Just meters away from Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Observatory and Camera Obscura is one of Bristol’s most overlooked architectural icons and certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area!
Set 92 meters above the Clifton Down gorge, the Observatory was designed and built in the 18th century to be used as a mill for the production of snuff tobacco. However, it met its end as a mill during a storm in October 1777 when the sails were left up causing a fire to break out inside.
The mill remained empty for over half a century after the fire until it was rented to local artist “William West”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_West_(artist), who extended the windmill to create a new observatory, building a large dome to house a rotating telescope. He filled the observatory with a collection of maps, globes and optical instruments and even paid for a tunnel to be constructed, digging from the top of the cliff to the gorge below!
The camera obscura itself projects a panoramic view of the surrounding area onto a white surface inside a darkened room. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo of this! A box on top of the building contains a convex lens and sloping mirror. The light is then reflected vertically downward onto the table, giving an image of the surroundings. Perfect insight to the world of analogue photography!