History of the Society
Formed in 1955, Guildford Astronomical Society was originally the Guildford
Branch of the Junior Astronomical Society, (JAS) as recorded in the surviving record book, which is preserved
for posterity and reference as a record of our beginnings. Inside the front cover of the book, in fading ink,
the first entry says, “Nov,1955. 7 Vicarage Gate – Guildford. Mr Noon inaugurates Guildford J.A.S.”.
In these early days the meeting were held in the homes of the various founder members. One of these early
members, Mrs Dorothy Clapson, has been of great assistance in the recording of the Society’s history. In
December 1955, Mr Leslie Ball, the famous pioneer lunar cartographer, astronomer, astronomical artist and
resident of Guildford gave a talk to the Guildford JAS, on the subject of the Moon. This must have been a
success, for the next meeting was held at Warwick bench in February 1956, was again given by Leslie on the same
subject and indeed it transpires that this was a 2-part talk. Other speakers to the society appear in the
inside the front cover of the early record book and are as follows:
- June 1956 Tangley Cottage, Wonersh – Mr Thorne talks on a Caxton Hall visit and telescopic
- October 1956 Warwick Bench, Guildford – Mr Cowburn talks on aspects of astronomy.
- December 1956 7 Vicarage Gate, Guildford (CANCELLED)
- February 1957 Derry Dale,Clandon – Mr Noon talks on forthcoming events in the night sky.
- April 1957 Tangley Cottage, Wonersh – Mr Patrick Moore gives an illustrated talk on the
At the bottom of the inside front cover is the following comment, “2 trips to Mr Noons observatory at
Oxshott also took place 1956-57”.
In 1957, the first minutes from a meeting of the Guildford JAS were recorded in the same book.
“A general meeting of the Junior Astronomical Society, Guildford Branch was held on Tuesday May 7th 1957
at Mr and Mrs Maloy’s house, W. Clandon. Seven members were present. There was a great deal of business on the
agenda – the appointment of officers for the succeeding year and problems involved in the administration,
charities and future policy of the Society. Mrs Maloy resigned form her office as co-Secretary due to pressure
of other activities. Mrs Gregson the former co-Secretary was re-elected. Miss K Harding was elected Treasurer.
It was decided that members pay an annual subscription due in May of 5 shillings to cover postage, possible
expenses incurred in inviting visiting speakers and to form a residual fund for any other expenses that might
crop up. Members also discussed the suggestion made by Patrick Moore when he visited the Guildford group on
April at Wonersh, that the group could expand and invite the interested school age children to join meetings.
This was thought to be impractical on a large scale, mainly owing to the habitual time and place of meetings
which are held in the late evening at private houses. However it was hoped to stimulate interest in the young
by probably arranging a big daytime meeting with a guest speaker, later in the autumn, possibly in
collaboration with the Guide and Scout organisations. Finally members discussed the possibility of tackling
rather more study and developing set topics arranged amongst themselves. It was hoped that this would lead to
more frequent meetings at about 6 week intervals, and thus reduce the difficulties involved in endeavouring to
ask an outside speaker to every meeting. After delicious coffee and cakes had been provided by Mrs Maloy it was
agreed that the next meeting should take place on Tuesday June 18th and that the evenings topic should be the
…and so the first minutes ever recorded of Guildford Branch of the Junior Astronomical Society were
The first meeting in a venue of another type was held at the Red Cross House in Jenner Road. This venue was
used on several occasions when an ‘open meeting’ was held for members and their friends. In addition to the Red
Cross House, another venue was introduced for the May 6th 1969 meeting, this being the Lantern Cafe in Quarry
Street. The reason given as being ‘due to a shortage of accomodation’.
The following meeting on October 7th was held at Fairlands Community Centre. It was announced at the meeting
on January 14th 1970, that the meetings for the nest three months be held at the Lantern Restaurant, at a
charge of 5 shillings per head for refreshments. In the event, the next 7 meetings were held there, the last
being on Tuesday October 1970. From there the meetings moved to the Corona Cafe in the High Street.
At the AGM on June 3rd 1975 it was decided to move the monthly meetings to the Brew House, at the back of
the Library in North Street, this being due to the fact that the Society had outgrown the Corona Cafe. From
1971 onwards the monthly reports seem to have stopped and only reports of the AGM’s appear in the second book.
The move was made to the Guildford Institute in 1980 due to the rising costs of hiring the Brew House, where we
still hold our regular meetings.
Regular monthly observing sessions were only very occasional up to the
1980’s. In the early 80’s Rory Fenner assumed the mantle of Master of Ceremonies for these events and the
gradully developed into the monthly sessions we still run to this day. During National Astronomy Week in 1985
to celebrate the return of Halley’s Comet, evening observing sessions for the public were held at Pewley Downs
for a week to view the comet. Over 1,000 people arrived over the period. Brian States and David Dyer also
opened their observatory to the public using the 12″ telescope and all who came, (some 100), saw it.
There have always been trips of astronomical nature arranged at least once in most years, such as Jodrell
Bank, Royal Observatory Grenwich and the Herschel Museum in Slough, but the Society trip of 1986 was by far the
The President, Phillip Beastall arranged a coach trip for a few days to the observatories of Paris and
Meudon in France. The trip went ahead with few problems, the worst being the necessity of persuading people
from outside the Society to make up the numbers required to fill the coach.
In 1987, the President, Brian States negotiated the purchase of an historic 20.5″ telescope for £700. This
instrument was at the time, one of the largest in amateur hands in the south of England. It is now known as the
John Smith Telescope
Brian States with Larry Wadle from Houston had been instrumental bringing to
fruition the idea of twinning both Societies. Larry had been attending GAS meetings whilst working in Guildford
on secondment. 1987 saw the formal signing of the Twinning charter between GAS and the Houston Astronomical
Society which was signed by him and the President of Houston Astronomical Society, Lee Cain on 5th June,
Initially, the idea was to co-operate on joint projects of scientific value, such as the observation of
variable stars. The 90 degree difference in the longitude of our 2 Societies allows a longer period of
observing a given object. As we lose an object in the morning sky – Houston being 6 hours behind us can carry
on with the observation. There is also an exchange of magazines and written letters between members of the two
Societies. We also publish a monthly article (‘Pond Talk’), in the Houston Magazine, ‘GUIDESTAR’, thus keeping
them up to date with what is happening over here.
The following list details the Officers and Committee members since the
beginning of the Society.