Inventories (research guide)

From time to time, inventories of the Observatory’s instruments were compiled for or by the Board of Visitors. Although this was sometimes done on an annual basis, often it was not. Of the surviving documents, some are complete lists with no amendments, some are lists (or copies of lists?) which have been overwritten with amendments. Others are just lists of changes to an existing inventory.

The documents are held in two separate archives - those of the Royal Society in London, and those of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Cambridge. Sometimes they have been catalogued as inventories, sometimes as lists and sometimes as catalogues. The documents at Cambridge in RGO6/21 & RGO6/22 are copies made in the 1850s of originals (or copies of the originals?) held by the Royal Society. As can be seen from the table below, the location of much of the original material that was copied is currently unknown. It may reside with the Council minutes.

Some lists are dated, others are not. Where a list carries both a date and later amendments, the date has to be regarded as ambiguous. It may represent the date of the original list, or it may it may be the date when the amendments were made. A detailed comparison of the different lists might shed some light on this.

 

Inventories 1711–1831

The table below lists the locations of copies of the inventories. There are omissions from the inventories, particularly of the less significant instruments which were no longer useful.

 

Date
Location
Type
Comment
1712/13 RS DM5/47
  Copy in:
RGO6/21/10–12
Descriptive account with details of deficiencies and additional instruments required
‘ordered that Mr Rowley the Mathematical Instrument maker shall make his report of the Number and condition of the instruments at the Observatory at Greenwich’. 12 Jun 1712 (RGO6/21/6)

1726 May 12 RGO6/21/15–16 Descriptive account Locations listed: A room adjoining to the west end of the house [Halley’s Transit Room], The Great Room, Building in the garden from off the south east corner of the house [Halley’s Quadrant Room]

1727 May 16 RGO6/21/20–22 Descriptive account Locations listed: Room ... to the West side of the Observatory [Halley’s Transit Room], SE of teh Observatory [Quadrant House], Great Room.
The inventory is followed by  breakdown of the costs of the new instruments.

1762 Aug 18 RGO4/305/1
  Copy in:
RGO6/21/45–47
Full list (copy) Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Great Room of the Dwelling House, West End of the House [Halley’s Transit Room], The Western Summer House.
Also lists instruments on loan from the Royal Society

1765 Mar 16 RS MS600/8–9
  Copy in:
RGO6/21/78–80
Full list compiled by Maskelyne
Locations listed: 1. Transit Room, 2. Quadrant Room, 3. The Middle Room, 4. The Great Room, 5. West End of the Terrace [Halley’s Transit Room], 6. The woodhouse

1774 Dec 14 RGO4/309/5
  Copy in:
RGO6/21/130–134

Rough copy in:
  RGO4/309/2 & 4
Full list

RGO4/309/2 & 4
differ from RGO4/309/5
Locations listed: I. Transit Room, II. Quadrant Room, III. The Middle Room, IV. South Room with the moveable Roof, V. The Great Room, VI. The House, VII. The Wood House, VIII. The E Sector Observatory at the end of the Terrace, IX. The W Sector Observatory at the end of the Terrace

1775 Jun 21 RGO4/309/6 & 7
  Copy in:
RGO6/21/137–140
Full list Locations listed: I. Transit Room, II. Quadrant Room, III. The Middle Room, IV. The Room in the Garden having a Versatile Roof, V. The Great Room, VI. The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the east end of the Terrace, VII. The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the west end of the Terrace, VIII. The Dwelling House

1776 Jul 10 RGO6/21/148–149 Records only the changes since the last visitation Locations listed: Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Room with teh movable roof in the Garden, The Great Room, New Observatory at the East End of the Terrace, New Observatory at the West End of the Terrace

1777 Jun 2 RGO6/21/151–152 Records only changes to the list of 1775 Locations listed: Quadrant Room, The Great Room, New Observatory at the West End of the Terrace, The Dwelling House

1778 Jul 13 RGO6/21/155 Records no change to the inventory of 1775 and the report of the year 1777

1779 Jul 13 RGO6/21/175 Not carried out as many instrument in packing cases because of building works

1780 Jul 4 RS MS600/26
  Copy in:
RGO6/21/177–178
Records only changes to the list of 1774 Dec 24 Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Great Room

