Annual Report for 1995

The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh was founded (as the Edinburgh Astronomical Association) in 1924 and is governed by a Constitution adopted in 1937 and since modified (most recently on 13th January 1995). A copy of this Constitution has been supplied to each member and may be referred to in the Society's Library at the City Observatory. Copies may be obtained from the Secretary. Clause 1 of that Constitution is:

The name of the Society shall be "The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh" and its objects shall be to advance the education of the public about the science of Astronomy and to promote astronomical research chiefly in Edinburgh and its neighbourhood. In furtherance thereof:
(a) to circulate information on astronomical matters by the publication of articles, books etc.;
(b) to encourage astronomical study and observation; and
(c) to increase popular interest in astronomy.

The Management of the Society is vested in a Council, elected from the Ordinary Membership of the Society. The following were elected at the AGM in March 1995 and served from 1st April:

105/19 Causewayside, Edinburgh EH9 1QG
Telephone: 0131 667 0647
Mr Peter MacDonald
5 Braehead Crescent, Edinburgh EH4 6BP
Telephone: 0131 339 1309
Mr Jim Nisbet BSc
46 Kenmure Avenue, Edinburgh EH8 7HD
Telephone: 0131 661 4535
Mr Alan Pickup BEng FRAS FBIS
Mr Gerry Taylor BSc
Mr Johnnie S Bradley
Mr Alan Ellis BSc FRAS
Mr Raymond Fenoulhet
Mr Austin Gordon MIScT
Mrs Lorna McCalman
Ms Carol Rankin

The following Council members elected at the AGM in 1994 held office during the early part of the year (from 1st January to March 31st): Mr Graham Rule, Mr Peter MacDonald, Mr Jim Nisbet, Mr Alan Pickup, Mr Gerry Taylor, Mr Alan Ellis, Mr A R H Marks, Mrs May Fenoulhet, Mr Raymond Fenoulhet, Ms Carol Rankin, Dr John Rostron.

The Society's principal address is:

The City Observatory
Calton Hill
Edinburgh EH7 3AA

Telephone 0131 556 4365

Awards to members

During the year Mr Ron Livesey, CEng FICE FRAS, was awarded the Lydia Brown medal of the British Astronomical Association. Mr Alan Ellis has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. The Society extends its congratulations to both these members.


The following were admitted as members of the Society during 1995:

On 31st December 1995 membership of the Society was 123 of which 8 were Honorary.

Honorary Members

Prof. Douglas Heggie was elected as an Honorary Member of the Society on 13th January. Professor Heggie, who has been a member of the Society for many years, holds a personal chair in Mathematical Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Dave Gavine was presented with the Lorimer Medal of the Society at the meeting on 2nd June and was elected an Honorary Member at the July meeting.

Prof. John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, has kindly consented to become one our Honorary Presidents in place of Prof. M Longair who left Scotland some years ago.

The Society extends its congratulations to Prof. H. Brück who celebrated his 90th birthday in August.

The Society's Honorary Presidents are Prof. Andy Lawrence and Prof. John Brown. Honorary Members are: Dr M. Brück, Prof. H. Brück, H. Ford, Dr D. Gavine, Prof. D. Heggie, Mrs E. C. Jenkinson


Two editions of the Society's Journal have been published in 1995 (issues 33 and 34) under the editorship of Dr Dave Gavine.

Gerry Taylor has continued to produce Bulletins for distribution at the monthly meetings although your Council took the decision to discontinue the practice of including monthly Star Maps.

Star Maps are still being provided to members but in the form of the Federation of Astronomical Societies' Astrocalendar which has been issued to every member. It is envisaged that these booklets will be used in place of membership cards in the unlikely event that members have to vouch for their status.

The Society continues its arrangement with Sky & Telescope allowing a discount to members subscribing in a bulk order despatched by the Treasurer. (The magazine is posted direct to the member's address.) Any member who is not in this scheme but would like to join should contact the Treasurer so that they can be included in next autumn's order.

The Society has received favourable publicity in both Astronomy Now (including the presentation of the Lorimer Medal to Dave Gavine) and in Popular Astronomy.


