and produced by his friend John Owen of Hebden Bridge, Lancashire. The performance of this telescope despite its optics being uncoated is simply exemplary, it has delighted me and every observer who has had the good fortune to look through it since it arrived at Chippingdale.

The Antares 105mm on a temporary mount
       before piggy backing on the 14”


The Antares got considerably less use once I made my next acquisition, that being a simply outstanding 153mm F9 Triplet apochromatic refractor, built by Phil Stone of Luton under his ‘Superscopes’ trade name. The lens was designed by my close friend and glass maestro Es Reid and produced by his friend John Owen of Hebden Bridge, Lancashire.

The performance of this telescope despite its optics being uncoated is simply exemplary, it has delighted me and every observer who has had the good fortune to look through it since it arrived at Chippingdale. Now I have shown the Coronado PST Ha solar scope I had better explain how it came to Chippingdale? Having been interested in solar observing for quite some time, enjoying white light observations and sketching sun spots I decided that I wanted to get into Ha observing.

The revolutionary PST had not been long on the market and was proving a hit; I got to look through a few at Star parties and thought they offered a reasonable and exciting view at good value.

When my friend Buzz McKinnon asked if I wanted him to pick anything up while he was on a trip to the states I said “a PST please”, Buzz true to his word  returned with a Brand New PST from Las Vegas for a bargain £350 (cheers Buzz)

The PST in action at Kelling Heath 2008-sorry about the legs!