making astronomy accessible to all

MP: Mike Phillips
MK: Mike Keskeys
AV: Anton Vamplew
TC: Trevor Cannon
(all Life Members)

Part 1: The Early Years and the Teacher's Centre, Strood, 1970s-1980s

MP: Before MKAS even began, local people who were interested in astronomy used to visit local societies Crayford Manor House and Croydon Astronomical Society. I know that Brian van de Peer used to go, but not sure who else. This was around the mid 1970s, and the beginning of our long links with Croydon. Indeed we saw how an astronomical society was run and took many ideas from them (a situation that has repeated in recent years with Ashford AS coming to see how we do things - a compliment!)

MK: The exact day of the first meeting appears from a letter which Peter Bassett still has in his possession to have been 29 September 1976. My first recollection was an advert appearing in a local newspaper asking anyone interested in forming an astronomical society to attend an informal meeting at Fred Trice's house. Unfortunately, I couldn't attend that first meeting, so I cannot consider myself a true founder member. But I did attend the second and just about every other meeting since. We still have a number of members who were present at that gathering, among them non-active Life Members John Doerr and Julian Delf, active Life Member Peter Bassett, and Graham Finch.

MP: In 1976, not sure if it was Fred Trice or Brian Slade (Pete Bassett will know) put out an ad on the local radio for anyone interested in starting an astronomy club to meet at his house. Brian van de Peer couldn't make it but Pete B was at that first meeting, as a schoolboy of about 13 (?) - see references to 'Master Bassett' in the archives album. Pete now talks enthusiastically about this house that had a giant galaxy painted on one of the inside walls, and a large no.1 on the outside, the full height of the house. That house can be said to be the birthplace of MKAS. The original name was MKAA, so we were an association rather than a society (just like the BAA). The original committee is on the list in the album.

MK: Very quickly, the size of the monthly gathering outgrew Fred's front room and we began to meet once a month on a Thursday night at the RAFA Hall in Dock Road, Chatham. For those of you have never had contact with the RAFA Hall, let me just say that the average chicken-shed has more comfort. I well remember sellotaping newspapers across broken window-panes on bitterly cold winter evenings, and having to sweep the bare floor-boards to make it fit to hold a meeting. Once our aged Chairman, arriving early, surprised a cat burglar, who was quite clearly out of his mind to have entered a chicken-shed with intent to steal.

MP: It seems that MKAS has always had a nomadic history and we moved around a lot looking for a proper home. Pete B tells a story of a committee meeting in a room over a pub (it may be the Rochester one as mentioned above) where our Treasurer, Cyril Lamb, keeled over with a heart attack (he was prolific smoker and liked his whiskey too). Once he'd been taken to hospital, Brian van de Peer said 'Right, on with the meeting!' and they all carried on drinking and doing committee business. I'm sure it wasn't as harsh as it sounds but it's a nice, funny story!

MK: One of the achievements of the ad hoc committee was the publishing of a newsletter, the first of which appeared in December 1976. This newsletter was eventually to develop into a fully fledged magazine in November 1977 under the name of Sagitta. In the fourth newsletter, published in May 1977, reference is made to the earliest-dated letter as one from a Mr R.F.Rodgers of Sheerness to a Mr J.Embleton of Sittingbourne on 15 March 1976. Who Mr R.F.Rodgers was I have no idea, but John Embleton became the first chairman of the Society - or 'Association' as it was then - when an ad hoc committee was formed. From old newsletters it seems that the first secretary was Joy Slade, followed shortly by Ken Hammacott; the treasurer was John Uden; and the first editor was Fred Trice.

MP: In 1977, virtually an entire new committee took over and the MKAA became MKAS (this is why we celebrated our 30th anniversary in both 2006 and 2007). Various observing events and projects were underway, Many copies of Sagitta still exist.

