The Horncastle Astronomy Weekend began as a British Astronomical Association (BAA) Residential astronomy course with the first course taking place on November 16th to 18th 1973. It was run in association with Lincolnshire County Council at the then recently established Horncastle Residential College. The first organiser and prime mover for the course was Mr William E Fox (Bill) who was an active member of the BAA living in Newark, Nottinghamshire. Bill organised the first astro course whilst the following year a course secretary was established. This post was taken by Mr Terry Byatt of Louth, Lincolnshire providing a local contact who could liaise with the college and organise the course. Bill Fox then took on the role of Course Chairman.
Early courses were very observationally biased and boasted many notable BAA figures including such people as (Sir) Patrick Moore, Commander Henry Hatfield and Dr Ron Maddison. For the first two courses the College’s recently established observatory housed a 160mm reflector which was subsequently upgraded to a fine 305mm Newtonian reflector on an unusual design of mount. In the meantime the College's governors had planted a selection of trees around the observatory (remember “plant a tree in ‘73”?) sadly they would eventually overwhelm the observatory and render it useless.
Being a residential college meant that the course could accommodate 80 people on site with some places for non residential members as well and the early years saw the course fully booked but generally only attended by BAA members.
The Course/event organisers:
Mr William (Bill) E Fox (also founder and chairman until his death in 1988)
Mr Terry Byatt 1974 -
Mr Julian Ravest 197?-
Mr Barry Watts 1980 -
Mr Paul L Money 1986 to present
Mr Peter Drew was the Chairman from 1988 until 1995.
From the 1996 course it was decided that the course organiser Paul Money should act as chairman.
During the mid 1980’s the observatory & 305mm Newtonian was refurbished by members of Boston Astronomers (headed by Paul Money) and for a few years the observatory was available to use during HAW, however due to lack of funding it gradually fell into disrepair. Sadly in 2000 the upper sections of the observatory were so dangerous that the county council decided to demolish the upper half of it leaving just the outer brick wall as a sitting area. Currently Paul has the mirrors in safe keeping but the tube and mount have been disposed of by the college/council much to our dismay.
This hasn’t stopped us observing however as several people often bring their own telescopes along and Paul also brings in a telescope or two if the sky looks promising to observe.
Barry Watts helped to open up the event to more ‘non’ BAA members which included a young man by the name of Paul Money in 1981. Paul was local to the College living just five miles away. By 1985 Paul was an established regular and in early 1986 he became a BAA member after being one of the first in Lincolnshire to spot the returning Halley’s Comet just prior to the 1985 September HAW. Interestingly long time regular Peter Blunden also photographed the returning comet the same night that Paul spotted it. In late January 1986 Paul agreed to take on the organising of the course expecting it to be just for a year or two…
One of the first changes Paul made was to rename the event from ‘The British Astronomical Association, Astronomy Weekend, Horncastle’ to the simpler ‘Horncastle Astronomy Weekend’ as Paul felt the former title seemed too technical and formal. As the BAA barely noticed the event and rarely advertised it, Paul also opened it more up to non BAA members as a way of encouraging more people into the subject.
A major change to the programme of events was that quite often there would be several talks going on at the same time in the various seminar rooms at the college and again it was felt that this was divisive and that there should be single sessions not competing sessions. So for many years the main format was to have up to nine talks with a mix of speakers during the course. In recent years following suggestions from regulars a couple of the main talks have been dropped in order to have shorter presentations to break up the event and this has proved quite successful and popular.
Bill Fox remained a stalwart supporter of HAW until sadly in 1988 Bill passed away. In agreement of everybody attending that years event the first talk of HAW on a Friday evening would from then on be the ‘William Fox Memorial Lecture’ in his honour. With Bill’s passing it was generally agreed that someone should act as ‘chairman’ of HAW to help lighten the load from Paul and for eight years this role was taken on by one of the founders of the AAC (Amateur Astronomy Centre) based between Bacup and Todmordon on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border, Peter Drew. Eventually though this role became redundant as it was easier for Paul to cover the chairman's role.
HAW maintained an average attendance of 70 per event for most of the 1990’s however things were to change that would have a major effect.
During the mid 2000’s Lincolnshire County Council decided to remove almost half of the on site accommodation and, although attendance dropped slightly, many regulars found local B&B’s and still came along.
Unfortunately the council finally removed all the on site accommodation in January 2011 and although there was again a slight drop in bookings, many regulars still booked for the 2011 to 2014 Astronomy Weekends (group photo at left of 2011) and with between 50 and 60 in attendance for those years the event continued.
Then what seemed like the inconceivable, happened. June 2015 it was discovered that the venue was in the process of being sold and that bookings could no longer be taken. With that final nail to the coffin the decision was taken to relocate and fortunately the nearby Twin Lakes Conference Centre (below) was available at short notice and so after 42 HAW’s the event in 2015 took place there.
For the 2016 HAW onwards it has been decided to relocate to Minting Village Hall (below) and it has become the permanent home for the Horncastle Astronomy Weekend.
© Paul L Money/ Astrospace 2021