The Observatory, named after Sir Norman Lockyer, Started as a collection of instruments which he – as a self-taught astrophysicist, scientific journalist and entrepreneur – hoped would form the basis of a new kind of observatory. The Solar Physics Observatory became recognised in 1881, with Lockyer in charge. It closed in 1912 when most of the staff and instruments went to Cambridge.
When Lockyer moved to Sidmouth from London in 1912 he brought with him one telescope, the Kensington, and was given another, the McClean. Funds were raised, land given and two domes and a headquarters building were constructed. The place was referred to as the Hill Observatory. Lockyer was 75 and had handed over much of the editing of Nature to his deputy Richard Gregory. He engaged assistants and re-started the work of examining the spectra of stars using the two telescopes.
When Lockyer died in 1920, his son James, a trained astrophysicist now back from the war, became director and the observatory became known as the Norman Lockyer Observatory. Dr.W.J.S.Lockyer died suddenly in 1936. Funds were hard to find and in 1948 Exeter University took over the running of the Observatory.
The last professional astronomer left in 1962. Following acquisition in 1984 by the East Devon District Council, the Observatory is now a centre for public science education as well as being the home of the Norman Lockyer Observatory Society.