AGM and President’s Address – 26th February 2010

The Society Annual General Meeting was held at BEECHE, High Elms. After the normal business including officers’ reports and the election of the committee for 2010, our President Gilbert Satterthwaite gave us a second installment of his memories:

Bobb Webber writes: Gilbert presented the second part of his occasional series regarding his career at the Royal Greenwich Observatory and Herstmonceux. This part, called Greenwich to Herstmonceux, reviewed his move between the two sites and an overview of his new Herstmonceux home.

Gilbert had a month to train on the Transit Circle at Greenwich, at the end of which he took the last published observation on 30th March 1954, prior to his departure to Herstmonceux in July 1954. The various RGO departments decanted to Herstmonceux over a ten year period, with the solar observatory being operational back in 1948/9. He noted that the solar team took spectroheliographs at both Greenwich and Herstmonceux with the same instruments on the same day as their move to the country!

What Gilbert found at Herstmonceux was a 1540s brick built moated castle set in 380 acres of Sussex countryside. The building had fallen into disrepair back in the 1600s and been twice refurbished in the twentieth century.

Environmental concerns at Greenwich meant that a new home had to be found for the working observatory, and a decision to move to Herstmonceux was finally taken in 1939, though of course, implementation was delayed by the war. When Gilbert got there, as well as the castle, there were grouped huts which included two for the male employees, the previously mentioned solar observatory (which was largely underground), the Meridian instrument (in the Spencer Jones group), the Reversible Transit Circle, the Photographic Zenith Tube (complete with mercury mirror, for accurate time and position measurements), and the Equatorial Group (in domes imaginatively named “A” to “F”). Gilbert also mentioned some of the more recent additions, including the sundial and the statue of the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, which was installed in the early seventies.

The Castle itself housed the AR (initially Sir Harold Spencer Jones KBE) in one corner, the women employees in the old servants’ quarters at the top of the building, the Library and public function rooms, and the offices of several of the astronomical sections.The latter included the Right Ascension and Zenith Distance rooms – a hang-over from Greenwich! Indeed, Gilbert oversaw the first main computer installation (with space to suit!) and the consequent change from manual computation of results to the gradual automation and computerisation of the same. Some change…

We await the next installment!

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