The King's Observatory in the Old Deer Park at Kew (or more properly in West Sheen, Richmond ) in Surrey was built in the years 1768-9 on the foundations of a Carthusian priory not entirely destroyed during the suppression of the monasteries. The tutor to the Royal Family, Dr Stephen Charles Demainbray, interested George III in the observations planned for the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun and the King decided to erect his own observatory so that he and the Royal Family could join in the international programme. The site of the monastery was chosen in 1768 as the place for the erection of the King's Observatory, it was designed by William Chambers and completed on time for observations of the transit on 3 June 1769. Thereafter the King and Queen Charlotte used the observatory to house their collections of natural history specimens and of scientific apparatus in addition to the regular work of meridional astronomy.
The astronomical work of the observatory ceased soon after the time of the accession of Queen Victoria, and the instruments were transferred to the Armagh Observatory and the Science Museum in South Kensington. The British Association took over the Kew Observatory in 1842 when it was resolved that it should become a physical laboratory, to house and test experimental, meteorological, electrical and magnetical equipment and clocks, perhaps most famously coming to certificate marine chronometers this work having been declined by the contemporary Astronomer Royal, George Airy.
Francis Ronalds acted as Honorary Superintendent from 1842 and in 1849 the Kew Committee of the British Association was formed and it was under their direction that John Welsh was appointed Superintendent.
The chief official of the observatory was initially known as the King's Observer. The post was held by Stephen Charles Triboudet Demainbray, 1769-82; and Stephen George Francis Triboudet Demainbray, 1782-1840. From 1842 an Observatory Superintendent was appointed. These were Francis Ronalds, 1842-51; John Welsh, 1852-9; Balfour Stewart, 1859-71; Samuel Jeffrey, 1871-6; George Mathews Whipple, 1876-93; Charles Chree, 1893-1925; Francis John Welsh Whipple, 1925-39; James Martin Stagg, 1939; George Simpson, 1939-46; James Martin Stagg, 1946-7; George David Robinson, 1947-57; Kenneth Hope Stewart, 1957-60; Robert Henry Collingbourne, 1960-6; Richard Alexander Hamilton, 1966-8; and Stanley Gershon Crawford, 1968.
The Kew Observatory was also known as the King's Observatory, Royal Observatory or Richmond Observatory.
The bulk of RGO 66 comprises the incoming and copy correspondence of the chief assistant, later superintendant, George Mathews Whipple during 1871-5. Much of it is with the chemist and astronomer Warren De La Rue whose photoheliograph was moved to and used at Kew in the early 1870s. The correspondence is largely concerned with solar photographs and the practicalities of their production. There are a few financial papers and some records of solar and lunar observations made both at Kew and elsewhere.
The provenance of the items at RGO 66/1-12 and 15 is unknown. Items RGO 66/13 and 14 were transferred from the National Meteorological Archive on 7 September 2004.
Further Kew Observatory material is to be found at classmark RGO 57, Kew Observatory sunspot observations; and RGO 67, Kew Observatory solar photographs. G M Whipple's letters to Sir George Gabriel Stokes may be found at classmarks Ms.Add.7656/W359-95. Kew Observatory Meteorological records, 1843-1980, and a large quantity of unsorted papers are held at the National Meteorological Library, Exeter (classmarks: 910976-7 & 9; 912453-6; 914144, 309, 446, 646, 737 & 884; 927095-6; 945433, 979866. A handlist to these items is included amongst the RGO. 66 accession papers and may be viewed by applying to the RGO archivist). General correspondence and administrative papers, dating from 1851 the early 1960s are held at the National Archives (classmarks: BJ 1-3. A handlist to these items is included amongst the RGO. 66 accession papers and may be viewed by applying to the RGO archivist). Transit of Venus and solar observations, 1769, meteorological records up to 1840, various items on instrumentation are amongst the King George III Museum Collection held at King's College London Archives (classmark: KCLA K/MUS).
A handlist is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
The online catalogue for Janus was largely compiled from an existing list in March 2009 by Zoe A. Rees, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, and was emended in April 2010. Hand lists to associated material held at the National Archive (PRO reference code BJ 1-3) were previously catalogued as RGO 66/13-15. These may be viewed may be viewed by applying to the RGO archivist.