Jodrell Bank Observatory: Electrical Workshop (Former Main Office)


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Jodrell Bank, Lower Withington, Macclesfield, SK11 9DL


Ordnance survey map of Jodrell Bank Observatory: Electrical Workshop (Former Main Office)
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Statutory Address:
Jodrell Bank, Lower Withington, Macclesfield, SK11 9DL

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cheshire East (Unitary Authority)
Lower Withington
National Grid Reference:


Administrative and teaching building originally known as the Main Office, built 1949 using a standard system, with later alterations.

Reasons for Designation

The Electrical Workshop, an administrative and teaching building of 1949 originally known as the Main Office, with later alterations, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historic associations: for its role as the first permanent administrative and teaching hub of the first planned radio astronomy observatory in the world, and notably as the centre of planning and co-ordination of the extraordinary achievement of the construction of the Lovell Telescope;

* Degree of survival: retaining much of its historic character, principally through the survival of many internal features;

* Group value: with other buildings from the first permanent phase of the observatory, in particular the Park Royal Building (List entry 1443093) and the Link Hut (List entry 1443486).


The observatory at Jodrell Bank is one of the earliest planned sites for radio telescopes in the world. As such it had a pivotal role in the development of the new science of radio astronomy which was one of the first steps towards modern Astrophysics, revolutionising our understanding of the Universe. The site was first used for academic purposes in 1939 when the University of Manchester's Botany Department purchased three fields in the Cheshire countryside covering around 11 acres. The earliest use of the site for radio astronomy occurred in December 1945 when Bernard Lovell, who worked for the university’s Physics Department, moved here to escape the radio interference that occurred in Manchester city centre. His first observations used ex-army radar equipment located at the south end of the site, close to two pre-existing botany huts. Subsequently his team expanded northwards with the continuing construction of more permanent buildings, and purpose-built aerials and telescopes to support their research. Jodrell Bank’s status as a world-class centre of ongoing scientific research continues to this day with the construction of the global headquarters for the Square Kilometre Array project linking hundreds of telescopes and aerials in South Africa and Western Australia.

The Electrical Workshop was originally known as the Main Office, and was completed in 1949 as part of a suite of similar buildings arranged around the part of the site known as The Green. The buildings around The Green were the hub of both research and teaching onsite. The construction of these new buildings marked a serious commitment by the University to the development of a permanent radio observatory at the Jodrell Bank site, and they are the earliest surviving purpose-built structures for that use. This was the site of the library, lecture room and (Sir) Bernard Lovell’s office, until c1957 and the completion of the Control Building. Some of the earliest international discussions on the new science of radio astronomy were held in the lecture room (for example a symposium in July 1953 attended by more than 40 radio astronomers from around the world), and this was the key administrative and teaching building in the early years of the observatory. It was also from his office here that Lovell planned and co-ordinated the extraordinary achievement of the construction of the radio telescope that bears his name (List entry 1221685).

Following the opening of the Control Building (List entry 1443868), the former main office became an electrical workshop, and some of the internal partitions have been realigned, but the linear edgings in the parquet floor indicate their original positions. The concrete canopy over the western entrance that is visible in a photograph of the 1950s has been removed, and minor modifications have been made in the north-east corner to allow access to the 1970s timber building to the rear (east), now used as a cryogenics workshop (not included).


Office and teaching building using a standard construction system,1949.

MATERIALS: pre-cast concrete frame, concrete block walls, metal windows, felt roof.

PLAN: single-storey, rectangular building with the front facing west.

EXTERIOR: standing on the east side of the part of the site known as ‘The Green’ and now connected by the Cryogenics Workshop (to its east) to the Mechanical Workshop standing to its north (neither building included).

The windows are all metal-framed, multi-paned casements with concrete surrounds. The walls are of large block-work, now painted. The front (west) wall has a central doorway with a part-glazed timber door, with seven windows to each side of this. At the left there is a short length of wall between the end window and the angle, and the third window to the right of the door is half-width, but otherwise the appearance is symmetrical. A grey plastic gutter* runs the length of the eaves, with down-pipes* at either end and to the right of the door.

The north wall returning at the left has a window either side of the central door, which is part-glazed and timber. The roof falls very slightly to either side of a central ridge. The east wall returning at the left is obscured at its north end by the attached Cryogenics Workshop (not included). Otherwise this wall has a similar but more varied dispersal of windows and the same rainwater arrangement* as the front wall. Returning at the left, the south wall is blind.

INTERIOR: the concrete frame is visible, comprising posts with projecting heads that support the roof beams. Between these the block-work is visible with no lining finish, although it is now painted. The ceilings are of fibreboard panels fitted into a metal grid. A small lobby at the north entrance is original but has an inserted eastern access* up a step* to the Cryogenics Workshop. The floor is of herringbone parquet, with linear edgings indicating the original location of partitions. There are some inserted brick and stud partitions*. Some floors have been overlain with vinyl* and one room has quarry tiles, together with blackout fittings to the door. Modern electrical and heating services have been fitted throughout* but the building retains historic features including window blinds, light fittings, doors, and cloakroom fittings. The former lecture room at the south end retains its low dais, and (Sir) Bernard Lovell’s office remains as a discrete space.

*EXCLUSIONS: pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the aforementioned items are not of special architectural or historic interest.


Books and journals
Lovell, Bernard, The Story of Jodrell Bank, (1968)
Pevsner, N, Hubbard, E (eds), The Buildings of England: Cheshire. Kelsall: Jodrell Bank, (1971), 249
Hanbury Brown, R, 'A symposium on radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank' in The Observatory, , Vol. 73, (1953), 185-98
Jodrell Bank Observatory, Conservation Management Plan, Chris Blandford Associates, 2016


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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