Developing an idea that came up at Cambridge City Council’s full council this evening
So the next question is ‘where would we place such a telescope?’
Because in Cambridge, we have light pollution issues – which seem to have gotten worse with the new LED street lights, something Public Health England picked up on recently as being a health hazard. The question then is, where to site the telescope that is both accessible and avoids light pollution?
The only place I could think of was at the top of Castle Hill. Existing tall buildings in Cambridge are generally off limits. The only place in the city centre where such a public telescope could be built is on the Shire Hall site on Castle Hill.
“But isn’t the Castle Mound a historical monument?”
It is – and with good reason. See the official listing here. Yet with Cambridgeshire County Council’s Conservatives wanting to move out of Shire Hall anyway, this leaves the door open for part of the site to be used for a new monument and memorial to Stephen Hawking.
“Doesn’t it get in the way of a proposed expansion of the Museum of Cambridge?”
I wrote about this recently here – and a public telescope could easily complement such a plan: Simply put the telescope on the roof of the expanded Museum of Cambridge modelled on the old Shire Hall Court House, demolished against the wishes of Cambridge City Council in the mid-1950s.
From the Historic England Archive – the old Shire Hall Court House.
From the Cambridgeshire Collection 22 Jan 1953: Note the commitment to rebuild the facade elsewhere.
Historic England’s photo archive.
There are a whole series of photos from their archive on Cambridge the town here. Two that caught my eye included these lost models of the old court building, which show two court rooms behind the facade.
From Historic England, models of the old court house at Castle Hill
As I’ve mentioned before, I’d love to see the facade rebuilt and incorporated into an expanded Museum of Cambridge.
From Britain From Above – the Shire Hall site just before the demolition of the old courts, with Castle Mound behind it.
The added bonus of having a Stephen Hawking telescope on the roof of the rebuilt/improved court building is that it would bring in visitors to an expanded Museum of Cambridge, extend the ‘tourist trail’ northwards to the top of the hill, and potentially help protect the Castle Mound assuming the roof of the telescope was built to a height that gave similar views. Furthermore, it brings in a degree of protection and security for the telescope from any vandalism as the site can be easily secured. Note historically there also used to be a police station in the building next to the old courthouse – today the home of the Cambridge branch of Unison!
In terms of access, I envisage anything from lifts, escalators, stone/concrete steps to even an extended ramp and/or wide footpath over earthworks along the side of the rebuilt building giving the public access without having need to pay for access. At the same time, I’d like to see a cafe or restaurant around the back of the building open till late that could also be both a meeting point for people and provide a built in human/security presence at the same time. Because access to the telescope late on into the evening goes without saying.