10th July 2019:

Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire has joined the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The historical significance of the site has long been recognised, and in 2015, Oxford Archaeology North visited the site to carry out a building survey of the telescope’s control buildings.

The Lovell telescope and its control buildings were constructed between 1952 and 1957. The new telescope witnessed the dawn of the space age and was the only telescope in the world that could detect the booster rocket of Sputnik I and confirm that mankind had for the first time ventured from the planet. Throughout the 1960s, the telescope was involved in the monitoring of many more space missions and has also played important roles in the discovery of pulsars, the mapping of the universe and the search for extra-terrestrial life.

From an examination of the buildings and documentary evidence, the survey team was able to trace the development of the complex. The original control buildings were constructed in red brick and comprised a central observation range with a double-height window from which the telescope could be operated. The laboratories were housed in a pair of long rectangular single-storey wings that flank the central range. Over the decades, the interior layout has been reorganised many times, while the ground plan has been repeatedly extended with the construction of temporary prefabricated structures. It must be somewhat of a rarity for modern prefabricated buildings to be awarded World Heritage Status.

Though some features have been lost, the buildings retain evidence of their 1950s’ origins. The art-deco-style lobby, with its raised platform from which the telescope could be viewed, still survives, as does the control room’s original enamelled control desk, from which the operator could adjust the direction of the 250ft dish to focus on any part of the sky.

OA North’s work at Jodrell has helped to ensure the preservation of this fascinating and iconic site through the recognition of the importance of its heritage.