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13 November 2014

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You are in: Humber > History > Features > Cooke commemoration

A recreation of Thomas Cooke's first shop as seen in the Castle Museum, York

A model of Thomas Cooke's first shop

Cooke commemoration

There are plans for a new memorial to be erected in East Yorkshire to mark the birthplace of a pioneering engineer.

Lots of famous people have been born in East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire. Actress Maureen Lipman, flying pioneer Amy Johnson, John Wesley, the founder of the Wesleyan Church and Thomas Cooke, not the travel agent but a 19th century telescope maker.

Thomas Cooke was born in Allerthorpe near Pocklington in East Yorkshire in 1807.

The son of a shoemaker, he originally dreamt of going to sea and of being a ship’s navigator but his mother persuaded him it would be too dangerous.

Thomas Cooke, 19th century telescope maker

Thomas Cooke, the 19th century telescope maker

Instead Thomas Cooke became first a teacher of mathematics and later, when he was 30, he set up a workshop in York, making scientific instruments, using a £100 loan from his wife’s uncle.

By the end of his life, in 1868, he had put Britain at the forefront of optical engineering in Europe.

Now one of Thomas Cooke’s descendents, Professor Fred Cooke, is calling for a modest memorial to be put up in Thomas Cooke’s home village of Allerthorpe.

Big telescopes

Thomas Cooke is best known for his astronomical telescopes, which were some of the biggest made in Britain in the 19th century.

The largest telescope he made was the 25 inch “ Newall “ refractor. Its main lens was over 2 feet in diameter and it was made for Robert Sterling Newall, a rich industrialist based in Northumberland.

The telescope was later moved to Cambridge University and in 1959 to its current home, the Mt. Penteli observatory in Greece.

The Royal Observatory's 'onion' dome with Cooke's 28-inch telescope

Royal Observatory. © National Maritime Museum

His reputation established as an instrument maker of genius, Cooke made many other telescopes, including one for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and one for Prince Albert.

A Cooke telescope is still in use at the Carter Observatory, the national observatory of New Zealand.


Thomas Cooke is now largely forgotten but his descendent, Prof. Fred Cooke, has offered to make a contribution towards the cost of a modest memorial in Allerthorpe.

Richard Dunn, the Curator of the history of Navigation at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich agrees Thomas Cooke’s achievements should be commemorated.

He says "His firm built telescopes of outstanding quality that were used in many professional and private observatories and which underpinned important astronomical work. His contribution to Victorian science is certainly worthy celebrating."

last updated: 28/04/2009 at 08:33
created: 31/03/2009

You are in: Humber > History > Features > Cooke commemoration

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