Altrincham & District Astronomical Society was formed in November, 1964 by a group of 15 year old schoolboys who acquired a small plot of land from the Council in Timperley at the edge of the recreation field where they built an observatory. As well as weekly meetings at the observatory site, meetings were held on the first Friday in the month from September through June at various venues, including Altrincham Library, Timperley Village Hall, 1st Timperley Scout HQ and, finally, now at Timperley Community Centre.
During the early years the members built their own telescopes and often observed in winter all night in sleeping bags under the stars. Other activities included visits to dark sky sites, such as Tegg’s Nose, Lamaload and Llyn Brenig in North Wales and camping trips were also organised.
The society now acts as an educational centre for local schools, scout/cub groups and guide/brownie groups which feature astronomical activities, slide shows and telescope demonstrations. Star parties are also held to which the public are invited and include poster displays, telescope operation, sunspot viewing, barbecues and Martian (pea) soup. The society also has an interactive relationship with Jodrell Bank and is often present at open days at which they display their optical telescopes.
Members of the society have been active in observing eclipses in various parts of the world including India, Curacao and Hawaii and several members had adventurous trips to observatories in South Africa. One member has a special place in the society’s history in that he was the first amateur to observe supernova SN1987A in the Large Magellanic cloud in 1987.
Patrick Moore with Tony Bradshaw, ADAS member
Ged Birbeck is using the 14inch (350mm) RFT
at the roll-off observatory.
History of the Society, Colin Henshaw
The ADAS was founded in 1964 by Fred Talbot and Trevor Smith, who were both pupils, along with myself, at North Cestrian Grammar School.
We were all in the same year group, and Fred and I were in the same class in 1961. We were fifteen years old when the society was inaugurated.
Prior to 1964, Fred and Trevor were in the North East Cheshire Astronomical Society, (formerly the Cheshire Group of the Junior Astronomical society, now the SPA), that used to meet at the old Cheadle Institute on Cheadle Green. I went once, and recall attending a meeting in which some old gentleman lectured on the Pic du Midi Observatory in the Pyrenees. I recall three members of the society who were probably on its executive, these being John Lockley and Chris Collier. Another was a fellow called Eric Hyde, who I believe came from Sale, like Fred.
At some point in 1964 there must have been some internal politicking going on and Fred and Trevor decided to break away and set up on their own. In this way the ADAS came into existence, with Fred as Chairman and Trevor as Secretary. Membership was drawn from interested pupils at North Cestrian, myself being one. The school was not very supportive. A few years earlier, the school had its own astronomical society, run by the history teacher, Colin Rogers. This was certainly prior to 1961, as my brother was a member, but he has not indulged in astronomy since. Younger children in the lower forms (1 to 3) were not allowed to join it.
The first ADAS meeting was held at the Park Road Branch Library, if I recall, on Friday, November 13th, 1964. Since we were juveniles, we were not trusted to hold meetings without an adult present, but two teachers from North Cestrian, Thomas Alfred Dybas, latterly known as McCloed, and Alan Ward. The former taught English, and the latter, Biology. Alan Ward still lives on Russell Avenue in Sale, and until about ten years ago was a neighbour of Stuart Gibson, who attended meetings in the 1970's. The second meeting was held on Friday, December 3rd, 1964 in a basement classroom at North Cestrian. Thereafter the school no longer offered us any support, though for several years its membership was largely recruited from there. Messrs McLeod and Ward continued to provide their support, enabling us to return to the Park Road Branch Library until we reached such an age that we could be trusted. During the second meeting, elections were held for an assistant secretary, whose function was to write up the minutes of the meetings. I was duly elected, but I had reservations about the post at first, but it grew on me, and I actually began to enjoy it. I would meticulously record the attendance at every meeting.
