Victorian Astronomer’s Chair

In the Library at Lotherton Hall is a strange chair with a long, narrow, curved back made out of a single piece of wood. The supporting frame is so low that it almost scrapes along the ground and the back is at a delirious angle somewhere between 33 and 45 degrees. So what is it? It looks too low to be a nursing chair – how would the unfortunate nurse get out of it? – and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with books and reading. The only clue is a metal disc which is fixed to the inside of one of the legs with a die-stamped inscription. It reads W.CALLAGHAN REGISTERED LONDON JAN.15 1873 23A NEW BOND STREET. William Callaghan was an optician who practised in London and his name appears in trade directories between 1866 and 1892. The label tells us that he patented this design in 1873. Was it for his patients to sit in? Hardly; it would have been very difficult to examine them in that position. Much more likely it was for gazing at the stars. William seems to have had a sideline in optical equipment which he probably did not make himself but sold from his premises.

The chair has always looked a little out of place in the library. If only Lotherton had an observatory – but it hasn’t and the Gascoigne family who lived here don’t seem to have had any interest in stargazing. The chair is so interesting and unusual that we couldn’t possibly just leave it in store. Perhaps if we had a telescope to show alongside it…?

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