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© Croydon Astronomical Society 2012 Croydon, Surrey, England. Charity Registered in England and Wales No. 251560


Croydon Astronomical Society
est. 1956

History of the Croydon Astronomical Society

The beginning

It was in 1890 that the British Astronomical Association came into being, and over the years it has become a respected body that caters well for the more advanced amateur. However, it was felt by many that it failed to cater for an important section of the astronomical community - the beginner - and in particular the younger generation. It was not until 1953 that something was done to rectify this situation. A group of prominent amateur astronomers decided that a new organisation should be formed - and from these beginnings the Junior Astronomical Society came about (now the Society for Popular Astronomy or SPA).

The founders were quick to point out that the word ‘Junior’ was not just to imply the age of the astronomer, but rather the knowledge. However, the organisation was aimed at the schoolchild, and soon meetings were being held that consisted of talks given by well known figures in astronomy, but aimed at the beginner. The idea immediately caught on and the membership increased rapidly. It proved that the concept was a good one, and that the need for the new society was indeed there.

As the meetings were held in London it was difficult for those living further away to attend. To cater for the growing popularity, and for those living further afield, a magazine was soon published and this helped communication between all members, but the obvious solution was to set up local groups.

Following a suggestion from the Croydon Society's own founder - Fred Best - this was done. Early groups included those of Guildford, North-East London, and Tooting, with others in the north of England. Now many more Juniors could participate actively within a relatively small, closely knit group of keen amateurs. Then in March of 1956 the Tooting Group folded quite suddenly, and the way was paved for a similar group to be set up in Croydon.

Formation of the Croydon Astronomical Society

Mr and Mrs Best were instrumental in the formation of the new Group, though they were ably assisted by John Lytheer, Ken Stocker and Norman Wright. The principal was sound – the Group would meet at Mr Best's home near East Croydon Station - and so on the 5th May 1956 the Croydon Group of the Junior Astronomical Society first met. In 1967 the society changed its name to the Croydon Astronomical Society.


Over the lifetime of the Society a large number of expeditions have been organised, some astronomical and some social. Many visits to sites of astronomical interest in the UK. Foreign trips have included: the Isle of Skye in 1961 and 1962, Iceland in 1965 and 1967, Island of La Palma from 1986 - 1998, Australia and New Zealand in 1993. Additionally eclipses covered by members include: The Monte-Umbe eclipse in 1973, Kenya in 1980, Mexico in 1991, India in 1995, Venezuela in 1998.

Visit to Mullard Radio Observatory - September 1976

Society Exhibition - October 1965

‘Monte Umbe’ Eclipse Expedition - June 1973

The Observatory Project:

Out of frustration by many members of not owning a telescope of their own, at a meeting on 28th July 1961 the Society undertook to build a large telescope. The first problem was to find a suitable site, the first site, on a members land in Addington had to be abandoned.

Work at Addington Observatory Site 1962

Working at Kenley Observatory Site summer 1972

CAS Senior Members Reunion - 3rd December 2004

After an absence of many years Dr John Murray (now at The Open University) returned to the society to speak to us about the latest results from Mars Express. Allan Mason took the opportunity of taking this group photograph of some of the original members of the Society.

From feft to right:

Tony Sizer, Keith Brackenborough, John Murray, Mike Maunder and John Mathers.


Text and photographs on this page kindly provided by Roy Easto, from an article in The CAS Journal 'Altair', Number 92.

We are now waiting for a volunteer to write the last 39 years of our history in time for our 60th Anniversary in May 2016.

The second site, the current site at Kenley was acquired in 1965, the Society was given the freehold to a plot of land as a gift. Building started on June 14th 1967 whilst the engineering work was underway. The Society was very fortunate in having a number of very experienced telescope makers, including Norman Fisher, to design the telescope as well as an excellent engineer in Gordon Main. In 197? the telescope was installed at the observatory and on 30th June 1979 the observatory was officially opened.

Kenley Observatory - May 1977

Twin worms and work gear for mainshaft drive

on the 18-inch telescope

In the early days the telescope was used mainly visually. A prolific observer, Steve Pattinson observed on most clear nights. The observatory opened every Saturday night for members and the public. Training sessions were set up to train members in the use of the telescope. By 199?, with deteriorating skies the society purchased a Starlight Express CCD camera and a computer. This allowed the sky background to be subtracted from images. During the lifetime of the observatory a large number of groups from the local community have visited the observatory.

Using a homemade spectroscope at the society’s first astrocamp - summer 1981

Fred Best Telescope

Images of the original telescope can be seen here, courtesy of member John Mills.



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