The Bath Astronomers are a group of local Somerset amateur astronomers sharing a passion for observing the night and daytime sky. Our desire to share manifests itself in organising observing evenings:
- for the group;
- for a wider group that have expressed an interest in astronomy and observing;
- for schools/youth groups such as beavers, brownies, scouts, guides;
- for the general public.
The group meets up every month in Bath for talks, workshops or to informally chat and plan over a cup of tea and biscuits. The coordination team looks after the activities of the group and events for the public and other organisations. The Society dates back to 1976 and has an interesting history.
The Bath Astronomers’ logo is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the year William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus from a garden in Bath whilst sweeping the skies, often with his sister Caroline. The history of the society and group is a little more recent and we hope you forgive us having a bit of fun.
Bath Astronomical Society roots began in Bob Newman’s living room with Bob, his daughter Priscilla, and a family friend discussing astronomy. They decided that Bath, a city famous as being the home to Sir William Herschel, should really have an astronomical club of its own.
In 1976 Bob Newman and Dave Ollis went to the Bath Chronicle and put an article out about the proposed formation of a club, for anyone of any ability, who loved looking at the stars to meet up and have discussions about the subject. The first meeting was held at the Percy Boys Club on New King Street, almost opposite the Herschel’s home, and the hope was that possibly a dozen or so would turn up. What a surprise, that almost 50 people came – people of all ages, from children to OAPs – all interested in the science of astronomy!!
At this inaugural meeting, it was decided that Dave Ollis would be the first chair and Bob Newman would be Treasurer. Notable new members present included Dick Phillips and Mike Tabb, who later took over the chair from Dave Ollis. Young Priscilla Newman volunteered to make the tea; a job she continued to do for the next decade! The new Society was to have its own newsletter (the ‘Eyepiece’) with Dick Philips as editor and Bob and Priscilla using a battered old manual printer to reproduce. From the earliest days meetings had speakers from both within and outside the Society, and the Society had its own handbuilt observatory in the garden of Michael Tabb in Batheaston; it housed a 10 1/2″ Newtonian reflector.
The Society grew to near 300 members within a few years but with the onset of the 1980’s member numbers waivered. An exhibition of astronomy at the BRSLI in Queen Square in 1981 bolstered numbers. The excitement of Halley’s Comet in 1985/86 also had an impact on membership with public observing at the Civil Service Club at Claverton Down.
As member numbers varied, meetings moved to St John Ambulance HQ, in Pulteney Mews, and then to Mike Tabb’s house at Bannerdown as the regulars were a dozen of so. As he meetings got smaller – down to just a handful – and with age creeping up, and other commitments from the members, it was decided to bring the club to a close. Bob Newman passed away in 1998, just 8 months short of seeing the UK’s much awaited Total Eclipse; his gravestone at Haycombe Cemetery is engraved with the eclipse ‘Diamond Ring’ and the words ‘Co Founder of the Bath Astronomical Society’.
In 2010, the Bath Astronomers were reborn as the informal observing arm of the William Herschel Society under the guidance of Dick Philips and focused on sharing that passion for observing with monthly meet-ups in the pub and trips to Wellow and Whitesheet Hill. Dick passed the baton to Charles Draper and then Simon Holbeche in 2017.
Regular meetings and talks restarted in January 2018 using the Percy Centre and then in November 2019, the Society was formally reconstituted with much new energy and vigour to share people’s interest in astronomy, to help develop people’s skills and knowledge, and to take stargazing and the wonders of the night sky to the wider community. Within two years, membership had grown from a dozen to 75 people and meetings were being held in the Gallery of the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.
One of the legacies of the original Bath Astronomical Society was, with the help of Dr Leslie Hilleard of Eagle House, Batheaston, to set about doing up 19 New King Street alongside the newly formed William Herschel Society. The effort turned a tired Georgian gem into the amazing museum and visitor centre it is today. Dave, Mike and various other group members tackled the inside of the house whilst Bob, Priscilla, and other group members began clearing the meter high weeds from the back garden. It took several months of work to bring both the house and garden from a shell to a house filled with astronomical ephemera. Mike Tabb recreated Sir William Herschel’s 7ft telescope by hand ready for the opening of the house to the public.
- Ordinary Officers.
The coordination team meet at least bimonthly between September and June and coordinate the activities, membership and finances of the society in line with the constitution. Individuals are elected to the coordination team at an annual general meeting.
Bath Astronomers operates in partnership with Herschel Society to deliver stargazing opportunities and practical observing in the local area and across the South West. The Bath Astronomers group benefits from Federation of Astronomical Society membership and public liability insurance in this symbiotic relationship.