1781 Aug 11 RGO6/21/189–196 Full list Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Great Room, The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the east end of the Terrace, The New Observatory with a movable roof at the west end of the Terrace, The Dwelling House

1783 Jul 25 RGO6/21/203–210 Full list Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of the Quadrant Rooom, The Middle Room, The Great Room, The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the east end of the Terrace, The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the west end of the Terrace, The Dwelling [House]

1784 (Aug 13?) RS MS600/29–32
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/3–6
Full list. Dated 1784, but with ammendments in a different hand
Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of the Quadrant Rooom, The Middle Room, The Great Room, The New Observatory with a movable roof at the east end of the Terrace, The New Observatory with a movable roof at the west end of the Terrace, The Dwelling [House]

1785 (Jul 29?) RS MS600/34–37
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/9–11
Full list Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of the Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Great Room, The New Observatory with a movable roof at the east end of the Terrace, The New Observatory with a movable roof at the west end of the Terrace, The Dwelling [House]

* 1786 RS MS600/39–41
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/13–14
Full list

The RGO6 copy lists only differences from the preceeding year
Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of the Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Great Room, The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the east end of the Terrace, The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the west end of the Terrace, The Dwelling [House]

1787 Jul 27 RS MS600/43
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/16
Records no change to the inventory of 1786

1788 Aug 1 RS MS600/46
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/20
Records only changes to the list of the preceeding years
Locations listed: Transit Room

1789 Jul 31 RS MS600/47
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/21–22
Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years

1790 Jul 16 RS MS600/49
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/23
Records only changes to the list of the preceeding years Locations listed: Quadrant Room

1791 Jul 29 RS MS600/54 Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years

1792 Jul 13 RGO6/22/28
  Incomplete copy in: RS MS600/55–56
Records only additions to the list of the preceeding years

1793 Jul 5 RGO6/22/30 Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years

1806 Jul 11 RS MS600/58 Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years

1807 Jul 10 RS MS600/63 Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years

1809 Jul 7 RS MS600/64
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/59–60
Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years

1810 Aug 3 RGO6/22/62 Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years

1811 May 7 RGO6/22/65 Records no change to the lists of the preceeding years. See note right
Following the death of Maskelyne, an additional Vistation took place on 7 May 1811. The minutes record: ‘The instruments were examined according to the list and found to be in their places together with some which have never yet been added to the list. Resolved that the Astronomer [Pond] be requested to deliver to the Council a list of such instruments as are entrusted to his care and to sign it with his name.’

1811 Jul 19 RS MS600/66
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/66–68
No record of any inventory being checked
This was the regular Visitation. There is no reord of the instruments being checked, presumably because they had been examined only recently

1812 Jul 3 RS MS600/67
  Copy in:
RGO6/22/71–72
In these minutes, there is no record of the inventory having been checked at the Visitation

Undated, 1798 or later, pre 1812
RS MS372/165 Full List, undated but post 1797, with later overwriting of unknown date Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of the Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Great Room, The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the east end of the Terrace, The New Observatory with a verstatile roof at the west end of the Terrace, The Dwelling [House]
 
Undated, 1805 or later, pre 1812 RS MS372/169 Full List, undated, with later overwriting of unknown date Locations listed: Transit Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of the Quadrant Room, The Middle Room, The Great Room, The New Observatory with a versatile roof at the east end of the Terrace, The New Observatory with a verstatile roof at the west end of the Terrace, The Dwelling [House].
Refers to second volume of Bradley’s observations being presented 1805, March 21
 
1818 Jun 26 RS MS372/170 Full list compiled by Taylor (First Assistant)
Locations listed: Transit Room, Assistant’s Calculating Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of Quadrant Room, Great Room & Dwelling, New Observatory east end of the Terrace, Observatory at the west end of Terrace, Circle Room

Undated, post 1818, pre Sep 1821 RGO6/54/14–18 Full list with later amendments Locations listed: Transit Room, Middle Room, Quadrant Room, Enlarged Room South of Quadrant Room, Great Room & Dwelling, New Observatory east end of the Terrace, New Observatory at the west end of Terrace, Circle Room, Magnetic House in the Garden

