This week, we look at a revolutionary technological advance that took place at the end of the Second World War on the fringes of Mid Cheshire.

Just after the war ended, a physicist called Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell from the University of Manchester was looking for a site to test whether radar could be used to study cosmic rays.

He had tried to do this at his local laboratory, but unfortunately, the electric trams in the city interfered with his equipment.

So, he ventured into rural Cheshire to see if the open spaces would help. What he discovered was meteors rather than cosmic rays, and so began Cheshire's significant role in radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank.

Over the following years, a number of developments took place, including the setting up of Jodrell Bank Experimental Station, the building of a Searchlight Aerial and, in 1947, a wire mesh dish called the Transit telescope (just under 220 feet wide).

What the scientists needed, though, was a larger telescope to be able to point it to any part of the sky.

Northwich Guardian: Bernard LovellBernard Lovell (Image: Rose Hurley)

Lovell joined forces with a bridge engineer, Charles Husband, from Sheffield. Between them, they designed a fully steerable dish that was 250 feet in diameter, which would ultimately become the Lovell telescope – the largest telescope in the world at that time.

Construction started in 1952 and interestingly used gun turret mechanisms from HMS Revenge and HMS Royal Sovereign, but due to rising costs and ongoing changes in design by 1957 the project was hugely over budget and stalled.

However, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first space satellite, it was apparent that the part-built Jodrell Bank telescope (known then as Mark I) was the only telescope capable of tracking the rocket carrier, so money became no object.

Northwich Guardian: A view across fields towards the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank in 1968A view across fields towards the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank in 1968 (Image: Rose Hurley)

The project was completed and became an integral part of what was known then as the 'Space Race'.

For the next 10 years Jodrell Bank played an essential role in USSR and USA space missions, tracking and reporting findings.

In 1966, the first images of the moon's surface were sent by the USSR Luna 9 space probe and received by Jodrell Bank.

In 1969, the site tracked the first landing on the moon by USA Eagle Lander and the first men walking on the surface. On its 30th anniversary it was renamed the Lovell telescope.

Northwich Guardian: General view of the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank from the eastGeneral view of the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank from the east (Image: Rose Hurley)

During the 1960s, Jodrell Bank also had a secret role in the Cold War as it was the only device in the UK capable of tracking long-range missile attacks.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was used as an early warning system and, over the intervening years, has been instrumental in major discoveries and has been at the forefront of helping to understand the universe.

Jodrell Bank is now known as the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics. In 2019, it achieved UNESCO World Heritage status, and the Lovell telescope was made a Grade I listed structure.

It is the world's third-largest telescope and is still in use. Jodrell Bank Observatory is owned and managed by the University of Manchester. It is a world-renowned science research institute that remains at the forefront of modern astrophysics.

Northwich Guardian: The Lovell telescopeThe Lovell telescope (Image: Rose Hurley)

So, what became of Bernard Lovell? In 1958, it was reported in the press that he had been able to share information about the universe from 1,000 million years ago.

Lovell received many awards and was knighted in 1961. He claimed that in 1963, he was the target of a USSR assassination attempt to kill him during the Cold War due to the important and somewhat secret role he and his telescope played in the UK's ability to track missile attacks.

A complete account was published after Lovell died in 2012, at the age of 98.

Jodrell Bank is now the hub of the UK e-Merlin national wide array of up to seven telescopes. It has a thriving visitor centre, open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 5pm and is well worth a visit.