‘If you wish to contribute to, or find out more about the History of Astronomy, then I would strongly encourage you to join the SHA’

Dr Allan Chapman       SHA President

Acceptance Article Nov ’02

Picture Credit: Helen Fairweather

Welcome to the our Website. Our President, Allan Chapman, states above the main aim of the Society. This is achieved in a variety of ways:-

  • By Providing a range of publications both printed and electronic which provide a broad range of topics, all to do with the History of Astronomy
  • By Organising Meetings throughout the year where you can listen to a range of talks from expert speakers on a wide variety of topics related to the History of Astronomy
  • By Providing access to, and conservation of, a world-class collection of books related to the History of Astronomy
  • By Undertaking a survey of astronomical history in the UK

If what you see here interests you, then please consider joining the Society by following the ‘Membership’ Tab above, or to the right, where you will find details on how to join.


Final Report of the October AGM from Gerard Gilligan, Chair

Hello again, and it is hard to believe that yet another 12 months has gone by, and from my point of view the Society for the History of Astronomy (SHA) has shown itself to be as resilient as ever to outside challengers. Despite the continued concerns and apprehension regarding Covid, and the pandemic, the problems caused by various transport strikes, major conflict in the Baltic, plus the cost-of-living effects on many walks of life; I see a stronger, very active organisation. We have continued to provide, when possible, for members to meet in person, to keep in touch, and published our booklets, journals, plus electronic newsletters.

We also continue to improve and enhance the society’s resources, i.e., our library, based in the BMI Birmingham, one of the largest single subject libraries in Europe, with almost three thousand books to borrow, together with the ever growing and detailed SHA survey of British astronomy.

Please remember the above and wider society is administrated, and maintained on a voluntary basis, and reflects on our collective shared interest and indeed of the love for the combination of history and astronomy, together with associated science endeavours of the past. – Whether that be research and study of an organisation, local astronomer, or place of astronomical interest, which has long since disappeared.

A look back over the Year and forward into 2024.

With that aim in mind, the SHA has been very active during 2023, as evident from other presented yearly reports from council officers, and the overwhelming support you the member have shown in these past months. That could have been your attendance at both webinars, and/or face to face meetings, such as the conference proceedings in Birmingham, and summer picnic event in Preston. This also includes your purchase of one of our every popular booklets, and very positive feedback from you following publication of this year’s SHA Bulletin and not forgetting the now world renown SHA journal The Antiquarian Astronomer.

The ability to hold a lecture meeting with a well knows astronomer/historian beamed into your own living room is one of the few positive aspects of the pandemic. But the society has, and will, continue to use webinars and this form of electronic communication to provide top rated speakers right into your own home. This year we have been lucky to welcome, Jonathan Powell, Bernie Taylor, Nick Lomb, Dr Peredur Williams, and our very own Ian Ridpath. In the pipeline for future webinars is Peter Rigby on the history and construction of Orreries, and presentations on aspects of lunar flights to the Moon from Roman times to 1969 from Robert Garfinkle, plus an online presentation on aspects of lunar cartography history from Frank Manasek.

One notable Conference meeting held this year was the held in Birmingham on April 1st, which featured three excellent female speakers: – Miss Megan Briers, Ms Carolyn Bedwell, the SHA assistant Librarian, and International renowned Writer, researcher, and astronomer Ms Carolyn Kennett, who delivered the first Michael Hoskin Memorial Lecture. This meeting was forced to revert to being presented online due to uncertainty due to train transport disruption. However, this gathering proved to be successful, well attended, and as a result there is strong consideration for the Society repeat this format in providing the Spring Conference for future years, as venues for hosting meetings become more expensive to book and remote for some members.

This year’s society summer picnic event was also a great success, with an excellent day visit to The Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory, at Moor Park, in Preston Lancashire. An observatory steeped in history, and lovely maintained by The University of Central Lancashire, and members of Preston & District Astronomical Society. A small group of society members and their guest enjoyed an afternoon of short talks, viewing of archive material, and detailed tour of the observatory, Cooke 8-inch telescope, plus a fascinating story of how it was built and opened in time for the total solar eclipse of June 1927.

