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William Herschel Telescope Papers and Records, 1979 - 1995

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 106

Scope and Contents

Papers and photographs recording the planning and manufacture of the William Herschel Telescope for La Palma Observatory.

A series of photograph albums provides a record of the manufacture of the telescope. These include photographs recording the preparation of the 4.2m mirror, and manufacturers' photographs of the mount, tube, mechanical drives and control panels.

Paper records include review panel papers (including papers on costs and specifications, etc.), instrumentation questionnaires, and 1995 documentation for the WHT Natural Guide Star Adaptive Optical System, Version 2.1.


  • Creation: 1979 - 1995


Conditions Governing Access

From the Management Group:

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

The William Herschel Telescope (WHT) is an optical/near-infrared reflecting telescope which was built at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos in the 1980s and saw first light on 1 June 1987. With a mirror width of 4.2m, it was the third largest single optical telescope in the world at the time of its construction and was the final telescope constructed by Grubb Parsons in their 150-year history. In La Palma, it forms part of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, along with the INT and the Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope, all of which were under the control of the RGO until its closure in 1998.

The WHT was first conceived of in 1969 by the Northern Hemisphere Observatory Project, when the British astronomical community saw the need for telescopes of comparable power to the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) in the northern hemisphere. The project, which was led by the RGO, originally envisaged a 4.5m telescope to accompany the INT and JKT. By 1979, to reduce costs, a high performance, more compact telescope was chosen with a reduced aperture and focal length, allowing for a smaller dome. Grubb Parsons began work on the WHT in their workshop at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1983, and the telescope was shipped to La Palma in 1985.

Equipped with a wide range of instrumentation, the WHT has been used to conduct a range of research, including the first identification of a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, and the first optical observation of a gamma-ray burst.


0.06 cubic metre(s) (5 archive boxes and 1 photograph album) : paper, colour photographs, film negatives


Arranged in chronological order.

Custodial History

RGO 106/1-5 are internally collated records. RGO 106/6, WHT photographs by Howard Stevenson, were donated by Lyn Stevenson on 2 February 2022.

Processing Information

Catalogued by Dr Emma Saunders, December 2021.

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom