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History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

Lincoln Astronomical Society has its beginnings in the mid 1950's.

A group of about 6 people met at Peter Hammerton's house discussing science fiction, astronomy, space travel UFO's etc. Peter was already giving talks about our exploration of the Moon before Sputnik 1 was launched.

The society was initially called the Lincoln Interplanetary Society. After one meeting at Peter's house, the society moved to the larger property of Dr Paul Bourne. Lectures were given by Peter on the Exploration of the Moon, and Paul - on the Geology of the Moon.

In early 1959 he bought a 6 inch reflector and decided it was time to see if there were enough people in the subject to form a society. An article in the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper in May of that year produced 9 members at the inaugural meeting - only about three new faces however, possibly due to the wording of the piece in the Echo which asked for anyone who had seen little green men on Jupiter (not even Mars) to contact Peter.

The first so called H.Q. was a chicken hut at North Greetwell, two miles from the Bowling Green Pub roundabout on the Wragby road outside Lincoln. Our first job was to scrape the floor clean. After three weeks hard work, the owners of the hut had achieved their objective and flung the society out and we paid 3 weeks rent.

This took the society back to the Hammerton's front room. In September 1959 the group (now 27 strong) moved to the top room of the Lincoln YMCA for a monthly meeting and continued to expand.

Meetings had now increased to two a month at the YMCA and by the AGM in September 1960 the society's named was changed to the Lincoln Astronomical Society as we knew of people who didn't want to know about space travel, they regarded it as fantasy. However, though we changed the society's title, we didn't change our aims, 'to promote interest in all things to do with space'. By now membership had increased to 40.

History of LAS

A Jumble sale was held for fund raising and the picture above shows the committee, dressed up with jumble from the forth coming sale.
From left to right: Dr Paul Bourne, Mick Kirk, Charlie Gibbons, Ray Bennett & Peter Hammerton.

A permanent home was needed and the society looked for a place where meetings could be held and an observatory could be constructed.

In late 1959 we had a large article in the Lincoln evening paper and appealed for an observation post. The article  caught the eye of Mrs Benneworth who lived on Westcliffe Street and owned a garden plot off the hillside.

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

Peter Hammerton

 

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

The society was offered the piece of land. It was not ideal being down a hillside and covered in barbed wire, trees and brambles, but it was cheap and did have very good views to the south and west. So it was purchased in early 1960 for the sum of £20 cheap for a quarter of an acre even then.

The picture above shows the site location, just off Westcliffe Street and gives a hint of the hard work that was to follow if the dream of building a permanent home sor the society was to be realised.

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

From left: David Swift, Vic Curtis,  Eddie Parczuk, Archie Mercer,  Gill Arden, John Tyblewski, Fay Shaw, & Peter Hammerton


Plans were drawn up.

The initial plan was to build a workshop, based on an ex RAF nissan hut and also an observatory on the site.

The design was changed from a Nissen hut to a purpose built lecture hall similar to that at the Chesterfield astronomical society.
The plans for the site were very ambitious with a Lecture Hall, Observatory and Radio Telescope.

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

Original plan for a workshop based on a nissan hut

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

Original plan for an observatory

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

The new plan for a purpose built lecture hall, observatory and radio telescope.


The society held its first exhibition at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln on 31 October 1960 and in March 1961 a special ladies night was held with all talks given by the lady members of the society.

Fundraising events included, Sponsored Walks, Raffles, Jumble Sales and Car Treasure hunts. The society started to have guest speakers including Patrick Moore who gave a lecture to the society at the Falcon Hotel in June 1961.

It was this visit that gave Peter Hammerton the encouragement to start a society magazine and 'Eyepiece' was published for the first time in September 1961 and is still running to this day.

In the picture  from left: Peter Hammerton, Godfrey Holmes, Patrick Moore, Dr Paul Bourne.

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

In 1962 the society started to have an annual dinner at the Grand Hotel in Lincoln and even a Haggis tasting evening in March 1963.

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

From left: Vic Curtis, W Dundee, Peter Hammerton, Gordon King, Harry Scall, Charles Jessop, Gus Stevens

Membership had now reached 90 and a junior section was formed with its own programme.

The Lecture Hall was nearly completed and our first meeting their was by Mr J Hollingsworth of Chesterfield A.S pictured here second from the right.

In September of 1963 the Lecture Hall was officially opened.

After donations at this meeting from Godfrey Holmes and Councilor Frank Eccleshare, the financial state of the society was solvent with all bills paid. The boiler fund was started to raise funds for a central heating boiler. Some members donated 2/6d each month.

