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Sir Howard Grubb Parsons & Company
Thomas Grubb 1800 - 1878
Thomas Grubb entered the scientific instrument business in the 1830s and quickly gained a name in the construction of telescopes. Largely self taught he ran his firm from Charlemont Bridge in Dublin where he developed both his mechanical and optical skills. As the market for telescopes was fairly limited it is likely Grubb made most of his money form his appointment as Engineer to the Bank of Ireland. He also appears to have made money from his patented cheap lenses.
By the 1850s the company had established a reputation for constructing quality telescopes and as early as the 1840s was constructing mirrors for refractors up to 15 inches in diameter. One of the firm's biggest challenges was the commission to construct a huge 48-inch reflector for Melbourne Observatory. This was to be the largest reflecting telescope in the world at the time and led Grubb to set up a separate workshop at Rathmines, Ireland. The workshop was developed by his son Howard Grubb after the retirement of his father in 1870. The build was not without its calamities however and at one stage the entire roof of the workshop went up in flames.
In 1887 astronomers from around the world embarked a massive new enterprise; known as the Carte du Ciel (Mapping the Stars) project, it involved photographing and measuring the stars in both hemispheres. In an attempt to standardise the photographs produced by different observatories telescopes with similar dimensions needed to be constructed to take the 20,000 plates the project was expected to produce.
British institutions preferred to patronize a British maker and in 1888 Howard Grubb took on the work of constructing seven of the astrographs needed. These had photographic tubes with 13 inch object-glasses and were built especially for observatories at Cape Town, Greenwich, Oxford, Melbourne, Sydney and Tacubaya, in Mexico.
In 1888 Melbourne and Perth requested complete Grubb telescopes while Sydney only requested the lens. The making of a lens was no simple matter and with other observatory's also requesting lenses Sydney Observatory did not receive theirs until 1890, some time after the casing and fittings for the 'Star Camera' had been completed. Melbourne's telescope also arrived in 1890. The Perth telescope arrived in 1897.
Contracts for large telescopes began to dry up in the later part of the nineteenth century and during the First World War the business began to focus to military optics. In 1918 Howard Grubb shifted the businesses to St Albans. Shortly after this the business, which was in financial difficulties, was acquired by Sir Charles Parsons and in 1925 was renamed Sir Howard Grubb Parsons and Co Ltd (known as Grubb Parsons). The new works were established alongside Parsons turbine works at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
By 1955 the company was still a relatively small concern employing about 150 peopl and was a wholly owned subsidiary of C. A. Parsons and Co. Ltd, who specialised in making heavy electrical equipment. This company built optical components for a number of telescopes including the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring near Coonabarabran.
Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, May 2008
Glass, I. S., Victorian Telescope Makers; the Lives and Letters of Thomas and Howard Grubb, Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia, 1997
King, H. C., The History of the Telescope, Dover Publications, New York, 1955
G. M. Sisson, 'Sir Howard Grubb, Parsons, and Company', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Vol. 230, No. 1181, June 21, 1955, pp. 147-157
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