Thomas and Howard Grubb

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In 1833-34, Thomas Romney Robinson commissioned Thomas Grubb (1800-1878) to build a reflecting telescope with a fifteen inch mirror for Armagh Observatory. This was one of the first major commissions for the Grubb firm in Dublin which became leading international suppliers of telescopes and astronomical equipment, and the greatest scientific instrument makers which Ireland has produced. Thomas’ son, Howard (1844-1931), born in Dublin, joined his father’s firm in 1865. They built a 48 inch mirror diameter reflecting telescope for Melbourne in 1869, a 27 inch lens diameter refracting telescope for Vienna in 1880. They also supplied many other large telescopes for such places as Madras, Madrid, Mecca and Mississippi.

Howard achieved great international fame, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1864, and receiving a knighthood in 1887.
Grubb telescopes can be seen to-day at Armagh Observatory, Dunsink Observatory (Castleknock, Dublin), and here in the Crawford Observatory on the campus of University College Cork. All of these are refracting telescopes – that is, they use lenses rather than mirrors. (Charles Mollan)

Howard Grubb moved to England during the First World War, to work with Charles Parsons, the inventor of the first practical steam turbine. Charles was son of William Parsons (the Third Earl of Rosse), who built the “Birr Leviathan“, the largest telescope in the world for ~70 years (1848-1917).

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The company Howard and Charles founded, Grubb-Parsons (based in Newcastle Upon Tyne), continued to construct the highest quality telescopes up to the mid 1980’s. Their last telescope was the 4.2-m William Herschel Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Isles, arguably the most scientifically productive of its kind: a fitting trubute to the ingenuity of the Grubbs.