Viking Telescopes of Devon

Sometimes vandalism (or in this case, just as likely decay) has a minor positive benefit and it’s only now that I can finally see for sure how those UK coin operated telescopes, that just about seem to still exist even here in Weston-super-Mare, actually work. Well, almost, anyway. No doubt I could also have looked up the patent which undoubtedly exists for the mechanism!

There was a rumour that regardless of the ‘operator plate’ on the telescope, a team consisting of precisely one man looks after virtually every standard public outdoor telescope here in the South West; the various companies having merged or having been sold on over the years. I don’t know how true that is, and have only once in my entire life (not that I hang around waiting) seen someone doing any kind of maintenance to these telescopes. I can’t ever recall seeing a telescope appearing, where there was no telescope before, in the last 20 or so years though. That said, the council obviously did make some effort to remove and then re-install them when we had a 2 year complete re-working of the sea front about ten years back.

In a nutshell, I wonder if the unit used a battery and timer, as there seems to be an electric switch, which looks automotive sourced, next to the coin unit? I am a bit surprised at this, since the mechanical action of turning the coin could easily have wound up a suitable mechanical timer at the same time as opening the flap mechanism. The flap has a simple rod to operate it (at this point I think at least a couple of parts have been removed) which is the main device to prevent the non-paying user from seeing anything through the telescope.

Nothing too complicated, but complex enough to have probably needed a constant amount of adjustment and lubrication given where these were mounted, and treated? Perhaps this is why an entirely mechanical solution, with fine gears, wasn’t favoured? The one I photographed looked vandalised, but maybe only because the sea air had already helped remove half the side door already?

Viking Telescopes themselves are more of a mystery. ‘Cooks Farm, Uffcolme’ is given as the address, yet Google maps shows nothing of any real interest or likely to have been a factory as much as straight forward agriculture. In 2009, there were even cows in the barn behind, but a few years later, signs of overgrowth suggesting no more agricultural use of this type. Perhaps I should have searched using Old Norse? Later it turned out (surprise!) that the ‘VIEW POINT’ was a model available to any operator, and presumably for a large enough order and/or a price you were able to get the operators name stamped into the plate. [Like this one] and also [a later Wellington address for Viking!]

You can still buy coin operated telescopes of course – take a look here or here. Perhaps 5G will finally bring us low power, ubiquitous contactless micro payments meaning the true end of the coin operated anything? Here at RCV we say ‘down with that sort of thing’ 😉

Epilogue, April 2023;

The £1 coin era has now reached the last remaining telescopes – at least in parts of Devon. Here we are on Seaton seafront but most of them seem in the area look the same now;

It’s not clear exactly what ‘family viewing’ is, although I’m sure Mrs. Whitehouse would approve. I think maybe it’s a way of saying “hey, sure it costs a whole pound, but it lasts for AGES!”. There’s no longer any knob to turn so I’m assuming this is now 100% battery operated. The eyepieces look more modern and I tried to take a picture from the other end where you can see some 21st century looking wires which I think operate the iris, or whatever the correct name is for the ‘bit that stops you looking through it without paying’. Gone is the operator address, instead just a mobile number, so 00’s! Whoever runs them is very much keeping themselves off-grid when it comes to Mr Google as well. But there we go – coin telescopes live on through a retrofit upgrade – for now.