MK: On 29 September 1977, the Society held its first annual general meeting. This momentous occasion was held in a very much improved location from the RAFA Hall - the attic of the Two Brewers in Rochester High Street. To describe the state of the attic was beyond description. Needless to say, it was our only meeting there. At the first AGM a fully elected committee was formed, and we parted company with Ken Hammacott, John Embleton and Brian Slade - Ken because of travelling problems from his home in south London, John because of ill health, and Brian who moved to Sheerness or some such wild place. But to these three should go our thanks for guiding the Society through that very difficult first year.

MP: There are still books in the MKAS library, located in the Canterbury Observatory, saying loaned or donated by some of those first committee members.

MK: The new committee was made up of myself, Brian van de Peer, Stephen Doerr, and John Hease, Christine Saunders, Jean Hosford, John Uden, Keith Taylor, and Linda Button.

The Society's first outing was to observe our old friends, the Perseids, in August 1977. An intrepid band of keen (?) observers duly assembled at the Robin Hood pub on Blue Bell Hill. To while away the time until the sky darkened, some liquid refreshment was bought in the friendly comfort of the lounge bar - just until the sky darkened, you understand. Anyway, when the last-orders bell was sounded, it was generally agreed that they really should get down to the real business of the evening. But surprise, surprise! The sky had not only darkened, but it was covered in those horrid little white, fluffy things: not a star to be seen. Oh well, but no one really cared. A very pleasant evening had been had by all concerned and the tone of Mid-Kent's social gatherings of the future had been well and truly set.

During the early years of the Society, our meeting-place changed with alarming frequency. In the spring of 1977, we tried meeting at Horsted College, but unfortunately the cost proved too much for our limited finances - quite a change from our present privileged position! So it was back to the RAFA Hall until the first AGM which, as I said, was our one and only meeting at the Two Brewers.

Our next meeting-place was at the Walnut Tree Club, which is located in Lower Gillingham, quite close to the gate to Chatham Dockyard - sorry, 'Medway Marine' (what a pretentious name!). This location lasted until difficulties with the management (we were not spending enough over the bar!), and really the unsuitability of the location forced us to seek a new meeting-place. In April 1978 we moved to the Strood Teachers' Centre, which was home until last year (1985-1986)

The election of the first committee in 1977 signalled a great expansion of the Society, which was up until then in danger of folding despite the sterling efforts of the ad hoc committee. One of the key factors in the continued growth of the Society was the great assistance we received from Croydon AS, who were and still are one of the largest and best-organized societies in the South-East. Although we are now more than a match for them in membership numbers and organization, we still have a long way to go to match them in observational work - but we're getting there. First contact was established by Keith Taylor some time before January 1977 when he attended a lecture by Commander Hatfield.

MP: Eventually we settled into the Teacher's Centre, Strood which has long since been replaced by a medical centre. This was a cosy little venue with the choice of three different meeting rooms, and its own bar! Many nights were spent post-meeting in the bar discussing astronomy (Pete Bassett says that's where he had his first pint, bought for him by John Warrener).

MK: To help our stretched finances, the Society, and especially the committee, were always on the look-out for ways to make a fast buck with minimum effort. One of the most successful ventures was our taking stalls at the Medway Lions' Mammoth Market held in Rochester Market during the summer. In May 1979 we attended our first market and raised the princely sum of £65.61 and a half. Great fun was had by all concerned as we yelled our presences in the best barrow boys' tradition, selling such diverse items as birdcages, lawn-mowers, electric fires, children's bikes, and the very best in old clothes. The next year, flush with our success, we took on two stalls, but we had to split our resources between the market and an exhibition being held at the Pentagon Centre, Chatham by Kent County Police to encourage the local youth to take up hobbies. Because of the split resources, the fund-raising was not as successful as previously and the sale of jumble lapsed.

The exhibition at the Pentagon was organized, as I say, by the police and co-ordinated by Inspector David Hatcher of Crimewatch fame. Our society was the only one of its type to attend, the others being made up of the usual Cubs, Scouts, majorettes, martial arts, and band clubs. Brian van de Peer must have many happy recollections of protecting the Society's and member's telescopes and equipment from the not-too-gentle attentions of the Chatham teenage population. In fact, there is a committee resolution minuted for 19 June 1980 to the effect that exhibitions will in future be restricted to libraries, schools, etc. - not open ones like the Pentagon!