The Society has held the following meetings during 1995

January 13th
Special General Meeting for constitutional amendments followed by Dr Fiona Vincent of St. Andrews University
Cometary Tales
February 3rd
Mr Ron Livesey of the British Astronomical Association
Why Observe the Aurora
March 10th
Annual General Meeting
followed by Mr Paul Money
Aftermath of the Impact (Jupiter & Shoemaker - Levy 9)
April 8th
Open Day at the City Observatory
May 5th
Quiz night followed by Cheese and Wine Once again the ASE Team managed to win, but with a slim margin of points. We will once extend the challenge to the ROE next year as meeting with us seems to be improving their performance!
June 2nd
Presentation of Lorimer Medal to Dave Gavine
Navigating by the Stars
July 7th
Chris Durman
Observing at COAA (Centro de Observaçõ Astronómica no Algarve)
August 4th
Members' Night
Short presentations were given: Following the meeting Alan Pickup gave a demonstration of the Internet from the Observatory Library while Mr Mitchell demonstrated the use of his telescope from the observatory grounds.
September 1st
Gerry Taylor
Relativity with Arithmetic
October 6th
Professor John Brown, BSc PhD DSc FRSE FRAS, Astronomer Royal for Scotland
SS433 The most bizarre star in the galaxy
November 3rd
Professor Andrew Lawrence, BSc PhD FRAS, Regius Professor of Astronomy Edinburgh University
The furthest corners of the kingdom
December 1st
Mr James D Rall
Building and using an astronomical observatory
Mr Rall's short talk was followed by a discussion of current astronomical events, hosted by Alan Pickup in the absence of the President who had to leave due to illness.

Attendance at meetings (where recorded) has been:

    Jan  Feb  Mar        Oct  Nov  Dec
     50   46   49         65   52   50

Council Meetings

The Council met on January 6th, January 27th, February 24th, March 31st, April 28th, May 26th, June 2nd (Special Meeting), June 30th, July 28th, August 25th, September 29th, October 27th and November 24th.

Electronic Communications

During the year the Society has established a presence on the World Wide Web. This has resulted in a number of enquiries about membership. The "URL" for the Society is and the Society thanks the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh for hosting our pages on their server.

Some Society Officers are also available on the Internet:

Graham Rule
Alan Pickup
Jim Nisbet


The 6" Cooke telescope continues to be in regular use with observations of (the shortage of) sunspots, the moon and Saturn being most common.

During the year the Society has purchased a 8¾ inch Newtonian telescope made by Mr Gordon Mitchell of Coatbridge. This very nice instrument has been used on a number of occasions.

The Council would like to thank George Grant and Kenny Millar for the great progress they have made in refurbishing the 13 inch Cox reflector. This instrument is over 100 years old and has been out of service for over ten years but those of us who have used it remember it as a fine telescope and look forward to using it again.

The Society has received a donation from Sony Consumer Products Co. Ltd. of a display model Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. The GPS works by receiving timed radio signals from satellites and works out the latitude, longitude and altitude of the receiver to a great degree of accuracy. Given the historical importance of the City Observatory in navigation from Leith this makes an interesting item to go on display alongside the Transit Telescope.

The Society was donated a small Planetarium by the Leith Nautical College when it moved to Milton Road and its much improved equipment. This has not been used much and has been sitting in the City Dome. Graham Rule is currently replacing the blown bulbs in it and starting plans to establish it in a semi-permanent position in the small lecture room in the Playfair Building.

Some years ago the Royal Museum in Chambers Street borrowed an old Celestial Globe that had originally belonged to the Astronomical Institution. This went astray for some time in the basement of the museum but has now been re-discovered and will soon be returned to the Observatory.

The workshop building contains a Lathe that once belonged to the famous Victorian engineer Edward Sang. (It may be the same instrument that he used in constructing equipment for C Piazzi Smyth in his expeditions to the Great Pyramid.) It has not been used for some time, its ownership uncertain, and due to the antiquated and dangerous nature of its open belt drive the Council have ruled that it must not be used. In the circumstances it has been decided, after discussion with our landlords, that it should be put in the care of the Royal Museum who will be able to care for it and, possibly, put it on display.

Visitors to the Observatory

In February we welcomed a group of members of Renfrew & Paisley District Astronomical Society.

The Open Day in April was well attended with some 300 members of the public listening to short talks on astronomical matters, touring the observatory and observing the Sun. In the evening a number of people returned for a night-time view of the sky. A popular item was the Sundial kit which was available free of charge.

During the year the Observatory Director, Mr Jamie Shepherd, has conducted two series of Evening Classes in Astronomy. These have been well attended with around 60 enrolments in the spring and around 35 for the autumn series.

Throughout the year there have been many visits of groups and individuals to the Observatory for tours of the facilities. Weather permitting, there have been opportunities to use the 6 inch Cooke refractor (and later the 8¾ inch reflector). A group from the Royal Meteorological Society visited on 12th May (and held a short buffet reception in the Playfair Building) and the Scottish Section of the Antiquarian Horological Society were shown around on June 10th. This latter visit has resulted in some favourable publicity in that society's journal.

In the summer we were most happy to allow Mrs Anne Bader to make use of the Society's records in conducting research into her family history. Her father was Mr J. C. Johnston who held the office of President of the Society on 3 separate occasions - the only person to have done this.

A quick look through the signatures in the Visitors' Book shows that during the year we have been able to welcome several hundred visitors from all parts of the world.

External Meetings

A large group from the Society attended the Royal Observatory's Star Party on April 7th.

The Scottish Astronomy Weekend (SAW) was in Stirling from 13th to 15th October. Dave Gavine from our Society attended this and expressed his approval. He has also suggested that more ASE members should take an active part in such events. On 25th November, the Scottish Astronomers' Group (SAG) meeting was held in Glasgow and the ASE was well represented by Graham Rule, Ron Livesey and Dave Gavine. At this meeting Dave was elected co- ordinator of future SAWs.

In July the Society was also represented by Dave Gavine at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Mills Observatory in Dundee. The occupants of the City Observatory extend our best wishes to our sister observatory.

Dealings with Edinburgh District Council

Your Council has continued to be in negotiations with the Economic Development and Estates Department of the Edinburgh District Council (EDC) regarding our future use of the City Observatory. These have been very slow moving because of the current reorganisation of local government.

The EDC view is that the Society as tenant will be required to pay the rates for the Observatory as well as insurance premiums. Even with the 80% automatic rates rebate given to charitable organisations this would result in an impossible financial burden (over £2000pa) on the Society.

Your Council is examining methods of funding our continued use of the Observatory. Fund-raising by charging for sub-lets to Radio groups is likely to help but is not currently forecast to be sufficient in itself. It may be that we will be allowed a further discretionary rebate of the rates but it seems likely that we will have to hope for an increased grant from the EDC.

There is concern that the Recreation Department of the EDC may be unaware of our tenancy of the Observatory.

There have been a number of newspaper reports about their intention to limit access to the Calton Hill.

At first this was just a ruling that vehicular access was to be forbidden from 9pm (except to authorised users). Fortunately this did not result in the closure of the gates and Society members and users of the Observatory were treated as having been 'authorised' to use the road.

A more worrying development was a later decision, again reported in the newspapers, that the road was to be closed and access physically prevented from 'dusk'. Whoever made this decision clearly had no understanding of the importance of the period after dusk to the tenants of the City Observatory. As of the end of 1995, there has not been any attempt to actually restrict access to the Hill.

On neither of these occasions did we have any advance notification from the EDC regarding their intentions or a chance to enter into discussion with them to make our needs known. Your Council will, of course, keep an eye on these developments and keep our members informed.

In December the Secretary was contacted by a firm of consultants charged with preparing a plan for a development at the Calton Hill to be funded out of the Millennium Fund. The consultants visited the Observatory and seemed impressed by the work that the Society was already doing but unhappy that it was not on a larger scale. They had already drafted plans for a Visitor Centre which would emphasise the importance of the area in the history of time-keeping as well as astronomy in general.

Their plans, if carried out, would have far-reaching effects on the ASE's use of the hill - not just in changes to the access road but in the establishment of a Planetarium in the City Dome and regular (commercial) tours of the Playfair Building.

In so far as the proposals appear "to advance the education of the public about the science of Astronomy" the Society gives its support. However we continue to monitor the development and implementation of the plans.

Irrespective of the outcome of the Millennium project, the EDC has set up a working party to look at the future of the hill. The Society expects to be represented on this working party.

Non-Astronomical Events

These are events with which we have been involved through our tenancy of the City Observatory and are not directly related to the main business of the Society. They are, effectively, a contribution to the life of the City that far exceeds our desire to run an Astronomical Observatory for the community.

As usual there have been certain Edinburgh events which simply must go with a bang. These are the, now traditional, seasonal Fireworks. The Beltane and pre-Hogmanay celebrations have both been enhanced by firework displays within the Observatory grounds while the Calton Hill is a favourite site for those watching the larger displays put on at the Castle during the Festival and at Hogmanay itself.

There have been three Broadcast Radio Groups in the observatory grounds in 1995.

Your Council has in the past been unhappy about the arrangements for the use of the Observatory for 'Restricted Service Licence' broadcasters but was persuaded to allow "Pirate Radio" based at Deep Sea World in North Queensferry to site its transmitter in our grounds. This event was not, as far as the Society was concerned, a great success and as a consequence we were reluctant to facilitate any further events of this type. Our reluctance was supported by our landlords (EDC) and we were told that we should not allow any such short term sub-lets until our new lease was agreed.

We were therefore most concerned to find that "Mela Radio" had, without our permission or knowledge, installed broadcast equipment in part of the observatory. As the multi-cultural Mela festival had put significant resources into the event we agreed (with permission of our landlords) to allow their transmissions to continue. The locks on the relevant building have since been changed.

The Edinburgh University Student Radio club contacted us at very short notice in order to arrange use of the observatory for "Fresh Air FM". Due to a misunderstanding between them and one of the EDC Parks Department staff they had made preparations for a month's broadcast from the Calton Hill. After discussing this with the EDC department dealing with our lease we were given permission to sub-let at an appropriate charge which would help the ASE pay for its rates next year. A fee was agreed and the transmissions went ahead.

The use of the Observatory for Broadcast Radio is likely to be a continuing problem for your Council.

An attempt by a group to establish a short-term Television Broadcast station in the Observatory House was supported by the EDC and your Council gave quite a bit of time to helping with their preparations. Unfortunately this came to nothing when applications for the necessary Broadcast Licences were rejected.

In contrast to the problems of broadcast radio, there have been no difficulties caused by the occasional use of the observatory by the Edinburgh University Amateur Radio Club. These 'radio hams' have been able to make contact as far off as Newfoundland using a small transmitter and temporarily erected antenna system.

In April an exhibition of photographs by Charles Piazzi Smyth was held at Stills Gallery on Cockburn Street. This resulted in a number of people interested in photography, Piazzi Smyth and Pyramidology visiting the Observatory. Members of the Society were happy to discuss two of these subjects.

The observatory hosted a "Balloon Launch" for the start of Adult Learners' Week on 15th May. This event received coverage in the Evening News and attracted a number of people to the site including two 'celebrities' from the world of broadcasting.

The visit of the Tall Ships to Leith resulted in increased numbers of visitors at the Calton Hill, many of whom had an interest in the navigational history of the Observatory. Unfortunately, most of the time there was such bad weather that no observations were possible. Some of the time it was so bad that Leith couldn't be seen.

Ms Jane Brettle obtained permission to hang large metal mirrors between the pillars of the National Monument as part of the Fotofeis exhibition of photography. Related to this she applied for use of the Playfair Building to house a photograph and mirror 'installation'. As this was going to happen at no cost to the Society and would result in a much needed face-lift to the paint work your Council agreed to this.

Related to Ms Brettle's installation, an exhibition was held at the French Institute of artefacts relating to the various sites used in the Fotofeis. The Observatory's contribution to this was the loan of the Star Finder by Sir William Peck that was donated to the Society in 1941 by the late R Gall Inglis.

