The Society's History

Coventry AS was founded in 1939, as the Coventry Technical College Astronomical and Meteorological Society.  In 1959,  small breakaway group founded the Coventry Astronomical Telescope making society,  which later became the Warwickshire AS.  The two Societies merged to become the CaWAS in 1974.  The society had a long association with the technical college, on top of which we used to have an observatory. However, in 1992 the college could no longer allow us to use the observatory, and so we moved to our current 
location in the south of Coventry.

A brief History Of The Coventry Astronomical society By E,F, Nicholls.
Let me apologise in advance for any inaccuracies that may occur in this brief account of the formation of the Coventry Astronomical Society,  as my knowledge of the earlier years of the society is rather sparse.

The Society was originally formed late in 1939 as the "College Astronomical and Meteorological Society" mainly through the efforts of Mr. J.D.F. Williams and Mr. R.N. Helsdon who at that time were full time member of the college staff.   At the time the intention was to organise a meteorological section which would be able to supply returns to the Air Ministry.   Mr. J.D. Williams is now Vice-President of the Society.   A well-known amateur of the time,  the late Captain G.T. Smith-Clarke,  encouraged the project from its first conception and observational nights were at that time held in his observatory at Gibbet Hill which was equipped with a Cooke 
6 inch refractor.

This was, of course, a rather unfortunate time to start any society but viewing conditions in the blacked out city must have been marvellous compared to those prevailing today.   From the outset membership of the society and lectures arranged by the society were open to the public and one of outstanding interest was that on Monday,  February 19th 1940,  when Mr. Bertrand Peek President of the British Astronomical Association and Director of the Jupiter Observing Section came to address the society.   His subject not unnaturally was "The Planet Jupiter". 
 
At about this time Captain Smith-Clarke made a generous gift of his complete observatory and 6 inch refractor to the society and this was later removed from Gibbet Hill and re-erected on the college roof.  Due to war time conditions the society's activities were suspended for the duration of the war in 1940,  re-commencing in 1945.

Another of our present Vice-Presidents, Mr.H.G. Miles eventually took over as Secretary and ran the society for many years.  He is now Director of the Artificial Satellite Section, Reporting of Sporadic Celestial Phenomena Section, and Secretary of the Education Committee of the BAA.   He was succeeded by Mr.Chater of the college staff and I took over about 6 years ago when Mr.Chater went to Germany.

During the last few years membership has steadily increased and I am hoping that the new combined society will help to encourage this.

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A verbatim report on a paper given on July 25th, 1967.  By J.H. Osbourne.

We gratefully acknowledge Mr.J.H. Osbourne for making this article available.

The article was obtained by Alan Hancocks for this first issue of "Stellar".

Around mid-summer 1959, a member of the Coventry Astronomical Society, Mr.M.J.O. Green, having been requested to resign from a breakaway group.  The CAS was attached to and closely allied to the Coventry Technical College in the Butts where a refractor was and still is available in a small observatory on the roof.   Its use was restricted in the main to college opening hours and perhaps because of this and the infrequency of meetings the CAS was not as widely known as it might have been.

Mr. Green advertised in the local press for persons to contact him,  who had any interest in astronomy,  in particular the building of telescopes/  In the main his avert attracted a small number of enthusiasts who were either lone workers or planning to become so and who welcomed their chance to meet others of a like mind.   It is clear, as will be seen from later event saw that these persons neither considered themselves as a breakaway group nor suspected Mr. Green's earlier connections with the CAS.  It may be that one ot two founder members were also members of the CAS and that is certainly true today,  but the formation of what was in effect an Astronomical Workshop, for filled a need, in no way conflicting with the function of CAS,  and it cannot be disputed that Mr. Green was extremely knowledgeable on the subject of astronomy,  optics and design.

The is no record of any preliminary gatherings of persons who replied to this first advert, but is certain that some were held, probably of an informal nature is which a name for the Society and Chairman was decided upon,  as also were the aims of the Society.  These latter are clearly inscribed on the fly leaf of the  Minute Book as being-

"Construction of Astronomical Telescopes Study of Astronomy in all its aspects"

The title given was "Coventry Astro-Telescope Society" and the Chairman was A.R.L. (Tony) Parsons,  who later proved to be a tower of strength to the society and whose tragic death in a accident in April 1965 saddened us all.

Under his chairmanship,  the first recorded meeting was held at 50 Northumberland Road, coventry at 8p.m. on Tuesday, November 3rd, 1959.  A formal agenda had been drawn up comprising:

       1. Election of Officers 
        2. Advertisement for Workshop 
        3. Membership Fees 
        4. A.O.B. (any other business)

Mr. Green was elected Secretary, a treasurer and two Committee members were appointed.  Two of these are today still most active members it is a pleasure to record that Alan Hancocks and Bill Gray have for so long, unstintingly served our Society.

It was agreed at that meeting to rent a workshop at 27 Ford Street,  Coventry.  The rent (£2.10.0 per week) was heavy and must have been inclusive of rates for reference is made in a later minute to a "refund of rates" when the tenancy was terminated.  On account of the rent it was decided upon  a weekly subscription of 4/0- (four shillings) and although this was high, it is interesting to note that it was carried 10 for, 1 against and from that we can deduce that including the Chairman there were 12 founder members present.  Unfortunately only the officers are named and of those, Alan Hancocks, mentioned above, is still serving on the committee.  However, there may be others from amongst the anonymous 7 and we should be glad to learn of any member who was present at that first meeting.

