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.


Starting to dig foundations for the Clubhouse 1972


Laying the base for the Clubhouse in 1972


On 22nd June 1974, the observatory was officially opened.


Rt. Hon Anthony Cayzer, Kivara Cayzer and Jan Willemsteyn at the opening


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.

The home built 14″ Reflector
Allan Swann
Colin Reeve










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

Tom Walsh & Bob Garner during Venus Transit


Transit of Venus 2004




Comet Hale Bopp 1997

Hale-Bopp and Venus at High Top 1997
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.


High Top 2007
The pointed tip of the Hexagon Dome just visible on the left hand side of the picture










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.

Our regular meeting place – Cadogan House Hall at RMS


A meeting about Gravitational Waves & LISA in progress
The Planetarium at the RMS
The Zeiss Projector in the Planetarium