With the Society always looking ahead, as well as back into history, there are possible plans to visit the Orwell Observatory which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2024. I am pleased to report that the Society Council has agreed to make early enquires into the possible repeat of a joint conference in Paris, France with our colleagues and members of the Historical Commission of the Société Astronomique de France (SAF). A proposed date for the visit and meeting is June 2025, to coincide and mark the centenary of the passing of French astronomer Camille Flammarion.

Our great resource – The SHA Library.

The Society Library, The Sir Robert Ball Library to give its official full name, has been a continued active success. It remains situated in its temporary location, The John Lee Lecture Theatre, within the BMI. Efforts are always made to make it open and accessible to Society members during our spring and Autumn Conferences when conducted face to face. It is however a disappointment to me as Chair that SHA members do not make more use of this resource. But I realise that the ever uncertainty regarding Covid, and unknown long-term outlook about public transport problems, makes the availability of viewing, from your own home, books, Journals, articles, and other related research materials via online digitation more attractive for many.

James Dawson, our librarian, and supported by Carolyn Bedwell, has, and continues to do an outstanding job in the administration and maintaince of our books, and is always looking for and obtaining new items and acquisitions. Donations of books is a big portal in adding to the shelves, and one of the biggest this year was from the library and book collection of the late and much missed Eddie Carpenter. Reported in the Issue 39 (Spring 2023) of the Bulletin, fifty-eight of Eddie’s books were added to the SHA library out of a total of 324. The remainder were added to the surplus book stalls, and sold at public and society events, plus sells via Amazon to raise society funds towards newly published volumes. James was also instrumental in obtaining updated copies of Frank Manasek book, “A Treatise on Moon Maps” With the author giving James permission to print his electronic book, and in cooperation with the Open University (OU), our society librarian has made available electronic copies of David Gavin’s PhD thesis “Astronomy in Scotland 1745 – 1900”.  The SHA much appreciates the assistance given by the OU in making both volumes of this thesis accessible online.

The SHA Survey, Funds and Membership numbers.

You would think that after twenty years since the Society was established, that we would have uncovered in the UK, all individuals of astronomical interest, long lost observatories, and clubs, plus groups of individuals with a shared interest in astronomy. However, the Society Survey of astronomical history adds many more names and places to its ever-growing database every year. Many identified school and college associated observatories, plus their locations have been added this year. Kevin Johnson our excellent survey coordinator is to deliver a presentation detailing the Survey, and work involved at the October meeting, and Kevin is always grateful to SHA members who find or suggest names to add to the survey, and most importantly he is to demonstrate how the Survey’s vast vault of information can be accessed, to also illustrate the value and utility of the indexes that have been added to the survey site, which could potentially aid your own research.

Our Society treasurer, Dr Geoff King has again performed an outstanding job in the care and administration of the society finances. But not wishing to repeat the details and figures that Geoff has presented to you for examination during the AGM, he continues to indicate the news something unheard of a small surplus in our recorded funds.

I am pleased to also report that the society membership has remain high this past twelve months, and it is very understandable that outside pressures of the cost of living can be a factor in people think twice about renewing their SHA membership again. However, with reference to the list of new names published via the e-news is growing longer, with twenty-seven new names up to August this year, from not just the UK and Europe, but the USA, Canada, Ireland plus China.

I thank Graham Jones, our membership secretary for doing yet another excellent job this year of maintaining membership records, sending out welcome packs, and keeping you informed with regular messages from myself and council, but also news of webinars, meetings, plus events from other associated organisations. With that in mind I would like to take this point in my look back over the year to thank Mike Frost and Bill Barton who as both SHA members, but also as Director and Assistant Director respectively, of the BAA historical section, for maintaining our strong links between across our two mutual organisations. Not just sharing resources, information, but also members!