In 1966 Fred and Trevor left North Cestrian. Fred went to Sale Grammar School, while Trevor went to Altrincham Grammar School. Fred brought in a new influx of recruits from Sale Grammar School, including Graham Cliff. Meetings were lively and usually well attended, with the usual ups and downs. Graham was elected onto the committee. Pete Wadsworth, who came from Sale Moor, and was a lively character that served on the committee and hosted observing sessions at his home. I recall observing the Geminids there one cold and frost night in December 1969.
During the early years of the society, before the observatory was constructed we would go on observing sessions to Carrington Moss. We would gather at Fred's house on Edale Grove in Sale, and make our way there on our bikes, entering the Moss near the "Lively Lobster." Pete Wadsworth had set up an intercom that the recorder of observations would use to keep in touch with the observers.
One activity that the society developed was the astronomical camp, held every summer. This was a tradition brought over from the North East Cheshire Astronomical Society. One thing that was done was to create a cine film of the camp's activities. The first camp that was held in 1965, was at the Marquis of Anglesey's estate at Plas Newydd, Llanfair P.G. on Anglesey. I was on the camp, and this was my first real introduction to astronomical observation. Meteors were the main interest. I also recall seeing a very bright flashing satellite (the first time I had ever seen one). I actually found it quite alarming.
Before observing we would go to the pub in Llanfair P.G., even though we were under age. However we still got served drinks. I recall on one occasion a halogen flood lamp illuminating a car park was affecting our observations. I soon put paid to that. It was about half a mile away from the camp, but I went over one evening and found the offending light was located on the roof of a building overlooking the car park. I shinned up onto the roof and found it was fixed onto a steel girder weighed down by bricks. I removed the bricks, rotated the girder 180 degrees and then replaced them. The light was now aimed directly over the Menai Straits and no longer gave us any trouble. This was my first encounter with the problem of light pollution.
In 1966, we didn't manage to get back to the estate, so instead, a small group of us held a camp at a farm in Alderley Edge. That was when skies away from the main urban areas were quite dark and the Milky Way was still visible. Again, the observation of meteors was the main focus of our attention.
In 1967, we returned to Anglesey, but in 1968 we went back to Alderley Edge. Graham Cliff's family had had a hut on a farm outside Alderley Edge since the 1930's, and we decided to hold the camp there. On the camp was a new enthusiastic member, Richard Scoular, who hailed from Scotland, but lived in Wilmslow. He was active in the society for several years in the late 1960's to early 1970's, then mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again. The tradition of astronomical camps continued well into the 1970's usually Wales - e.g. Tudweiliog and Cemaes Bay.
The society's major project that was largely responsible for holding it together was the establishment of the observatory. Fred and Trevor sounded out Altrincham Council in 1968, with a view to building one, and we were first offered a plot of land near Seamon's Moss, near Oldfield Brow. I recall going along one weekend to clear the plot of grass, and we all turned up with scythes and grass cutters. However, for some reason this fell through, though we managed to secure a plot behind Lyme Grove in Timperley when new parliamentary legislation permitted 18 year olds to sign a lease. Once we secured the plot, work began on the observatory in summer 1968. It was not without setbacks, as local vandals knocked down the walls on one occasion and we had to start from scratch.
Undaunted the building was completed by the end of December 1968. By this time we had all left our various schools. I was at Stockport College and Graham Cliff was at Manchester University. Trevor went to Durham University and Fred went to Ponte land College in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was around this time that a boy from Wythenshawe by the name of Graham Sinagola wrote to me about the society, and he came along to one of the meetings. He used to ride around on a small Honda 50. He thought the observatory was fantastic and became a staunch member of the society ever since. Around this time several girls from Altrincham Grammar School for Girls joined the society. These were: Linda Rofe, Christine Henderson, Susan Livingstone and Janet Matthews. Love affairs blossomed. Susan Livingstone subsequently went to Oxford University and studied mathematics and later married Graham Sinagola. Linda had a sister called Pauline who ended up marrying Graham Cliff, so the astronomical society played a very important role for many people.
