At first light

Jodrell Bank, Cheshire

Jodrell Bank Observatory, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of The University of Manchester, is a working research facility that has supported the discovery of meteors, black holes, and the afterglow of the Big Bang. Last month saw the opening of its First Light Pavilion (pictured), which contains a new permanent exhibition telling the story of the site’s world-leading contributions to science, heritage, and culture.

Located in a field in Cheshire, the facility has been at the cutting-edge of astronomical research since its foundation by physicist Sir Bernard Lovell in 1945. Its four telescopes include the Lovell Telescope, a Grade I-listed instrument with a 76.2m-diameter dish, which has been ‘listening’ to the skies since 1957. As one of the largest fully steerable radio telescopes in the world, this device was used during the Cold War to track space missions and even missiles.

The skin of the telescope’s metal dish has been incorporated into the fabric of the new exhibition space (created by Casson Mann), and – although the pavilion resembles a prehistoric burial mound – it in fact mirrors the shape and scale of the dish itself. Nodding to ancient traditions of creating structures with celestial alignments, though, the building (designed by Hassell) also contains a Meridian Line and a glass cut-out that acts as a giant sundial.

Inside, visitors can explore the stories of the site’s scientists and engineers through interactive archival materials, including audio, film, diaries, letters, plans, and photographs, as well as immersive digital displays and projections.

Eilish McGuinness, CEO of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which supported the development, said: ‘Jodrell Bank is a truly unique heritage site, of national and international importance. The National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded £12.5m so that the site’s powerful human stories of curiosity, exploration, and discovery could be shared with everyone.’

For more information, see

Text: H Blair
Image: © Andrew Brooks
Send your images to
Images must be high resolution (300dpi) and in landscape format, minimum 20cm high by 30cm wide.