The day of the Mammoth Market and Pentagon exhibition was attended by a bit of drama. One of our members, who shall remain nameless, was down to transport exhibition equipment to Chatham, where he worked. On the morning in question, his wife, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, gave him a sharp prod in the rib in the early hours to say 'It's started'. 'Just time to open the shop and deliver the equipment', he thinks, and off he goes. The only trouble was, when he arrived home after staying to set up the stand, there was a brand-new baby, who was born on the living-room floor about five minutes after the midwife arrived (half an hour previously). It just shows that there are more important things than astronomy.

MP: Naz Rajan joined in late 1979 and he invited me to the following meeting, we used to meet once a month then. Anton Vamplew, now quite a well known astronomy author and TV celebrity, joined the month after me. My early memories are of Mike Keskeys as Chairman, Brian and Peggy van de Peer, Peter Parish, and others, all of whom were very friendly and welcoming. When we didn't have a speaker, Brian would usually provide slides of galaxies, and me, Naz and Pete Bassett were buying slides of things like the Voyager and Viking missions to show. Pete B was interested in the space badges Naz and I had sewn onto our jackets and that's how we became friends (we were 16, Pete was 15 I think). Peter Parish says he remembers Naz and me at the back of the audience playing with our Rubik's cubes! The MKAS library was a book collection that Peter Parish had to bring to each meeting in a big heavy suitcase and lay all the books out on the table.

The original society logo was of a partially lit Moon (or planet) and this can be seen on an early membership card in the archive albums.

MK: In October 1980, the Society organized its most adventurous field trip to date. On the night of 4/5 October, the star Regulus and the planet Venus were due to be occulted by the Moon. Unfortunately, it was only visible in the Midlands and East Anglia. Fortunately, we received an invitation from Norwich AS to visit them with telescopes and cameras for the occasion. The brave travellers were Brian and Peggy-Anne van de Peer, Peter Parish, Gerry Whale, a rather large gentleman by the name of Slim, and myself. We all arrived safely at Norwich AS observatory in the grounds of the University. The 12" telescope was inspected and used (Brian always did have trouble finding Albireo) and a guided tour was made of the new dome in the process of construction - very impressive. After the observation of the occultation of Regulus, Mid-Kent set up their portable barbeque. By the time the repast had been finished, the rest of the throng of astronomers from Croydon and other strange places had retired to the clubhouse to obtain a few hours' shut-eye before the impending event. However, their slumbers were soon broken as Slim, Peter, and I blundered our way in the pitch dark to our sleeping-bags (must have been the wine). The cold, grey light of early dawn revealed the most awesome sight of at least thirty telescopes and assorted cameras attended by numerous strangely dressed astronomer, all watching intently the slow progress of Venus towards the limb of the Moon. The countdown to actual predicted occultation was indeed tense. I don't know what we would have done if the Moon had suddenly stopped. The final dramatic reappearance of Venus from behind the Moon was indeed a moment to remember, and the cheer which accompanied it must have been heard in Medway.

MP: We continued at the Teacher's Centre until the mid-1980s, and that will be covered in Part 2.

Part 2: Mid-Kent College and the 1980s

Sometime around the late 70s or early 80s the MKAS journal changed name to 'Pegasus' and a new logo to reflect this. The logo, designed by Brian van de Peer, is of a standing, winged horse. The standing horse represents Kent and the wings are of course for Pegasus, the winged horse for which there is a constellation. This was a larger A4 format, with more articles and an improvement on the older A5 Sagitta. Again this is detailed in the archive albums, but there are a couple of letters from a Dr John Howse of Mid-Kent College, Horsted, from 1982 I think, inviting the society to get involved as he was planning to run a GCE 'O' level astronomy class. This became the beginning of a long collaboration with the College and a new home. The College hierarchy led by Principal Gil Sweetenham were very pro-astronomy, and various things began to happen. The College had the fund and we had the members and enthusiasm.

