Britex/Orion Spotter from 1950

My first telescope was the one I used for aero-spotting in the early 1960s. It was aluminium, anodised black, made by N&B (Newbold and Bulford, also referred to as “Enbeeco”: this firm eventually disappeared into the Pyser Group). The model was called a “Petrel”: and it lived (extended and focused) on my bedroom window-sill, ready for use on passing aeroplanes, while doing my homework. This was pancratic, ie variable magnification, which worked well, going from 25x to 40x, but needed wedging in my bedroom window to hold it still when using 40x, looking over the two miles distance to the aerodrome on the next hill at Yeadon. Normal aeroplane use was at 25x.

Recently I have been collecting other 1960s/post-war manufactured versions of telescopes, from N&B and from Britex/Ottway – the latter seemed to produce brass built versions, rather than the aluminium ones produced by N&B.

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This “Britex Spotter” looked interesting on Ebay, which overcame the normal reticence that arises when I see any scope, usually a gunsight or other typically military equipment, usually from Ottway, with grub screws. Maybe the knurled bit was a clever focusing ring, it looked OK in the Ebay pictures.

Now researching the name I discover that Britex was actually a trade name of W. Ottway and Co, of Ealing, which maybe explains the design style. The Britex Spotter was produced after WW2 for the wholesale trade market, ie for retailers and multiple resellers I guess, and the range also included names like the ‘Orion Spotter’ and ‘Headquarter & General’. (See the postscript for the Orion Spotter)

The Britex Spotter

The Spotter is a neat two draw short telescope, ie one focusing draw and a pancratic magnification adjustment tube near the eyepiece. It is really solidly built in chromed brass, with the main barrel and sunshade being finished in ‘hammered’ paint. It has a double capped leather strap to protect each end, when not in use, or in transit. With the solidity comes weight, and it is heavy: so I was pleased to have chosen the lighter Enbeeco unit for my own telescope!

The focus on the lowest magnification setting, which says 15x, is only achievable at around 50 yards and longer range, but this becomes closer as the magnification is increased. The 40x magnification is certainly achieved. It is easy to use. Overall length is 21″ extended (53cm), closed it is 11.25″ or 28.5cms. OD is 1.5″.

Nasty bits

I am unlikely to meet the designer who put this concept together, but initially you think he was not a telescope user, and had never worked with a good Victorian telescope design, or even an older design. There are so many extra bits wrapped round the tube, and he did really like his grubscrews. Luckily of the three, two still work, just, but one is messed up: you need to undo these two crucial ones however to access the lenses to clean them. Then you realise that this designer normally worked with the Ottway gunsights used on battleships and tanks – this was their main market – and these would have had to withstand extremes of vibration and shock, so that grubscrews there were probably essential?

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All the bits, except for the grubscrews!

The central cartridge is suspended back from the end of the second draw, on a long extension, but instead of the standard knurled ring we have a silly ring with various cut-outs round the edge, and then, horrors, this also has a grub screw to secure it in place! But to get to this you need to unscrew the ugly external grub screw, which actually holds three separate rings together. First is the “decorative” external machine turned ring: it has no other function, apart from also holding the grubscrew. Second, the ring below, which is on the end of the second draw (and seems to have its own thread and grubscrew onto the actual slider on the draw tube). Third is the machined end of the main barrel, which screws into the middle ring to make the connection between the barrel and the second draw.

Possibly the real reason for the use of so many “bits” to do a simple telescope was that Ottway might have made all the bits anyway for an MoD contract, and had lots of them left over, so maybe they solved a problem and were effectively free-issue, so they used them all anyway and cobbled something together!

History

This scope was acquired on Ebay in November 2016. The previous owner also bought it second hand, back in 1959, so it is certainly a 1950s model, latest. Accession Number #295.

Construction photos:

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The eyepiece and its cartridge

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The central cartridge

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The multi-layer joint

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The objective assembly and sunshade

Postscript: The Orion Spotter

OK, so it does happen, a lot more than it should: I’ve found another very similar telescope in the collection, and this one is engraved as “Orion Spotter” and also says “Made by W Ottway & Co Ltd, Ealing London. Number 52363, British Made”. This is my Accession Number #228. This is identical in construction, and all the major bits, of the Britex Spotter, it is just renamed.

It has the same leather end cups on a strap as the Britex Spotter, and apart from the engraving the only other difference is that the barrel and sunshade are covered in a good quality tan leather, stitched together along the seams.

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Ottway labelled Orion Spotter, with leather cladding

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Ottway’s Orion Spotter

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3 comments on “Britex/Orion Spotter from 1950

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