The Early Years
SWHAS was formed at the end of 1967 and the first meeting was held in Rickmansworth in February 1968 under the chairmanship of Jan Willemsteyn.
Since 1970 meetings have been held at the Royal Masonic School and in 1971 the site of the Society’s observatory near Flaunden was leased from the landowner Sir Anthony Cayzer for the nominal sum of £5 per year. In 1974 he kindly donated the freehold of the site to the Society.
In 1972 the Observatory was named ‘High Top’, the name being chosen by Jan Willemsteyn. A clubhouse was erected in the same year, and in 1974 new committee member Colin Reeve took the responsibility for construction of a dome, intended to house the Society’s main observing telescope.
On 22nd June 1974, the observatory was officially opened.
Installation of our first large scope in the dome
In 1976 the Society’s new Chairman Alan Appleton arranged for his home-built 12″ reflecting telescope to be put on permanent loan to the Society, and it was duly installed in the new dome.
Regular observing sessions have been held at the observatory on most Saturday nights since then.
Over the early years of operation, various other instruments were added to the site including refracting telescopes.
Halleys Comet 1985
A big event for the society was the return of Halley’s Comet in 1985/6, which prompted a significant increase in Society membership and numerous improvements to High Top.
Between 1997 and 1998 a larger 14″ telescope was constructed and installed. The then Chairman Allan Swan was the main architect and driving force behind the project, assisted by Colin Reeve and other committee members.
High Top was used for many of the major astronomical events such as the appearance of Comet Hall-Bopp in 1997 and the Transit of Venus in 2004.
Transit of Venus 2004
Comet Hale Bopp 1997
High Top over the Years
There have been various developments on High Top over the decades and here are some pictures to illustrate this.
The has been two domes here on occasion, one owned by a member the other by the society. The radar dome in the background was RAF Chenies, an important radar station built in the 1950’s and remained operational until 1990’s.
Our Meetings Venue – The Royal Masonic School For Girls, Rickmansworth
Regular monthly meetings of the Society have taken place in the RMS since 1970 and have continued to attract a growing membership.
At most meetings an invited speaker gives an illustrated talk on an astronomical topic and our regular guide Richard Westwood, gives a tour of the night sky in the school’s planetarium.