The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh Trustees

A former Vice-President of the Society, Mr John Henry Lorimer RSA left a substantial bequest to the Society when he died in 1936. This bequest has been assigned to "The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh Trustees" and is managed by them under conditions set forth in a Deed of Trust granted in favour of Rev Dr James Patrick DD BSc and others, dated 10th December 1937.

The following have been assumed as trustees in terms of that deed:

Mr David C Todd AIB (Secretary and Treasurer)
    5 Brunton Avenue, Carlisle CA1 2AU
Mr Raymond Fenoulhet (also a member of the Society Council)
Dr John Rostron
Dr David Gavine FRAS
Dr John Hunter

All of these trustees are currently members of the Society.

During the year 1995 the Society received £1000 from the ASE Trustees being income from investments held by them for the benefit of the Society.

Financial Report

In last year's report the Council reported that following the legacy from Miss Christian Merson received in 1994 the Society was in a much healthier financial position than for many years. The final settlement from Miss Merson's estate has not yet been made.

The increased interest income this year has allowed the Society to do more for members such as the purchase of the telescope and the distribution of FAS Astrocalendars when subscriptions are renewed.

Subscription income remains at a similar level to last year and the annual Subscription Rate remained unchanged at £10 (£5 concessions).

We acknowledge with thanks the continuing financial support from Edinburgh District Council.

Details of the Society's finances can be found in the Statement of Balances and the Receipts and Payments Account included in this Report.

Statement of Balances for the Year Ended 31 December 1995

Bank Balance                                            (Pounds)

At 31 December 1994
   Current Account                                        624.67
   Business Investment Account                         11,065.16
   National Savings Investment Account                  1,461.55
   Plus Receipts                                        4,347.79
   Less Payments                                        4,295.57
At 31 December 1995
   Current Account                                        816.13
   Business Investment Account                         12,387.47
Value of Investment
                                          Value (Pounds) at 31 December
                                                         1994      1995
658.13 Pounds 14% Treasury Stock 1996 (cost 600 pounds) 703.38   661.83   

The Society has the following accounts/investments :
   Current Account : Bank of Scotland Treasurer's Account
   Investment Account : Bank of Scotland Business Investment Account
   Investment : 14% Treasury Stock 1996

Receipts and Payments Account for the Year Ended 31 December 1995

Receipts                                                      (Pounds)

Membership Subscriptions                          852.50
   Edinburgh District Council                     350.00
   Astronomical Society of Edinburgh Trustees   1,000.00     1,350.00
Investment Income
   Interest on Current Account                     27.20
   Gall-Inglis Bequest 12.75% Treasury Stock 1995  72.66
   O'Neill Bequest 14% Treasury Stock 1996         92.12
                   National Savings A/C Interest   41.20
   Interest on Business Investment Account        672.31       905.49
Redemption of 12.75% Treasury Stock 1995                       570.00
Sale of badges                                                  38.00
   Organisations using City Observatory           230.00
   Donations box                                   49.50
   From members                                    26.50       306.00
Contribution to Society from Astronomy classes                  63.50
Re-imbursement for telephone costs from Stereodome (note 1)    262.30
TOTAL RECEIPTS                                               4,347.79

Payments                           Specific Notes            (Pounds)

For the Society

Lectures and Meetings
   Expenses                               2     164.97
   Hospitality                                  189.05
   Cheese and Wine                        3      84.64         438.66
Printing and Duplicating                                       180.64
Honoraria                 Secretary       4     100.00
                          Treasurer       5     100.00         200.00
Telephone                                 6                    452.77
Library                                   7                    158.17
Insurance                                 8                     96.28
Expenses                  Secretary             247.93
                          Treasurer       9       3.25         251.18
Bank Charges                             10                      8.00
Repairs to Lorimer Chairs                                      180.00
Lorimer Medal                                                   54.40
Telescope Refurbishment Costs                                   94.00
Purchase of Telescope                                          350.00
Society Subscriptions                    11                     72.20
Total for the Society                                        2,536.30
For the Observatory
Honoraria                  Director             350.00
                          Secretary      12     100.00
                          Treasurer      13     100.00         550.00
Gas                                                             51.88
Electricity                                                    540.92
Cleaning                                                       180.00
Library                                  14                    158.17
Insurance                                15                    195.54
Expenses                   Director              69.51
                          Treasurer      16       3.25          72.76
Security Items for Observatory                                  10.00
Total for the Observatory                                    1,759.27

TOTAL PAYMENTS                                               4,295.57

Note to the Statement of Balances and the Receipts and Payments Account for the Year to 31 December 1995

General Notes

The form of presentation conforms to the requirements of the Charities Accounts (Scotland) Regulations 1992.