First, we started meeting at the College in 1983, on alternative dates to the Teacher's Centre so for a few years we'd have a meeting in Strood, then Horsted.

Second, the funds brought us new equipment in the form of a second hand 12 inch reflector (more on that later) and a new Celestron 14, at that time one of the biggest instruments outside of Croydon's 18 inch at Kenley.

Additionally, instead of always having to meet in one of the small portacabin classrooms, or Room 18 (a lecture room with tiered seats), the College gave us a large portacabin that had its own store room, kitchen and a very large meeting area: 'Hut 92'. So we were able to have committee meetings and member meetings in the same place. From time to time members who were around in this era talk about it all misty-eyed and it may seem that they are hankering for the 'good old days'. They are not, as things have massively improved for MKAS (as we shall later see), but simply the fact we were not nomadic for many years but mainly that we had our own 'clubhouse' made it really feel like a proper base that we could do what we wanted with, mostly. We did observing from the car park outside with the 12 and 14 inch scopes and a host of smaller ones, as it was high viewing point and we could look above the light pollution from there. This whole site is now a giant housing development.

Back to the College, and our collaboration with them, running an O level (which various MKAS members helped to teach), and the association with head of Maths Dept, John Howse, allowed us to pull a few other strings - it gave us a lot of clout. That and a very good Secretary (back then the job included Programme Secretary) Naz Rajan, who was able to convince Patrick Moore to come to give us a talk in 1983, though he thought there would only be about 50 people, apparently!

I'll leave that very special night for the description that follows, taken from the January-March 1984 Edition of Pegasus: The Patrick Moore Meeting - November 23rd 1983, by Anton Vamplew.

AV: The much awaited meeting was due to begin at 8 o'clock, however to our great surprise, the first members of the general public coming to the talk, arrived in the main hall at about 6.10pm, even though they had over 1 hour and fifty minutes to wait. Yet another surprise for the committee members already gathered was the arrival of Patrick Moore at a quarter past six, when we were expecting him at around 7 o'clock. He came with an old friend of the Society, Reg Spry, who gave his last talk to us in June 1980. From 7.15pm onwards the hall began to fill up quickly and at about 7.25pm the public had to queue up outside the hall as we could not get them through the doors quickly enough! Just inside the entrance we were selling Pegasus, NASA Activities and the raffle tickets and at this time all three were selling very well indeed.

As the meeting began the final members of the audience were filling the few remaining seats in the hall and up in the balcony. Brian introduced the meeting and it seems that the shock of the hundreds of staring faces will never leave him. Even Patrick was overwhelmed by the many onlookers and commenced his talk by stating that he was expecting to talk to a maximum of 120 people, not, as it turned out, about 500. The talk continued with a good mixture of slides, stories and continued jollity by our speaker.

Carefully examining his watch, Patrick finished at 9pm after speaking for exactly one hour on 'The Outer Solar System'. The audience then showed its appreciation for an excellent talk by giving him a resounding ovation.

The talk was shortly followed by about 25 minutes of questions which, after a shaky start continued well. At 9.30pm the time came for autograph hunters. Patrick was signing books, Pegasus, pieces of paper and generally anything that the public cared to throw at him. The queue for hunters reached a stable forty for quite a time, but no one was left out. This was also raffle ticket selling time. The raffle was drawn at 9.40pm. It comprised two of his books, the first prize being a signed copy of The Unfolding Universe and the second a signed copy of his 1984 Yearbook of Astronomy. Again another surprise, against overwhelming odds the same person won both books, but kindly allowed the second ticket to be redrawn.

The meeting finished at 9.45pm. It had been a most successful evening and it is hard to believe that it all went so well.

MP: 1983 was also an important year as it was the first time MKAS attended the annual summer Astrocamp in the Ashdown Forest. Those who attended were Mike Keskeys, Keith Usmar, Brian and Peggy van de Peer, Naz Rajan and Mike Phillips. The camp still runs and this year we will celebrate 30 years of MKAS at Astrocamp.

