BIDSTON'S iconic observatory has been an imposing figure on Wirral's skyline for 150 years.

A tour of the four-floored building gives you a sense of the many scientific discoveries that have been made within its walls.

Stand on its roof and there are extraordinary panoramic views of Wirral and beyond.

The observatory opened in 1866.

It was sold by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) last year to property developer Bidston Observatory Development Limited for £270,000, and went under the hammer in an online auction last month.

Campaigners feared this important aspect of Wirral's heritage would be lost forever when the Grade-two listed building was sold.

But its new owners plan to turn the building into an arts hub and museum celebrating its social heritage.

Below: The views from Bidston Observatory rooftop

Edward Clive, partner Fiona Jones and Kim Ward (pictured, below) are a group of artists who met while studying for Master of Fine Arts degrees in Rotterdam.

The observatory keys became theirs last week.

The group is due to meet an independent planning consultant next week, before drawing up plans for outline planning permission.

The building will also need extensive renovation.

Above: The observatory's rooftop weather station

Edward told the Globe: “From the outside you don’t appreciate how big the building is, but once you get inside, it just unfolds in front of you.

“As we took possession, there were celebrations for the observatory’s 150th anniversary.

"We met a lot of the former scientists that had worked here and were generally supportive of our plans.

One of the artefacts found in underground office

“There’s obviously a lot of love for the place.

“When the building was put on the market, there were concerns that it would be redeveloped.

“This is a working building and I would like to give future visitors a sense of what went on here, whilst honing their artistic talents.

“People who come here, will have a chance to learn about the history of the area.”

The group is due to meet Wirral council planning officers next week, before drawing up plans for outline planning permission.

Edward continued: “It’s obviously very early days, which would all depend on planning permission.

“But if we get the go ahead we would like to have the arts centre open within two years.

“If we are ever going to turn it into a proper museum, I’d like to some original NERC stuff here.”

For example, apparently the first experiments to discover the weight of Mercury were made here.

On life before moving into the building, Edward said: “Before moving into the building, we lived in a flat in Ramsgate, Kent.

“So, it felt strange living in something as big and imposing as this. But, we are used to it now.”

One of the building's many staircases

The auction was conducted by John Pye Property Auctions. Head of property Richard Reed said at the time: "This is a highly desirable location and it is rare to have such a unique property come to auction with the potential to be transformed into a dream project."

It’s not the first time the observatory complex had gone under the hammer.

In 2003, a plan to save the observatory complex and turn it into a museum and visitors' centre was drawn up in a bid to rescue the historical building when the National Environment Research Council which occupied the site - moved to Liverpool University campus.

Local people mounted a campaign to protect the future of the landmark, which they feared was at risk of being damaged by development.

Bidston Observatory Preservation Trust had tried to save the building and turn it into a historical museum for the people of Wirral.

But their efforts to prevent planning permission being granted to convert the complex into flats failed when the council rejected their scheme as "over-optimistic and unrealistic".

Peter Crawford from the Trust said at the time: "We should be proud of what the building has contributed to our heritage.

"There are many reasons why it should be kept as an asset.

"Scientists have made many great discoveries in the observatory over the years."