History of Lincoln Astronomical Society

After all the hard work, the next three years were of consolidation. In December 1964, a joint meeting with the BIS Trent Valley Branch was held at the lecture hall- titled 'Engineers for Space'. Membership had increased to 98. Shutters had to be purchased for the windows as they kept getting broken by air rifles and even members were being shot at!

In 1965 one of the activities was to a rocket test site near Buxton in Derbyshire, another to the London Planetarium. A new group started under Jack Stimson's guidance concentrating on mirror grinding and telescope construction.

In 1967 meetings now became monthly, on the first Tuesday. The lecture hall was not finished until the summer. The entrance hall ceiling is of the Milky Way painted by one of the society's artists, Peter Lightfoot. The society made at least one scientific visit a year. These included Greenwich Observatory, Jodrell Bank, the Science Museum, London Planetarium and many others.

Ken Stevens FRAS demonstrated the use of an oscilloscope
after his talk on radio astronomy in April 1967

By 1968 membership had dropped to 40. The society president, David Hardy, painted a solar eclipse on the lecture hall entrance walls. At the AGM Walter Pennell showed some of the star photo's he had taken to the BAA exhibition that year. Treasurer, Arthur Richardson, announced the society was in the black for the first time in many years with funds of £23.

From left: David Swaby, Arthur Thaiss, Peter Harris, Dick Thompson,
Peter Hammerton & Dorothy Miller

Peter Hammerton continued to give regular talks to the society. Here he gives some members a preview of his slides before the talk on 'A search for life on other worlds' in November 1968. Other talks that year included 'The History of flying saucers' and 'Progress on project Apollo'

In May 1969 a sponsored walk was held to raise funds. In June the society held a 10th anniversary meeting. David Hardy gave a talk and a special edition of the society magazine 'Eyepiece' was produced. A NASA representative gave a talk saying that NASA expected to have a 12 man space station by 1980. The society purchased an 8.5 inch reflector.

Another sponsored walk raised £150. We had a large exhibition in a charity shop opposite St Mary's Street in Lincoln (now underneath Wigford Way). This brought in hundreds of people but only 8 new members.

Membership increased to 75 in 1971 and a sponsored walk raised £93 toward the observatory fund. Planning permission was granted in 1972 for the observatory. The society also visited Greenwich Observatory this year.

In 1974 another sponsored walk was held and Richard Pennell raised the most money. The society started having cheese and wine parties where Dick Thompson and Peter Blunden provided the home made wine (strong).

With artist David Hardy involved in the society, it was inevitable that the society would have its mark left on the Moon.

In the 1960's and 70's, the society held a regular annual quiz against other societies. Here we see one against Cleethorpes from around 1975. From the left: Lincoln A.S. Walter Pennell, Peter Blunden, Jack Stimson, Andrew Norris- Scorer Phil Norton :In the chair Peter Hammerton, :Cleethorpes A.S. -Scorer Tony Smith, P.Ellis, Ray Emery, Peter Rea, Barrie Watts.

Peter Hammerton moved away from the society for a time, to run a Post Office and newsagents in Chesterfield in1976. He then bought an astronomy bookshop in Sheffield  (Sheffield Space Centre) in 1978, before returning to the Minimarket in Lincoln with his science fiction bookshop.

Sadly Walter Pennell died in March before the completion of the observatory but he is remembered in its name - 'The Pennell-Hammerton Observatory'.

During the late 1970's, the Eyepiece magazine was not published. Instead the society issued a series of monthly news letters edited by Bob Christy. The annual quiz verses Cleethorpes continued and a car treasure hunt was held in July 1978. In September of that year, Andrew Norris moved to Crawley. He was a long time member -observing director, builder, film maker etc. The society made a film in 1978 called 'Domed to Failure'. It was a comical look at the observatory dome falling apart (only partially constructed at the time).The film was well received at the Horncastle meeting that year and it was shown at the B.A.A meeting in London.

The society had several break-ins. One in September 1978 saw the clock, first aid kit, finderscope and eyepieces stolen. This meant new shutters on the windows and better locks had to be fitted.

In 1979, Richard Pennell and his mother offered to lend the society Walter Pennell's 12 inch reflector, on condition that the observatory was finished first. This put a new 'kick' in to finishing the building. Cheese and Wine parties were still held -one at Bob Christy's home and another at Tony Hopkinson's. A visit to Jodrell Bank with Cleethorpes A.S. took place that year. A sponsored walk in aid of the observatory raised £180 and was organised by Richard Pennell.

