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Early days at Jodrell Bank and the Park Royal


How Jodrell Bank began
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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Christmas came and I think I went away for the New Year, and I went back to Jodrell and started up the equipment again. I wanted to get away from the Botany department. I had then obtained one of my... someone who had been in TRE but not in my group called JA Clegg, and together we ordered loads of stone and made a track, so that we could get into what is now near the powerhouse. And we then towed the equipment over that, and I set it up near the powerhouse, in what is now recognised as one of the entrances to Jodrell Bank and thereby we got power by winding the diesel and then a series of interesting things occurred. Why wasn't I summoned back into Manchester? Two weeks had elapsed.

The answer is that Blackett had become involved in a bitter dispute with the inner cabinet of Attlee's government over the development of atomic energy and atomic bombs by Great Britain, and he had sent in a minority report to the Cabinet, opposing this and giving his reasons for opposing it. Now, Margaret Gowing subsequently wrote two wonderful books on the development of atomic energy in Great Britain, and she reveals there that this minority report of Blackett went to the Prime Minister Attlee and he and he sent it to the Head of Defence and they scrawled most incredible remarks over it, such as... This man is a scientist, he knows nothing about defence. And this is just after the Americans had awarded him a medal for his help during the war, incidentally. And Blackett became... he became very angry and he began writing the military and political consequences of atomic energy and this completely diverted him, and he became angry and... and bitterly... in a very bitter way involved in this dispute about the development of atomic energy in Great Britain, and the book had a world circulation. He became excluded from America. In fact, he had once in that year had been in an aircraft which had to make a forced landing somewhere in New York and he was arrested and spent an unpleasant night in prison on his way to Canada. So it's understandable that he had completely forgotten about the young man Lovell that he'd allowed to go to Jodrell Bank for two weeks.

Well, when he calmed down in the summer of 1946, he came out... he realised that this man Lovell was still at a place called Jodrell Bank, so he came out to see what was happening, and by that time we had understood that this equipment was studying not cosmic ray air showers, but meteor showers. Now, Blackett... he immediately became fascinated and there was never anymore talk of us moving back to Manchester, so that's how Jodrell Bank began.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Megan Argo Alastair Gunn

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Tags: Jodrell Bank, Christmas, Telecommunications Research Establishment, Manchester, Great Britain, World War II, USA, New York, Canada, Patrick Blackett, Clement Attlee, Margaret Gowing

Duration: 3 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008