Edinburgh World Heritage

The ingenious Mr Short

How did the King of Denmark's telescope end up on Calton Hill?

In the mid-1700’s the Edinburgh optician James Short was one of the world’s leading telescope makers. He made telescopes for the king of Spain, and even taught Princes in astronomy and   mathematics.
When his brother  Thomas Short took over the business in 1776, perhaps the most valuable part of the  inheritance was a 12 inch Gregorian telescope intended for the King of Denmark.

When funds for the observatory ran out and building work stopped, a legal battle erupted between      Thomas and the town council.The council seized the primary mirror from the telescope to pay for the debts. The dispute lasted many years and almost reached the House of Lords.

The mirror was returned in 1820, when Thomas Short’s daughter Maria successfully petitioned the town council. In 1827 Maria Short built a wooden observatory next to the National Monument on Calton Hill. It housed the telescope and a camera obscura, and although very popular it was criticised as being ’un-scientific’.

Eventually she was evicted, the observatory demolished, and Maria took her camera obscura to Castlehill, where you can still see it today

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