The observatory was a ramshackle affair with a twelve-sided hardboard dome that was supposed to rotate on castors. Several people had to move it during observing sessions, and on at least one occasion strong winds nearly blew it off. In the early 1970's the facility expanded with the acquisition of the clubhouse around 1973. I wasn't around for its construction as that summer I was in the United States. Graham Cliff also acquired his family's hut in Alderley Edge and we spent a weekend there dismantling it and transferring it to Timperley on a flat backed lorry. The idea was to use the hut as a library. Fred donated his astronomical books and his telescope. This was the heyday of the society when its social life revolved around the observatory. On clear Friday nights we would gather at the observatory and observe planets, and anything else that was of interest.
In 1967 George Alcock discovered Nova HR Delphini and this inspired me into observing the nova. I followed it for about two years after which it faded from view, but by this time I had honed my skills as a variable star observer. By 1969 I transferred these skills to the visual observation of variable stars that continued unabated till 2008, after which I started observing photo electrically with a DSL camera.
In 1970, we were blessed with our first ever view of a bright comet. Comet Bennett was visible in the morning sky for several weeks from late March, and during the Easter holidays we observed it several times from Graham Cliff's hut in Alderley Edge. The comet showed prominent gas and dust tails. The comet was discovered by Jack Bennett in South Africa and I later met him at a BAA meeting in London, where I was studying zoology at the North East London Polytechnic.
In 1974 two boys, Paul Rendell and Ken McConville from Wellington Road School, joined the society and began to play an active part. Paul had an 8 inch telescope that he eventually donated to the observatory. Ken had spent some time in Australia and eventually returned there and was last heard of living near Brisbane with his wife Shelley, and he still pursues an interest in astronomy. 1974 also brought Comet Kohoutek. This object proved to be a damp squib, but we managed to observe it one night from a good vantage point at Alderley Edge.
In 1975, we observed a close conjunction of Venus with Jupiter that provoked a large number of UFO reports. It was successfully imaged through Paul Rendell's telescope.
Other notable members of the society around this time were Jim Gillies, who was a pupil at North Cestrian while I was there, and I recruited him through promotions in the school during my final years. He went to Sheffield University and studied metallurgy, and eventually settled there. Peter Galloway and Paul Howarth ("Spiro") came from Denton and Ashton-under-Lyne respectively and were long standing members for many years. Peter became a teacher in a Manchester school while Paul became a social worker. Paul disappeared to New Zealand and has not been heard of since. Ian Winstanley, Brian Casey and Colin Powney joined the society around 1973 and played quite an active part. Brian eventually married Christine Henderson and they settled in Scotland. Sadly Colin Powney died around 1998. All three were aviation enthusiasts and would spend many hours at Manchester Airport recording the comings and goings of aeroplanes. Colin was particularly noteworthy in this respect, having amassed several large albums of pictorial aviation history at the airport. He could even identify an aircraft from the sound of its engines. I recall one night sitting in the High Grove pub in Gatley with Colin when a plane flew overhead. He said "Drink up! We're going to the Airport. Concorde's just flown in." Sure enough, there it was on the tarmac when we arrived, and we sat and admired it until it took off again.
The society around this time was mainly composed of teenagers and twenty-something’s. However one older person did come to meetings who was substantially older. This was Reginald S. B. Hall, a stern character who believed that societies should be formally organised. He was at one point critical of our election procedures. He would come along to the observatory and to meetings with his son Tim. Tragically Reg died at work from a heart attack, but Tim remained a loyal member for many years before re-locating to Blackpool. He has not been heard of since to my knowledge.
In 1972, the annual society dinners were inaugurated around Christmas. The first dinner was held at the Koh-I-Noor restaurant in central Manchester. About twenty members attended the event, and Graham Cliff placed a tape recorder in the middle of the table to record the banter. It would be interesting if he still has the tape. Subsequent dinners were held at the Halal Restaurant in Timperley and elsewhere.