The History of Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society

Article From the Bexley News Shopper

24 inch.jpg
This Article from the I 24/02/17 is from Member John Howarth

Kentish Times article (2009/08/06) about Dr Hugh Percival (Percy) Wilkins.

1. Evening Classes

There have been astronomy classes at Crayford Manor House since the 1950's.

The first lecturer at the Manor House was a Dr Hugh Percival (Percy) Wilkins, the internationally renowned selenographer. The first CMHAS observatory was named after him and located at the Manor house in Crayford. Dr Wilkins was elected member of the BAA in 1918 and served as Director of the BAA Lunar Section from 1946 to 1956.
Dr Hugh Percival 'Percy' Wilkins.

Crayford Manor House

2. The International Lunar Society

Below is a press article from 1957 about the International Lunar Society. Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins was the founder of the Society & its first president after his departure from the BAA in 1956.

3. Mapping the Moon

Members of The International Lunar Society - including Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins and a very young Sir Patrick Moore meeting at The Crayford Manor House Centre on the 20th August 1957.
Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins is sitting in the front row, third from the left with his wife Hilda seated next to him on his right. A young Patrick Moore is sitting in the front row, second from the right.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong views Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins' 300 inch Moon map.
Neil Armstrong & Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins' 300 inch Moon map at the Royal Geographical Society, London

4. A Movie about Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins

A Pathe Movie about Dr Hugh Percy Wilkins life & his work mapping the moon can be viewed by clicking here

5. The Life & Work of Dr. Wilkins

This issue of the BAA Lunar Section magazine 'The New Moon' is dedicated to the life, work and memory of Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins - which can be read by clicking here.
Written by Phil Morgan

Another article about Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins written by Professor Bill Leatherbarrow who is the current director of the BAA Lunar Section, appears in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, February 2010 edition.

Copies of the article can be obtained by contacting the BAA directly or if you are a BAA member by logging on and downloading a copy from their website.

6. Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society (CMHAS)

The Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society was established in 1961, a year after the death of Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins, when a Mr Gordon Taylor, who was a professional British astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich (Herstmonceux), travelled from Herstmonceux to lecture and help formally set up the Society along with a Mr Richard Chambers (who later became Chairman of the Society from 2005 until his death in 2012) and a Mr John Wall.

CMHAS actually grew from the series of evening classes that Richard Chambers attended in the 1950s when Dr Hugh Percival Wilkins was the lecturer and only become a formal society when Gordon Taylor (BAA president 1968-1970) took over.

The first meeting of CMHAS as a Society took place on the 30th November 1961.

Gordon Taylor, involved the group in practical experiments along with Richard Chambers (Dick to his friends) who used his organisational skills to ensure that the experiments were carried out effectively by the CMHAS members. The meetings that were held at the Society were conducted on formal lines and consisted of reports on the Society activities & members' observations etc. Section directors were also appointed to co-ordinate the members' work on subject areas, such as variable stars and occultations in a similar fashion to that pertaining in the British Astronomical Association (BAA) which the society still has very close links with today.

During 1960, The Manor House undertook the conversion of the boiler house into an observatory to hold a 12-inch telescope. The telescope was built by Mr John Wall who also invented the Crayford Eyepiece Mount (CEM) which is known worldwide and featured on BBC Stargazing Live 2014. Over the years the observatory improved, with the fitting of a dome (designed & constructed by CMHAS members) and a 24 inch (60 cm) telescope also built by founder member John Wall. Members who had passed tests of competence had keys to the observatory and unrestricted access.

7. Distinguished members of Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society

  • Gordon Taylor who was the founder of the Society, past president of the BAA from 1968 to 1970 & past director of the computing section of the BAA from 1974 to 2009. In 1958 he made the first observations of the occultation of a star by an asteroid, Vesta & his 1973 prediction of the occultation of SAO 158687 by Uranus led directly to the discovery of the planet's ring system 4 years later.
  • John Wall who invented the Crayford Eyepiece Mount (CEM) in 1969, telescope maker & founder member.
  • Richard Chambers who was Chairman of Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society (CMHAS) from 2005 until he died in November 2012. Richard was instrumental in setting up CMHAS and for the first 28 years of its life he was their honorary secretary.
  • Jack Ells who was the first amateur astronomer to build a computer controlled telescope which was called the Automatic Photometric Telescope (APT).
  • Roger Pickard who is a past president of the BAA in 2008 & 2009.

8. Video of Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society founder, Gordon Taylor, being presented with a special award from the BAA by Roger Pickard.

Click on video below to view.

9. A video made by the BBC in the 1980's about CMHASD

Click here to view.

10.The Society Golden Anniversary Celebration in 2011

In 2011, the Society celebrated its 50th Anniversary by holding a Golden Anniversary Dinner which the Society founder Gordon Taylor attended along with Richard Chambers who was Chairman at that time. Please click here to view photos & videos of that evening, including a letter written by John Wall who was unable to attend.