The following statements are required to be made:

(i) Nature and Purpose of each of the Major Funds
Current Account: Bank of Scotland Treasurer's Account
Society Investment Account: Bank of Scotland Business Investment Account

(ii) Remuneration and Expenses of Trustees
(in the Society's case this refers to members of the Council)
Aggregate amount of Honoraria paid to Office-Bearers £400.00
Aggregate amount of Honoraria paid to Councillors £10.00
(see note below)
Aggregate re-imbursement of expenses to Council Members £701.60

A cheque issued in March for £10.50 to re-imburse a Councl Member's expenses was misplaced. In November the Council agreed that a new cheque be issued but in view of the more than six months elapsed since the issue of the original cheque and the Bank's charge of £10 to place a stop on a cheque, it was agreed that it would not be a good use of the Society's resources to instruct the Bank to stop the cheque. The Council Member in question also agreed to return the original cheque to the Treasurer if it turns up.

The Council agreed to waive the subscription of seven members at a cost of £55. One was in lieu of an honorarium payment for a talk given to the Society [see statement (ii) above] and the other six were for the non-Council members who assisted at the Open Day in April 1995.

It should be noted that the split of expenditure under the headings of Society and Observatory is an historical decision which was made a number of years ago to attempt to show an estimate of the costs falling on the Society through its occupation of the City Observatory. The proportions of items which are split between the categories are identified in the specific notes below.

Specific Notes

(Numbers refer to items on the Receipts and Payments Account)

  1. See also Society Expenditure (note 6).
  2. This item includes the cost of tea and biscuits following meetings.
  3. This item represents the net cost of this event (ie expenses less proceeds).
  4. This is one half of the Secretary's Honorarium with the other being shown against Observatory expenditure.
  5. This is one half of the Treasurer's Honorarium with the other being shown against Observatory expenditure.
  6. See also Receipts (note 1) for re-imbursement from Stereodome for telephone costs. Following a query from Stereodome on historic payments by the Society, the Treasurer conducted an investigation and discovered that the Society had missed two payments (in 1992 and 1993). The Council agreed to make a payment of £60 given that the approximate telephone cost per quarter at that time was £30.
  7. This is one half of the Library expenditure (including the cost of journals and the purchase of FAS Astrocalendars) with the other being shown against Observatory expenditure.
  8. This is one third of the Insurance costs with the other two thirds shown against Observatory expenditure.
  9. This is one half of the Treasurer's expenses with the other being shown against Observatory expenditure.
  10. These charges were incurred when a cheque from one of the attendees at the Astronomy classes was returned unpaid.
  11. This item includes the cost of subscriptions to the British Astronomical Association, the Federation of Astronomical Societies, the Society for Popular Astronomy and the Scottish Astronomers Group.
  12. This is one half of the Secretary's Honorarium with the other being shown against Society expenditure.
  13. This is one half of the Treasurer's Honorarium with the other being shown against Society expenditure.
  14. This is one half of the Library expenditure (including the cost of journals and the purchase of FAS Astrocalendars) with the other being shown against Society expenditure.
  15. This is two thirds of the Insurance costs with the other one third shown against Society expenditure.
  16. This is one half of the Treasurer's expenses with the other being shown against Society expenditure.

This report was approved at a meeting of the Council of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh held at the City Observatory on 19th January 1996

Graham Rule
For and on behalf of the Council of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh

The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
City Observatory
Calton Hill
Edinburgh EH7 3AA

Telephone: 0131 556 4365

© Astronomical Society of Edinburgh 1996

A LARGE PRINT version of this report is available to members from Graham Rule. Phone 0131 667 0647 for further information.