The story of Glasgow’s astronomical societies begins in 1809 when the Glasgow Society for Promoting Astronomical Science was inaugurated. Ambitious plans were prepared for an Observatory to cost £1,500 and a site was chosen on Garnethill. The Convenor, Dr Andrew Ure, went to Largs to confer with Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane and also went to London to confer with leading scientists of the day. The Observatory was built - an ornate Egyptian-style building, equipped with some excellent instruments. However, the Society ran out of funds, the Observatory was surrounded by new building and became unsuitable for its purpose. The Society was disbanded in 1822 and some of the instruments were identified as being sold off although others just ‘disappeared’. Around 1830-32 the building was demolished.
A West of Scotland Branch of the British Astronomical Society was founded in 1894 and based in Glasgow. The inaugural meeting took place on 23 November that year when members were addressed by E. W. Maunder, founder of the BAA and Editor of the Journal. His subject was ‘In Pursuit of a Shadow’ - an account of the recent eclipse expedition.
The first of the Branch visits was to the then new Observatory at Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, where they were conducted personally over the buildings by the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, and received from him much valuable information about the instruments. (The Society continues to have annual outings to places of astronomical interest and has returned on a number of occasions to the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh).
For some years the Branch continued to have a relatively small membership although the high standard of the papers read and the subjects treated was well maintained. In 1904, the Branch requested permission to enrol associated not directly connected with the BAA. The resulting increase in membership was so great that it was found necessary to seek a new meeting place. In October 1905, the Branch met for the first time in the new buildings of the Royal Technical College, Glasgow. (This association has happily been maintained and to this day the Society meets within the University of Strathclyde). Also about 1905, the Branch obtained authority to enrol members resident in any part of Scotland and eventually in 1937, the name was changed to ‘Scottish Branch’.
The Branch celebrated its silver jubilee in September 1919 and although the War was over, railway restrictions still prevailed and prevented a visit to the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. Later on, a second World War was to affect the membership and attendance at meetings, but throughout this difficult period there was no interruption to the programme of the Branch.
Accounts of the meetings make interesting reading. For example, Professor A. D. Rowes of the University of Western Australia, while on a visit to this country, gave a paper on Star Groups; by contrast, a novelty was reading of a paper by Mr. J. R. Simpson on references to astronomy in the poems of Robert Burns! (Indeed, Mr David Sinden and his brother, Mr Frederick Sinden, presented the 1996 O'Neill lecture entitled 'The Stars o' Robert Burns').
With the close of the session 1943-44, the Branch completed fifty years of useful life and this was celebrated, amongst other things, by the re-election of Professor Smart to the Jubilee Chair. There was a civic reception in the City Chambers, and a Dinner was held. The Astronomer Royal, Sir Harold Spencer-Jones, addressed the Branch.
About ten years later, it was decided to wind up the Branch and reconstitute it as The Astronomical Society of Glasgow, affiliated to the BAA. This took effect on 30th April 1954.
Thanks to Margaret Morris