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Image: Zara Hedderman

Double Take: The plaque in Rathmines celebrating telescope maker Howard Grubb

In plain sight on Observatory Lane.
May 16th 2018, 4:08 PM 827 0

PEOPLE ARE OBSESSED with the stars. Not the stars we read about, but the stars children sing about. Astrology and the act of counting constellations is an exceptionally popular human pastime.

It might surprise you, then, that such a universal activity has a local link. Sir Howard Grubb, one of the foremost engineers in the field of telescopes and photographic lenses worked on Observatory Lane in Rathmines.

Today, as you make your way to Leinster Cricket Club, just off the busy thoroughfare of Rathmines Road Lower, a red oval plaque commemorates the lane that “led to the Optical Works of Sir Howard Grubb”.

Source: Zara Hedderman

The youngest son of Thomas Grubb, Sir Howard was born in 1844 on Dublin’s Leinster Square. His father made billiard tables before becoming the Chief Engineer at Bank of Ireland. There, he developed a successful method of printing bank notes. He would also co-found the Dublin Photographic Society, further cementing his legacy in the world of lenses.

His primary business, however, was telescopes.

He handed over the Grubb Company to Howard while he was studying to become a civil engineer in Trinity. Under Howard’s eye, the company achieved great acclaim in the innovation of lenses and telescopes in Ireland and abroad.

The corner of Observatory Lane in Rathmines Source: infomatique

Built in 1866, the factory where the plaque resides on Observatory Lane was the largest of its kind in the world. The Grubb Company’s worldwide status grew exponentially following the production of the Melbourne telescope, one of their greatest commissions. At this location, during World War One, Sir Howard oversaw the manufacturing of periscopes and telescopic gun-sights to the Royal Navy.

The man himself, Howard Grubb Source: Wikipedia

A combination of the aftermath of the War, The Easter Rising and an encroaching fear of a German invasion to Ireland led to the Grubb Company uprooting to St. Albans, England in 1918. The business continued to produced large scale optical items for observatories globally until 1985.

Sir Howard Grubb died in 1931, the company established by his father no longer exists but its reputation remains intact. In a detailed account of Sir Howard Grubb’s career by Macfilos, from which we’ve taken some of the information above, he is remembered as the “Rembrandt of the Lens Making Age.”

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Zara Hedderman

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