During the 1980s MKAS became more active in events, with various outings and social hook-ups with other societies. There were various quizzes on members nights between teams from Croydon AS and MKAS, and we started a friendship with Orpington AS through our link with Greg Smye-Rumsby, who arranged OAS v MKAS cricket, snooker and quizzes.

The aim of the College was always to build us an observatory there, to properly house our two 'flagship' telescopes. Plans were drawn up and even a model was built, of a large brick building with two domes. The fund never appeared though and MKAS continued in its dream to have an observatory.

In 1985 we were approached by the IEEE in 1985 to run a space/science convention in 1986. This was the biggest event MKAS had run to date, and it went well. The 1980s seemed to be the decade of conventions, it felt for a while like there was an astro soc having one every month!

Late 1985 saw the return of Halley's Comet, an event that really stimulated public interest, the like of which we didn't see again until the birth of the Stargazing Live events a few years ago. We had easily a couple of thousand people, if not more, over a week of observing that coincided with National Astronomy Week (photos of this are in the archive album).

The following are excerpts from an article on National Astronomy Week (NAW) in the January-March 1986 edition of Pegasus called The Comet in Medway skies - an amateur observer's account, November 1985, by Mike Phillips. The full article is in the archive albums.

12 November
During the course of the evening, between 70 -100 people came along (including members) to view the comet. I wasn't able to make my observation until 10.30 GMT when most had gone. I decided on using the Society's 12" f/5 reflector as it yields very good views of comets. I used a 20mm eyepiece after lower powers first. Anton Vamplew also drew the comet but decided on using my driven 8" f/6 reflector. We could detect a brighter central region.

13 November
Most popular evening so far - 130 people plus wanted to see the Exhibition. The telescopes were used solidly from about 8.30pm. The sky was very much like 11th, hazy but clear enough to locate the comet with some effort. The public saw it through a combination of 3 scopes: the 12" f/5 which showed a very bright image; Tony Smith's 8" f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain; and my 8" f/6 driven reflector. We waited until most had left and the sky was slightly more transparent.

14 November
Rain and clouds, no observation made. However, still a very good response from the public with 80+ turning up to see the Exhibition. Many enquiries made about coming back to see the comet on another day.

15 November
The final public observing night for NAW and in every respect the best. Not only was it the best sky of the week for observing, we were overwhelmed by people from about 5.45 to 10.35 GMT. Our signing-in book shows 530+ although we estimated at times between 650-1000 people at one point in the evening. Bus loads of children including Scouts and Guides seemed to keep arriving. From 6.00 we were observing Jupiter, and huge queues formed at the C14. The C14 was by far the most in-demand telescope, plus we used the 12", the 8" f/6 and Tony's 8" f/10, and an impressive array of refractors. Once Halley's was found in the C14, many were prepared to queue in the cold to take a peep. I took some overspill onto the 12", but really there were so many people it was staggering. Many (self included) stayed outside all night, advising people on looking at the comet. Inside Hut 92 the exhibition was swamped with everything saleable sold out. The evening showed the best view of Halley's yet, especially through the 12". By the end of the evening we were physically tired and I decided against making a drawing. Instead, we all went inside for a coffee and warmed up. NAW/Halley's Comet viewing was a massive success, with 4 out of 5 clear nights.

1986 was also the year we finally cut our ties with the Teacher's Centre in Strood and we were now all in with the College.

It was also our tenth anniversary, for which Mike Keskeys wrote a history that appeared in Pegasus and is reproduced in full in the archives album. It has been broken into paragraphs related to date order, in this history you are reading. In 1986 Mike closed his 10 year history review with the following:

MK: The recent history of the Society - the visit of Patrick (Moore), the conventions, the move to the College, and its reformation - are subjects best left for the twentieth anniversary. I hope you have enjoyed my recollections and remember that we always recall the good times: the days of draughty halls, missing speakers, and limited finances are soon forgotten. But it is only through our own efforts that the continued existence of MKAS can be assured. Our sugar-daddy Kent County Council may not always be around or so generous.