11. Society Archive

A record of Society activities as published in the press and copies of papers written by members are retained in an archive and below is a small selection of those press cuttings about the Society.
The late Mr Richard Chambers holding a section of Dr Hugh Percy Wilkins Moon map inside the Wilkins Memorial Observatory at The Crayford Manor House.

Page 7 of the 'Over the moon at launch of great new space age' article continued....

Article written in 1993 about the Society - which includes details about the Crayford Eyepiece Mount (CEM) invented by the Society founder member John Wall which is used worldwide in astronomy, the first computer operated telescope built by an amateur astronomer Jack Ells - The Automatic Photometric Telescope (APT) which specifically tracked variable stars and two long standing & current Society members Arthur Cockburn & John Howarth.
A photo accompanying the article written by Ross Langford - of Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society members back in 1993 standing in front of the Wilkins Memorial Observatory.

The Crayford Manor House & Wilkins Memorial Observatory.



12. The story of why CMHAS moved from the Crayford Manor House to The Pavilion, Sutton-at-Hone in May 2012.

Astronomy classes to move in new year - 2012!
Even though Astronomy classes had been running at the Manor house for more than 50 years, Bexley Adult Education College decided to close the Crayford Manor House centre to reduce their operating costs at the end of 2011. All students were sent letters advising them the Astronomy classes would move as of 1st January 2012. The College also advised the Society, that the National Hewitt Archive and Observatory at the Manor House, were matters that the society should negotiate directly with Bexley council.

Future of the Society?
The Society formed a 'look ahead' committee to review the future plans of the Society and to ask some difficult questions such as 'After more that 50 years, should we continue to be affiliated with the College now the Manor House is closed?' and 'What would it take to run an Advanced Astronomy class on our own?'. The committee had six members; Simon Dawes (Chair), Dr. Mike Rushton, Honor Wheeler, Martin Crow, John Archer and Keith Rickard and on the 2nd February 2012, the committee presented the options back to the Society at a Society evening.

The committee covered;
Programme - How would we fill a weekly programme and structure the 26 professional lectures throughout the year?
Cost - What type of membership should there be and how would costs compare with other societies and the Advanced Astronomy lecture course?
Location - What halls & facilities were available and was there any future potential for an observatory?
Administration - What would we need to do that the College currently did for us?
Publicity - How we would publicise ourselves and how would this differ from what Bexley Adult Education College offered?
Constitution - How the Society should be run?

Society agrees to become independent of Adult Education College.
On the 15th March 2012, CMHAS decided to end its 50 years associated with Bexley Adult Education College. The decision come after a 4 month investigation into the options the Society had by the committee, following the closure of the Crayford Manor House Centre in Dec 2011. It was also decided that The Astronomy for Beginners course would remain at the College and CMHAS would continue to support and promote the course, which it did until April 2013.

Society notifies Bexley Adult Education College of decision to become independent.
On the 23rd April 2012, the Society sent this letter to the Bexley Adult Education college;
1. To notify them of their intention not to support the Advanced Astronomy course for the College.
2. That The Astronomy for Beginners course would still be run by CMHAS for the College in 2012/2013.
3. The last meeting of the Society at the Bexley Adult Education site, Brampton Road, Bexleyheath (where the Society was moved to in January 2012 by Bexley council following the closure of the Crayford Manor House) would be 17th May 2012 and that our first meeting at our new venue - The Pavilion, Parsonage Lane, Sutton-at-Hone, would be the 24th May 2012.

Last Lecture at the Crayford Manor House - December 2011.

13. Completing the Move out of the Coach House

The Society were given a deadline of 31st August 2012, to remove all our items from the Coach House. As the items were of scientific value, we had to find a secure home for them. We were offered storage facilities in Bedford and six CMHAS members were called to action and gave up their day to move all the photographic plates and other records to their new storage facility in Bedford. In the evening, 25 members helped move the remaining items to the loft at our new venue for medium term storage. Below are some photos taken of the move.

The move to Bedford
The move to Sutton-at-Hone in the evening

14. Removal of the 24" telescope built by John Wall

York Astronomical Society removed the 24" telescope built by John Wall on the 28th September 2012 from Crayford Manor House Observatory, more details and photos can be found here.


15. First night at our new venue - The Pavillion, Sutton-at-Hone - 24th May 2012

The first night at our new venue in Sutton-at-Hone went very well with many new faces. There was a short talk by John Archer on the Foucault Pendulum he had seen on holiday and then we broke up to observe the planets and the Moon in twilight. We observed a lovely crescent Venus, roughly the same phase as the Moon as well as Saturn and its largest moon Titan.
Chairman Richard (Dick) Chambers cuts the cake to celebrate the first society night at our new venue - The Pavilion - Sutton at Hone.

Venus is there somewhere!

About half the group observing Venus.