In the past I have strongly advocated that the SHA council should provide strong communications between the administration side of the SHA but also the membership, and this we do very well as an organisation. Whether that is electronically, email and zoom meetings/webinars, face to face or using paper publications. We also tap into the internet social platforms to keep in touch, and it is John Chuter we must indicate our appreciation for his tireless upkeep and he maintains the SHA web site and provides the online zoom links for presentation webinars and Council meetings. John is also responsible for recording and achieving the society’s own history, which was important last year for researching the past twenty years. John was responsible for the safe and secure transfer of the Society archives to Max Communications storage facility based at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich Greenwich. John has is also in the process of compiling a catalogue of the archives which will be made available shortly. We also share John with the BAA as he acts as their archivist, so we are fortunate to have yet another member who is highly skilled in his required duties, and his garage can now be used to store his car!

Flying the SHA flag

The Society continues to publicise its actives through events ranging from talks by members to local astronomical societies to the larger scale events such as The Practical Astronomy Show, the Webb Society, plus public star parties held at the World Museum in Liverpool. In March, this year it was agreed by Council that Publicity/membership recruitment is now the responsibility of Geoff King, handing over from Mike Leggett, who has taken the time and effort to set up small but prominent publicity stalls at meetings, when at the same time acting as guest speaker. I wish to express my apparition to them both for making the SHA so well known within the amateur astronomy community across the country.

SHA Booklets and e-News.

It is hard to believe that, in its present format, the four times a year SHA e-News, our electronic newsletter, is almost 15 years old. It has become a corner stone to how the Society keeps members in touch with what is happening within the SHA, and the wider world of the history of astronomy. It is due to the e-News that my own personal library has grown, with its shelving bending under the weight of the additional books and booklets over the past few years. We should all appreciate the hours of work and effort that David Sellers spends putting issues together for distribution to us all. He makes it look all too easy, and it is David who in the past three years has been instrumental in the layout design and organisation of publication, plus printing of our excellent series of booklets. Assisting to update my 1994 booklet about astronomer William Lassell, and to publish a long-standing project of Dr Allan Chapman on Sir George Biddell Airy. Sales have not been as extensive as hoped, however additional printing of some copies has been required. Many more booklets are planned, and it is hoped that an updated edition of Allan Chapman’s Three North Country Astronomers could well be in print at the end of this year, if not early 2024.

Voices now sadly silent.

During my time as Chair of the SHA I have had the honour and privilege to either to speak or communicate via email to several giants of the wider world of academia, and the history of astronomy, plus the associated sciences. However sadly during these past few years some of those great voices have fallen silent. Late last year we recorded the passing of Jay Pasachoff, and this Spring Brian Warner and Owen Gingerich. There have been several members of the society who have also left us, for example David Brand, who was due to speak at our 2023 Spring Conference, but sadly died suddenly several weeks before. Were possible I sent messages of condolences to their family and friends on behalf of the Council and membership. But it must be remembered that their publish/printed work either in TV, radio programs, books, together with articles within national and international journals lives on and is a legacy to enjoy for many more years as these great names now become part of our history.

And finally, its goodbye from him!

I would like to thank all the staff at the cafeteria and main administration staff of the BMI in Birmingham for their tireless work and help in keeping us all feed and watered, plus looking after us during council meetings, face to face conferences, and access to the SHA Sir Robert Ball library. I hope this outstanding co-operation at our unofficially HQ will continue for many more years to come.

I do hope you will continue to support the society with your membership and attendance at both online webinars for many years to come, but also face to face meetings, plus submitting your own articles to the SHA bulletin and the excellent Antiquarian Astronomer. There are too many individuals both in the SHA and outside the society to thank and to express my sincere appreciation in the space that remains, but please do continue to make discoveries on cloudy nights. And until we meet on the back benches, it is goodbye as Chair from me. – stay safe and thankyou.


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