1980 saw the only society disco organised by Martin Bell and held at the local government social club. The society also started a series of Barn Dances, held at Pennell's Nursery on Brant Road  Lincoln.

After a busy decade the society could relax and concentrate on astronomy. Members used the observatory for long exposure photographs and regular observing sessions were held every Tuesday night throughout the winter. The society started opening the observatory to the general public and during National Astronomy Week in 1985 nearly 1000 people took the opportunity to view Halley's Comet (400 in one night).

The 30th anniversary meeting was held on 23rd September 1989 at Bishop Greaves Hall, Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln

David Hardy visiting the society in 1991 to give a lecture on 'Visions of the Galaxies'

Sadly the founder of the society, Peter Hammerton, died in September 1992. To remember him, the first Peter Hammerton Memorial lecture was held in September 1993 and the September meeting is always dedicated to him. During the 1990's the society started inviting various groups to the observatory via the visits organiser which still continues today.

In 1999 the society celebrated its 40th anniversary with a series of lectures at the observatory.

The society has to maintain the site and working parties are held on Saturdays. We have always had minor problems with land settling as the hillside is made of clay. After the very dry summer of 2003 what was a small crack near the front door opened up and it was decided for safety reasons that the structure should be strengthened in case of any further movement. The paneling either side of the entrance was removed and replaced by a brick structure.

 Dave Garbutt, Colin Reeve and Dave Swaby & Dave Castledine

 

It wasn't until March 2006, forty years after we opened the Lecture Hall, that the society had a visit by Lincoln's Member of Parliament. Gillian Merron was asked to help with the ever increasing light pollution problems at the society. She made a private visit lasting about an hour.

From left: Dave Garbutt, Arthur Richardson,
Gillian Merron (MP) & Philip Norton

During the summer of 2006 a major project was undertaken to refurbish the dome. Opened 25 years before by Patrick Moore, the skin had deteriorated badly and rain water was making the internal floor of the observatory dangerous. The project was to take 18 months.  In order that we could continue observing the sky, the society's old telescope was recommisioned and reinstalled on its pillar.

Several telescopes had now been made and one of the first is shown opposite. From left: Tim Hudson, Peter Harris and David Swaby.

In February 1970 the society had moon dust on its premises. The talk was by Dr Grenville Turner on 'Lunar Sample analysis' with a microscope slide of some of the moon dust brought back by Apollo 11.

 

Walter Pennell, Chairman of Pennell and Sons joined the society in 1968 -becoming chairman the following year and President between 1971 and 1975. He believed the society should build an observatory and was the main driving force to achieve this. He is pictured here at his home at Waddington in 1973 with his 12 inch reflector that was later donated to the society and became the main telescope.

 

The observatory was finally completed an opened
by Patrick Moore in September 1982

 

The society has always been fund raising and another 20 mile sponsored walk raised £100 for new equipment.

From left: Graham Winstanley, Ian Cartwright, Alistair Currey & David Swaby

In January 1992 Gloria Clarke of the Lincoln Amateur Operatic Society took the role of astronomer Vera Charles who discovers the man in the moon - seen here holding the moon. The visit was an advertising photo call for their production.

From left Colin Reeve, Gloria Clarke, Owen Miller & Terry Seaman

From left: Colin Reeve, Owen Miller and David Swaby in the observatory in 1992
During September of 2003, the society opened to the general public to view Mars. The hillside obscured the view until late at night at the time of closest approach and the society decided to wait a few weeks until the planet was visible in the evening. Nearly 600 people looked through the telescope over 4 nights.


The observatory was opened in June 2004 for the public to view the transit of Venus.Many people to the opportunity to safely view the Sun that day.

Graham Winstanley, Harry Middleton (with camera),
visitor and Bill Booth

 

Gillian Merron (MP) rotating the dome

 

In July 2007, the society had a break in. It was at the time of high copper prices and we believe this was the main reason. Our reel of copper mains cable was moved ready to be taken away.  Damage was caused to the doors of the Lecture Hall and the Observatory. One window was also broken. The thieves gained access to the hall but not the observatory. Fortunately there was no internal damage. Additional security measures were taken by the installation of a full burglar alarm system, to compliment the existing CCTV. Extra barbed wire and more brambles were planted to secure the site.

 

 

 

Although the society cannot be accessed by wheelchairs, people with a walking stick can visit the society. It always has been a difficult climb back up the steps, so in the summer of 2007 a complete handrail up to the street was started.


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