MP: In 1987 MKAS decided to do a follow up convention, but we knew enough by then not to need the IEEE - a good collaboration bit tricky to run things between two different bodies. The '87 convention was also a success. Hut 92 doubled for a while from about 1987-1989 for a computer club where as well as Ataris and Amigas, MKAS members began trying to download satellite weather images with a large satellite dish and a computer.

By the end of the 1980s, things weren't quite as rosy with the College as at the start. Gil was no longer Principal, and the hierarchy had mostly changed. They weren't hostile, but were now not so pro-astronomy and did not see it as a priority. We started to have restrictions imposed on Hut 92, with rather militant caretakers wanting us to close up and leave the premises at 10pm sharp, which was not conducive to astronomy. We carried on there reasonably successfully, but the relationship would deteriorate in the 1990s.

Part 3: A Home by the River, and another Observatory Plan; the 1990s

TC: It began (the Canterbury Observatory) over ten years ago when Pete Golding first approached MKAS with the idea of building an observatory at the Riverside Country Park, a scheme that the local council embraced with enthusiasm.

MP: In 1989, Pete Golding, a local amateur astronomer with his own observatory, approached Peter Bassett and me at with an idea. Pete suggested we start a campaign or project to get a public observatory and planetarium built at Riverside Country Park, Gillingham (Lower Rainham). This was a relatively dark site and had many visitors, and the space for such a building. This was the springboard for 10 years of campaigning for the public observatory and planetarium, known as the Riverside Park Observatory project, or RPO. In that time, MKAS and its RPO sub-committee raised their public profile, with regular observing sessions at the Park, solar observing in the daytimes, attending all public events at the Park and locally. MKAS borrowed some real moon rocks for display in the former Park building (before the modern 'barn' was built), and many features in the local papers. Fund raising was a big part of this decade with the great idea that the public could buy a 'brick' for £1 and some bought many (when the project was finally abandoned in 2000, the money was moved to the Canterbury Observatory fund).

MKAS came up with some good ideas during the 90s. Len Warne was very active in the society then and he started off a Radio Astronomy group. Led by Len and Jon Holmes, a small group of enthusiasts used to meet in Hut 92 on Saturdays to build the radio telescope. Pete Golding supplied the timber and built the structure, Len, John and others did the electronics. The idea was to be ready for the Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision with Jupiter in July 1994. The project generated quite a bit of press coverage. The radio telescope, on the roof of the main college building, never quite worked as planned. However when SL-9 collided with Jupiter, various MKAS members used the Society's 12 inch reflector to sketch Jupiter as it rotated into view the first time, with its impact scars.

During this decade, MKAS started to meet alternately between Mid-Kent College, Horsted, and a new home at Riverside Park. This must have been around 1995-1996. With their new barn building, the Park was able to offer MKAS a regular meeting space in the loft room. This strengthened the Society's ties with the Park and MKAS hoped made the chance of the RPO becoming reality. Within a couple of years MKAS finally said goodbye to Horsted and Hut 92, after many mostly happy years. The room above the barn was cosy, but a little small and always very hot. It wasn't really suitable, and we were charged a fair amount for it, but it was another temporary home and made sense for the RPO project. Bob Oseman produced a superb portfolio for MKAS, with sky photos and drawings from members, and a set of architectural plans (Bob was once a draftsman). We still have much of these materials. They were used in negotiations with the then Gillingham Borough Council, and continued when the newly formed authority Medway Council took over. Both councils promised us money, support and the RPO. At once stage they held an architectural competition and various architect companies came forward with proposals for an observatory, with planetarium and RSPB hide, and other facilities (by now the plan had shifted to Bloors Wharf, further east still on the shoreline, and darker skies). What MKAS found towards the end of the decade was that in essence the Society was 'used' (as were other societies hoping to have a site there, such as the RSPB) for leverage to make a case for the Council in order that they could compulsorily purchase Bloors Wharf from the scrap metal company that owned it - the rest of the 3 mile shoreline was in Council hands, and this was the last part to completer the Park. When Gillingham Council knew Medway was taking over, they spent all the money, which effectively killed the RPO project.