Undated RS MS/372/171 Full list, undated, which has been overwritten in 1819, 1821 & 1823 & 1824? or 5? or 7? Locations listed: 1. Circle Room, 2. Transit Room, 3. Middle Room, 4. Quadrant Room, 5. Enlarged Room S of Quadrant Room, 6. New Observatory East, 7. New Observatory West, Great Room & Dwelling House, Zenith Tube, Magnetic House in the Garden, Library, Old Instruments in the Out House

1824 Jun 4 RS MS/371/70
  See also:
RS MS/371/28
Full list dated 4 June 1824, with later overwriting of unknown date
Locations listed: 1. Circle Room, 2. Transit Room, 3. Middle Room, 4. Quadrant Room, 5. Enlarged Room, 6. Magnetic House, 7. Library, 8. Observatory at the east end of the Terrace, 9. Observatory at the west end of the Terrace, 10. Zenith Tube, 11. Great Room

Undated, post 1824 RGO6/54/22–29 Full list with later amendments Locations listed: Great Room, Eastern Dome, Western Dome, Circle Room, Transit Room, Calculating Room, Quadrant Room, Advanced Room south of the Quadrant Room

1830 RS MS/371/71 Full list dated 1830, but with later overwriting of unknown date Locations listed: 1. Great Room, 2. Eastern Dome, 3.Western Dome, 4. Circle Room, 5. Transit Room, 6. Calculating Room, 7. Quadrant Room, 8. Advanced Room

1831 RGO6/54 Full list, carrying the date 1831 in a different hand as well as some later amendments
Locations listed: Great Room, Eastern Dome, Western Dome, Circle Room, Transit Room, Computing Room, Quadrant Room, Advanced Room

 

No minutes of the Visitations have been found in RGO6/22 for the following years, though for those marked (*) there is a reference to them (or a report) having been read:

*1813 Jul 23, *1814 Jul 22, *1815 Jun 30, *1816, Jul 19, 1817, Jul 12, *1818 Jun 26, *1819 Jul 16, 1820 Jul 14, *1821 Jun 30, *1822 Jun 15, *1823 Jun 14, 1824 Jun 4, *1825 Jun 17, *1826 Jun 2, *1827, *1828, Jun 7, 1829 Jun 13, 1830 May 29

 

Inventories 1831 onwards

Following the reform of the Board of Visitors in 1830, copies of the inventories appear to have been no longer held by the Royal Society. The instruments were still inspected annually and checked against ‘the list’ as was reported in the minutes of each visitation (ADM190/4 & 6). Inventories were not however kept with the minutes, though a note does appear to have been made in the minutes of any changes. As the inventories became ever longer, they were not formally checked by the Visitors; additions to the equipment of the Observatory were however still recorded in the minutes up to and including 1964, after which the Board of Visitors was dissolved.

It would seem that the principle followed (at least to start with) was that items in each room were given a number, new items for that room being allocated the next available number. It was this together with a brief description that was referred to in the minutes. Each room had its own set of numbers. Because of the way the inventories were compiled and because the ‘master lists’ were never labelled as such, much care needs to be taken in reconciling the different sources of information.

With Airy’s arrival as Astronomer Royal in 1835, the inventories became far more detailed. Minor items were included as a matter of course and descriptions became much more precise. Prior to 1835, many of the clocks listed in the inventories were not named and only a description was given. It was Airy who assigned names to the clocks. These include the three clocks made by George Graham, which are now known as ‘Graham 1’, ‘Graham 2’ and ‘Graham 3’. The clocks were not however given identifying marks. As well as lists of instruments, lists of furniture and fixtures and fittings were also compiled, sometimes as separate catalogues, but at other times in combined catalogues.

What are assumed to be the ‘master lists’ are held in the archives of the Royal Observatory at Cambridge, seemingly in RGO39. Links to sections of the catalogue of the Observatory’s archive where inventories are known to have been listed are given below. They should not be regarded as exhaustive.

RGO6 RGO7 RGO39