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My Favourite Planet > Blogs > Cheshire Cat Blog > 2010
back The Cheshire Cat Blog
7 October 2010
Owl Telescope by Gordon Mcleod at The Cheshire Cat Blog
The Owl and the Telescope - Part 1
When a photo by the legendary Gordon Mcleod recently arrived at the My Favourite Planet headquarters
by camel caravan from Wales, it prodded The Cheshire Cat to look further into the mysterious world
of Owl Telescopes, which stand sentinel around Britain's coastline.

For those who still refuse to believe that owls use telescopes, here finally is the indisputable evidence. As yet, we have not been able to obtain a photo an owl using one of these devices, which they do at night, apparently, after the holiday-makers have gone back to their bed & breakfasts.

But Gordon assures us that he is on the case and plans all-night vigils to capture these shy creatures' observing habits... as soon as he can obtain a camera lens which can cope with the tricky low-light conditions and an owl-proof thermos flask for his Earl Grey tea.

Criccieth, North Wales. Photo: © Gordon Mcleod
Owl Telescope instructions

Handy cut-out-and-keep instructions for using an Owl Telescope.

Do not point at the sun.

The sun apparently gets very offended when people point at it, though this presents no major problems for nocturnal owls who do not indulge in such rude habits.

The cunning telescope manufacturers have neglected to mention how many milliseconds of peeping time owls get for their money. We have not yet discovered how the owls carry all the 20 pence coins needed for a decent observation session, but we suspect they may have learned some tricks from the pelicans (not shown in picture).

Hold child on the stand.

Unfortunately, the manufacturers also forgot to provide the child one is required to hold on the stand, and since our intrepid photographer had not brought one with him, he was uncertain how he should proceed. So he didn't.

Photo: © Gordon Mcleod

Owl Telescope in Criccieth, North Wales by Gordon Mcleod

A late summer gathering of the Owl Telescope Fan Club (Criccieth Chapter)

The committee minutes can be read at the Llareggub public library.
The Owl Telescope was originally invented by Mr. Tawny Owl of Crewe in Cheshire, the eldest son of the Owl and the Pussycat. His mother was actually a second cousin of the Cheshire Cat on her mother's side; the renowned Crewe branchline of the family. His father was one of the Barnes Owls. The parents' romantic sea voyage and moonlit wedding were immortalized in verse by the writer and artist Edward Lear (1812-1888) who was a close friend of the couple.
  Owl's school days in Crewe

Tawny Owl (third from left)
at owl school in Crewe
The Owl and the Pussycat   by Edward Lear
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

  The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! Too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
  they were married next day by the Turkey who lives on the hill

Lear later became godfather to the young Tawny and encouraged his interest in observing distant objects.

The land where the Bong tree grows has now been identified by scholars as being North Wales *, and it is no coincidence that Owl Telescopes can be found at several locations along the coast there. As a child Tawny Owl spent many happy summers with his parents at the Welsh seaside and vowed to contribute to the pleasure of future visitors, human and avian and alike.

Mr. Owl senior had built a successful enterprise manufacturing optical instruments in Crewe, which explains the "plenty of money" mentioned by Lear. Owl junior had been fascinated by gazing through glass since his youth, so when he inherited the family business his mind was already set on expanding into telescopes.

His early attempts at producing "telescopes for everyowl" were a little cumbersome (see illustration, right), and local authorities of Welsh seaside resorts were understandably less than enthusiastic about installing them, especially as two attendants were required to look after them. However the wise young Owl hit on two revolutionary innovations: miniaturization and automation. The more compact coin-operated Owl Telescope Mark VIII proved a resounding success, and the rest, as they say, is owlstory.

* A bitter dispute still resounds through the halls of academia as to exactly which species the Bong-tree belongs. (See Larch's The Great Bong-Tree Controversy, Vols. I - XIII, Walnut Press 2004)

According to Prof. Dai "the Book" Davis of Menai Bridge University, the pig who sold the ring to the couple for a shilling was none other than the Right Honourable Mochyn Mawr of Conwy who used the bob (which was worth a lot more back then) to buy into the Llanfairfechan Squirrel Cartel and made a fortune during the great 1871 acorn boom.
Young Tawny Owl with Edward Lear

The teenage Tawny Owl (left) shows Lear
one of his first telescopes which he made
from an old barrel.

An early Owl Telescope

An early Owl Telescope (Mark III)
in Prestatyn, North Wales

Images courtesy of
Owl-Pussycat Archive, Crewe
seaside cartoon by Hablot Knight Browne

Seaside spyglass enthusiasts in the "bad old days" before the introduction
of the Owl Telescope. The young Tawny Owl can be seen (foreground right)
playing typical children's beach games with his human chums, while the portly
gentleman watches Tawny's parents out sailing in their beautiful pea green boat.

Illustration by Hablot Knight Browne (alias "Phiz"), 1867.
the Old Owl and his Crimson Carpet-bag

Dedicated to the quality of his telescope service,
Tawny Owl travelled tirelessly around the country
on inspection tours into his old age. He always
took along his trademark crimson carpet bag
of precision telescope repair tools.

Faithfully handcrafted replicas of his bag
are now available from
Bags o' Bags  of Bethesda.
Photography: © Gordon Mcleod

Text: © David John

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