I was born not far from the Booth Museum of Natural History in 1943 and lived over a large garage in Preston Road, Brighton until I was about 10 years old. My first school, called Preston Primary (although an Infant School) was opposite Preston Manor and just around the corner from where George Hole, the telescope maker, later had his workshop. I then went to Balfour Road Primary School, from where I saw the eclipse of the Sun in 1954 from the playground. My family moved to Upper Portslade and, having passing the 11+, I spent a few rather unhappy years at the Grammar School, next to the West Blatchington Windmill leaving with some GCEs and not going on to University.
I spent most of my working life doing clerical and warehouse jobs and another twenty years working at an electrical wholesaler’s in Hove and Portslade. I was living in Mile Oak, just down the hill from the Foredown Tower, when it was first opened as a Countryside Centre by Hove Borough Council in 1991. The building had been the water tower for the old Isolation Hospital in its suitably remote location and, as part of the renovations, a camera obscura was installed. It proved to be quite a tourist attraction as its telescopic lens and mirror reflected 360 degrees living views of the surrounding countryside onto a screening dish. It was also an ideal way of looking at eclipses something I was able to witness with the partial eclipse in 1996 and the full eclipse in 2003.
I started working at Foredown Tower as a volunteer and finally became a staff member. During my very enjoyable years of working there, I gathered an enormous amount of information on camera obscuras from all over the world and it was this which became the Camera Obscura Archive which is now held at the Brighton History Centre. It includes correspondence and photographs from as far afield as Bondi Beach in Australia; Chattanooga in the USA; Fish Hoek, South Africa; Jerez, Spain and Kyoto in Japan along with material on all the camera obscuras that we know about throughout the United Kingdom. It’s an ongoing archive as members of staff at the Brighton History Centre continue to keep it updated with any new information that they or I come across.
My research into sundials (one was specially made for the Millennium and is on the Foredown Tower) and Timeballs (there is one in Brighton on the Clocktower) were also given to the History Centre, along with the complete set of ‘Towering Sky’, the newsletter of the Foredown Tower Astronomy Group, which I edited for over a decade.
Mike Feist’s Camera Obscura Archive and his research into sundials and timeballs, is available to view at Brighton History Centre, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.