NLO News: October 1995


Sir Howard Grubb

maker of the McClean 10 inch telescope.

by Ruth Grubb:

nlo5112a.jpg (38789 bytes)The Grubb family is very well documented, going back to Jerutha Grubbe of Denmark in A.D. 102. As with all families there were rich times and poor times, times for exploring and times for invention. By 1777, William Grubb had been born, married twice and produced six children. Thomas was the fifth child, bom in 1800 and he married Sarah Palmer in 1826.

Thomas was chief engineer of the Bank of Ireland. His interests and hobbies included optical and mechanical experiments. In his private workshop in Dublin, he constructed several large telescopes including the Armagh 15 inch in 1835, the Marhree 13 inch refractor and the Dunsink 12 inch refractor. He also made many other instruments and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1864 and of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1870. He was already a member of the Irish Academy.

Thomas had eight children and in 1844 Howard, later to become Sir Howard, was born. In 1871, he married Mary Walker. Through his father and a near neighbour, the Earl of Rosse, he developed a keen interest in optical instruments. He was educated at a private school and later at Trinity College, Dublin as a civil engineer,

His father had a private observatory and was busy manufacturing optical instruments, when, at the age of twenty, Thomas entered the business. He oversaw the manufacture of the 48 inch telescope for the Melbourne observatory in Australia. It .vas said to be a masterpiece of engineering.

ln 1868, Thomas retired, the firm moved to larger promises and Howard's reputation grew, surpassing even his father's. Something which helped him was his understanding of what the observer wanted - less work in controlling the instrument so that more attention could be put into observing,

The 27 inch refractor for Vienna was built in 1878 and the family established the company. Howard was knighted in 1887. In this year the International Astronomical Congress was held in Paris for organising A systematic photographic survey of the heavens in both hemispheres and for the preparation of an International Astrographic Catalogue and a chart. Then telescopes were ordered for the purpose. Sir Howard supplied seven of these instruments. At this time he was superior in making improvements to the driving mechanisms of equatorial telescopes.

Sir Howard also made and designed many other optical instruments for astronomical work, including a 30 inch siderostat for the Smithsonian Institute, a spectro- heliograph for Madrid Observatory and numerous other coelostats and heliostats. He perfected the periscope for British submarines, invented a new sort of gun-sight involving telescopes and periscopes and also non-dazzle headlights.

As he was involved with so much secret war work, his factory was moved to St Albans. In 1925, the works were acquired by Sir Charles Parsons, the firm then becoming the Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons Company, with works at Newcastle upon Tyne. Sir Charles Parsons was the son of the third Earl of Rosse; the connection had gone full circle. Sir Howard retired aged 81 years.

Sir Howard was also engaged in many public activities, awarded various medals and honours including an honorary degree of Master of Engineering in the University of Dublin. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Astronomical Society. He was a well liked and patient man, who entertained a wide circle of friends. He died in 1931 leaving six children and a vast amount of scientific knowledge, and a huge number of instruments behind him, including plans for a floating telescope.

Editors note:

The Sidmouth and District Astronomical Society was honoured to receive the family of Sir Howard Grubb's great-grandson, Christopher Grubb and his mother at the Observatory and to show them the Grubb 10-inch telescope, which we call the McClean. They are local residents and we are delighted to welcome them to an association with the Observatory, and the McClean telescope.


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