Thomas Wright Observatory
Folly Bishop Auckland County Durham

Thomas Wright Observatory

Folly In Bishop Auckland, County Durham

Observatory dating from 1765, built by local astronomer Thomas Wright.

We spotted the observatory on Google maps on one of our recent jaunts, and it is otherwise known as Wright's Folly or the Westerton Observatory. Work began on it in 1765 by Thomas Wright, who was an astronomer, mathematician, architect and garden designer. Phew!

Driven by his celestial pursuits, he purchased land in Westerton in 1758 and embarked on the ambitious project of building an observatory. The design inspired by Gothic Revival architecture, is three storeys high and has cross arrow slits on each floor for light, however the door has been covered up and there is no access inside now.

You can find plenty of information about Thomas Wright on the internet, and it seems he had quite a colourful youth. He was clearly very talented from a young age and tried his hand at various careers including clockmaking and seafaring, however, it was mathematics where he made a name for himself.

He opened a mathematical school in Sunderland aged just 20, which taught sailors about navigation. His interests continued to develop and in his early 30s he was offered a job as the Chief Professor of Navigation in St Petersburg, but turned it down to concentrate on his new career of designing gardens. Unfortunately, his style of gardens were trumped by Capability Brown and Thomas's head was turned back to astronomy.

Thomas Wright's passion for the night sky led him to propose a revolutionary theory in his 1750 publication, An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe. He argued that the Milky Way, our galaxy, was a flattened disc of stars with the sun residing near its centre. This concept, though not entirely accurate, laid the groundwork for our modern understanding of the Milky Way's structure.

As well as this building, Thomas Wright was also the designer behind the fantastic Auckland Castle Deer House and also the magnificent folly Codger Fort in the depths of Northumberland. You can see the Gothic style he favoured, in both of these designs. A fascinating man!

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How To Find Thomas Wright Observatory

Where Is Thomas Wright Observatory?

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Lat / Long

54.674038, -1.629083

What three words

players.educates.kickbacks

Where To Park For Thomas Wright Observatory?

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Lat / Long

54.673849, 54.673849

What three words

titles.teaches.bowls

There are a couple of spaces close to the observatory.

Contributed by Sandra Clemens

I love the great outdoors and have been a National Trust & English Heritage member for years. I also love going off the beaten track and finding places like Sharp's Folly or Rothley Castle which are hidden gems in Northumberland. My favourite recent hike was climbing Red Screes in the Lake District on a whim, not fully grasping how high 776m was. It was still an achievement to conquer a Wainwright walk and I hope to do more one day.

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Sandra Clemens

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Thomas Wright Observatory was listed in Folly // County Durham // Bishop Auckland