The first full committee meeting was on Friday 20th November,1959.  It commenced at 9p.m. and went on until 11p.m.  It was evidently a tremendous meeting and many of the resolutions passed have still today a most familiar ring.  Apart from decisions to purchase a stock of disc, blackboards, Epidiascope etc.,  it ws decided to approach the schools to form a Junior section under the tutelage of Tony Parsons, to arrange a Christmas dinner - a happy idea which has become an annual feature ever since.  It was also decided to advertise for members once again,  to affiliate with the BAA (British Astronomical Association) and above all to approach Councillor Mann to discuss the feasibility of mounting a large telescope in the environs of Coventry.

Thus, at our very first meeting following the inaugural of the original committee our footsteps were set upon a path that today is leading us to Coombe Abbey.  How daunted would that committee have felt, I wonder, if they had realised then that eight years later we should still only be on the threshold of this goal..  It says much for their ideals and the persistence of founder members that this torch has been carried for so long and passed on,  undiminished into the hands of the present committee through the many changes and vicissitudes that have beset the Society since those days.

The Society continued to meet at the rear of 27 Ford Street, and as a result of the advertising a number of new members were enrolled, of which the writer was one.  These premises, it was found left much to be desired for apart from the expense, they lacked both hearing facilities and water supply and the nearest toilets were those in Pool Meadow bus station.  However, enthusiasm was tremendous and I have many happy memories of lively debates,  a growing warmth of friendship, (owing nothing to the heavy overcoats, gloves and mufflers we usually were wearing) and to the occasional altercation that arose as opinions differed.  These meetings were most enjoyable gatherings of lively minds, as indeed they still are today.  It was then, too, that the tradition commenced of continuing discussions over a nightcap pint on the way home and since it was rarely that we hurriedly burst into the local hostelry before five to ten an unofficial roster was left as to whose turn it was to pay "this week".  Many decisions were reached on the pavement after turning out time and still are and my wife,  at least, could not understand why I got home after 11p.m. when closing time was 10p.m.   I fear that later years,  when licensing hours were extended to 10.30p.m. brought no improvement for then and now we burst in at 10.25p.m. and pavement discussions continue unabated.

Despite all the foregoing the Society had been in existence, albeit a very active existence for only nine weeks when it was decided to call a first AGM of members.   This was held at the Chairman's home, 186 Rotherham Road, Coventry on Sunday morning 10th January 1960 at 11a.m.  I remember this meeting very well.  It was heavily attended and we were packed in,  sitting on chairs, arms of chairs, stools, the floor and each other.  the Chairman was confirmed in the office and a larger committee formed, bringing the number from 5 to 7.  It was in the capacity of Assistant Treasurer that our present Chairman,  Dave Spearman, was first mentioned in the records, along with Bill Gray,  Committee member and myself, who for some dubious reason ws elected Vice-Chairman.  Alan Hancocks was also on the new committee. 

At this meeting, resolutions were passed that still form the foundation upon which the Society is built and ranged from the official resolution to construct an Observatory to the formation of a set of rules.  Apart from full membership, still at 4/- per week other classes of membership were created, catering for juniors, students, associates and honorary member with appropriate scales of subscriptions.  Mr.J.Hayes was elected the first honorary member and it was also proposed to offer such membership to Dr. Cork, Science Master at King Henry VIII School with whom some correspondence had been held.

It was also agreed to contact the Leicester Astronomical Society, their secretary Mr. Cliff Shuttlewood being know to Mr. Green.  This contact lead to a number of interesting visits in both directions and Mr. Shuttlewood kindly agreed to lecture to us on a number of occasions.

In February 1960 a move was made to a room hired in Vine Street School and the workshop vacated on the grounds of inconvenience and expense.  Mr. & Mrs. Green kindly made workshop facilities available at their home in Northumberland Road and this continued for a limited period and for which conveniences the society voted a nominal rent of 2/- per week.

The move to Vine Street not only enabled the subscription to be halved to 2/- per week but provided the venue and opportunity for most interesting programme of lectures given both by members and visiting speakers.

It was at this juncture that concern was first aroused over arrears of subscriptions despite the reduction in fees and it was becoming obvious that defaulting members were melting away.  This problem was a recurring one and led in due course to the policy of annual subscriptions we employ today.

A librarian was appointed for the first time.

In March 1960 it was decided to publish a broadsheet, Newsletter or something of a similar nature and it was myself who volunteered to produce it.  From the brief discussion, of which there is no mention in the minutes, "Cosmos" was born and has continued in monthly publication ever since.  The No.1 of the first edition has a dateline April 1960, our latest publication was No.9 of the eighth edition, June 1967 i.e. 87 issues have been printed.

No.1 carried an editorial, Night Sky Chairman's Chat, news items, programme etceteras very much as it is today.  It consisted of 1 foolscap sheet, printed on both sides and introduced to an unsuspecting world that zany female "Stella" given to asking awfully silly questions,  usually punning, on matters astronomical.

Described in this first issue as Lens girl friend and quite an eyepiece, she asked whether Len's behaviour on the common the other night was the thin end of a 'Hearsall' wedge ?  The punning play on the word Lens and Hearsall Common for Herscell set a deplorable and shameless pattern that she followed ever since.  For upwards of five years she appeared infallibly in every issue but for lack of inspiration her appearances these days are a little less frequent. Nevertheless,  she still puts a word in now and again and we hope will continue to do so for years to come.

To Be Continued................. 

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