TC: Negotiations to get the project off the ground began with a project team, and many meetings were held in the intervening period, but no practical progress was made.

MP: By 1999-2000, MKAS committee, RPO sub-committee and the members were pretty fed up with dealing with the Council and looking for a solution.

TC: It was during this negotiating phase (during the RPO project - MP) that Peter Golding first heard of the observatory at the Canterbury High School. He was attending a UKSEDS space conference in Canterbury four years ago (around 1996 - MP), and was introduced to Adrian Belmont, who ran the science department at the school.

Adrian told him about their observatory that had been built by the school for GCSE and A-level physics students and the schools astronomy club. It was official opened by astronaut Jim Irwin in 1991 and although used extensively in those early years, the increasing heavy commitments of the staff severely limited it's availability in later years.

Rather than let such a fine facility fall into a state of disrepair, the school decided to contact some local astronomical societies to see if any could use and maintain it. The first approach was to the South-East Kent AS who turned down the offer as they had just been given use of Monkton observatory. It was then that Pete Golding was approached with the same offer.

Although it was tempting, the Mid-Kent AS also turned the offer down as they were still negotiating with the council about the Riverside site, but they did take members of Gillingham Council to see the observatory to give them a better idea about what they were trying to achieve.

Part 4: Another Move, and an Observatory for Real; 2000 to date

TC: After years of trying to get an observatory project off the ground, MKAS finally achieved their goal in the space of a few short weeks. Their dream has been realised not by years of fund-raising followed by more years of physical work but by a short telephone call during which they were offered the full use of not only a brick built observatory with telescope, but a large meeting-hall as well.

A year ago (1999), some three years after the original offer had been made and still with no progress at Riverside site, Adrian Belmont rang again with a repeat of the original offer, but this time with the addition of the use of some large prefabricated buildings close to the observatory as a meeting hall. This time MKAS decided to look more closely at the offer.

After a brief discussion by the committee, the decision was made to accept the offer and the society received the keys a few months ago. The offer is indeed a generous one. In exchange for a peppercorn rent, the society have full use of the site at any time. The observatory is a 12ft high brick-built circular wall, topped by a Norman Walker 6-metre hemispherical fibreglass dome. This design of dome floats in a trough of water making it very easy to move around by hand. The telescope - a C14 on a Ron Arbour Astrographic mount, sits on top of a metre square brick and concrete pillar that has its foundation deep in the ground below, separated from the observatory wall to prevent the transmission of vibrations to the telescope. The building that accompanies the observatory sits 50 / yards away. It is a 25ft X 50ft prefabricated Init that was previously used for art classes and is currently divided into several large rooms. These can be altered in size and shape by moving the dividing partitions into any desired layout. Outside the grass and earth area is shortly to be surfaced by the school to make a car parking area and to top it all, the whole area is covered by CCTV security cameras linked back to the council control room.

The initial plans for this new facility are to make good any minor repairs to ensure that the observatory is weatherproof for the forthcoming winter, to be followed next year by the computerisation of the telescope and drive so that it can be operated remotely for CCD observing.

Steve Goldsmith, one of the regular hard-core observers of the group, is the man with the expertise to carry out this work. Also on the cards are public open evenings for which the site is well suited as the observatory sits on the edge of the school playing fields.

As for the Riverside Observatory Project, that will be consigned to the bin as far as the Mid-Kent AS is concerned. The club will continue to meet at the hall there, until Christmas and then transfer their meeting place - possibly to a room at Mid-Kent College where they met previously. This would enable the society to alternate venues between there and the observatory, which would have the advantage of enlarging their catchment area and hopefully increasing their membership.

MP: This became Bredhurst Village Hall, near Gillingham, which has been our home since.

The Second part of this article TO FOLLOW...

This article compiled by Mike Phillips

Mid-Kent Astronomical Society
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