Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)
Edward Howard Collinson, FRAS (1903-90)
Edward Howard Collinson was born in Ipswich on 15 November 1903. Together with his brothers Hugh and Norman, he was educated first at Ackworth School in Pontefract, Yorkshire, and then at Bootham School in York. (Both were Quaker establishments.) By the age of 10, he had developed a fledgling interest in astronomy which grew into a life-long passion. Indeed, his carefully kept astronomical notebooks date back to 1914, when he made full use of small refractors at Ackworth School. In June 1918, he recorded observations of Nova V603 Aquilae just three days after its discovery. By the time he observed the nova it had brightened from an initial magnitude 5.8 to a spectacular -1.1, and he went on to record the evolution of its colour and magnitude over a period of months.
In October 1920, he was proposed for membership of the BAA by two notable Suffolk astronomers, J P M Prentice and A G Cook  and, on 24 November 1920, he was elected a member of the Association . He was an active member of the BAA throughout his life, contributing observations to the Meteor, Aurora, Comet, Lunar, Variable Star, Mars and Jupiter Sections. His observations are first mentioned in the archives of the BAA in a report of an Exhibition Meeting of the Association on 30 March 1921  at which his notebooks were on display along with those of fellow pupils at Bootham School.
On 04 August 1921, he became a founder member of the Ipswich Section of the Chaldaean Society , remaining a member until the Section closed in 1924. (The aim of the Society was to popularise and undertake astronomical observing.)
On leaving school and returning to his home at 64 Westerfield Road, Ipswich, he served articles in a local legal practice, qualifying as a solicitor in 1927 . He rose to become senior partner in the Ipswich and Felixstowe practice nowadays known as Blocks Solicitors. He also served with distinction on various local legal administrative panels and charities.
He observed the solar eclipse of 08 April 1921  from Ipswich, where he took temperature measurements and "actinometric observations" (the time taken to darken a light-sensitive paper to a standard tint). An insert in The Chaldaean for Autumn 1921  reported his actinometric timings, illustrated in figure 1. Note that the times of first contact, greatest eclipse and fourth contact were respectively 07:36 UT, 08:48 UT and 10:06 UT.
Figure 1. Actinometric timings for solar eclipse of 08 April 1921.
On 08 November 1922, he photographed Baade's Comet (C/1922 U1 Baade) using a camera of aperture 3 cm, focal length 15 cm and, on the 18th of the month, he observed it visually . This was the first of many cometary observations that he reported to the BAA.
During the 1920s, he acquired a 75 mm Watson-Conrady refractor which he used, mounted on a cast iron pier, in the back garden of his home. In the 1920s, some astronomers gave credence to the idea (seemingly outlandish to modern-day astronomers ) proposed by Professor W H Pickering, of "lunar vegetation". The idea aroused Collinson's interest and he published a series of drawings, made with the 75 mm refractor at magnification 160x, of supposed changing markings inside the crater Eratosthenes  during the period 1922-23. However, he was clearly sceptical about Pickering's notion, writing I make no attempt in this paper to explain the nature of the changes...
He used the 75 mm refractor with a deep yellow filter to observe the final stages of the transit of Mercury of 08‑09 May 1924 . (The event was witnessed also by two other observers in Suffolk, Arthur F Bennett and Basil J W Brown. From Suffolk, the Sun and planet did not rise until near the end of the transit so only the final stages of the event were visible). He commented on the darkness of the silhouette of the planet in comparison with sunspots, and the lack of definition of its limb. He observed the "black drop" effect and, as a result, his estimates of contact times were uncertain.
Collinson developed a lasting interest in photography. Starting in 1923, he undertook a project to photograph the northern Milky Way as a sequence of wide-angle images. He finally produced eight 26°x26° images, each from an exposure of 50 minutes duration [12, 13]. The images were taken using an Aldis anastigmat 15 cm F/3 lens on a clockwork-powered, belt-driven portable equatorial mount similar to that shown in figure 2 . Figure 3  shows Collinson's camera. He used an alarm clock to provide RA drive power, and found that a leather bootlace worked admirably as drive belt! Close examination of figure 3 reveals a knotted drive string that does, indeed, resemble a leather bootlace.
In 1924, Collinson visited a friend in Brighton and used the latter's 25 cm reflector to view the planet Mars at opposition (the closest opposition of the 20th century). The observation aroused in Collinson a passion for observing the planet and, using his friend's reflector, he produced several drawings which he submitted to the Mars Section of the BAA, the first of a great many in subsequent years.
Collinson's main area of interest, that in which he, arguably, made the largest contribution to astronomy, was meteors. Starting in the 1920s, he undertook both visual and photographic observations of the objects, collaborating with the leading meteor observers of the day, Prentice, H H Waters from Harrow, G E D Alcock from Peterborough and A King from Ashby, Scunthorpe. A paper by Waters in 1925  described early photographic work by members of the BAA. Collinson appears to have begun meteor photography with the 1924 Perseids, using the camera that he used to photograph the Milky Way, and captured two first magnitude meteors on the same plate on the night of 10‑11 August. Subsequently, he showed considerable ingenuity in developing the camera, keeping the BAA appraised of his work [17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24]. He experimented with alternative lenses, replaced the alarm clock RA drive with a motor from a gramophone and devised and constructed a plate-changing mechanism to enable the camera to capture up to six images during an observing session without manual intervention. The plate-changing mechanism was powered by a clockwork motor and relied greatly on Meccano in its construction: see figures 4 and 5 (from ). The camera produced images covering a field of 40°x30°. Prentice constructed and operated a similar camera, enabling triangulation of meteor trails along the 16 km baseline between the two observers. By the late-1930s, Collinson had replaced the clockwork motor with a weight-drive and, thanks to a grant from the RAS, had adopted a Ross wide-angle Xpres lens, 12 cm FL, F/4, originally produced for aerial survey work.
On the night of 21-22 April 1928, Collinson photographed a bright meteor which was also observed visually by an observer in Scunthorpe, enabling A King to calculate the track of the object . On 19 September 1930, Collinson's camera recorded a meteor which was observed visually by Prentice; again King calculated the track of the object .
In 1930, Collinson obtained permission from the Pretyman family to use the 26 cm refractor at Orwell Park. Over a five year period, he used the instrument to make numerous drawings of the planet Mars and a few of Jupiter. The first mention in JBAA of his observations of Mars was in 1931  and the first appearance of his drawings of the planet in 1935 . His drawings of Jupiter appeared in the BAA Jupiter Section Memoirs. Several of his drawings are reproduced below. Once familiar with the telescope, he normally preferred to stop down the aperture from 26 cm to 20 cm. He considered that he undertook his best planetary work at Orwell Park and much later he later fondly recalled his time there, writing in December 1972:
I was given leave to use the telescope in 1930 and I continued to do so until 1935 when I acquired my own 10 inch reflector. In 1930 the telescope was in fair condition, all the controls and the driving clock were in working order but the dome had housed quantities of bees which had to be swept up and disposed of! The dome was apt to stick and I well remember perilous attempts to free the rails from ice by climbing out of the shutter onto the roof. The view, often in moonlight, was however delightful!
Two surviving images of Orwell Park Observatory associated with Collinson are of particular interest. One is a line drawing of the Tomline Refractor by Collinson's brother, Hugh, in February 1931. It clearly shows the gas illumination mantles on the declination circle. The other is a photograph of the telescope and equatorial room, taken by Collinson sometime between 1930 and 1935 - see figure 6. One may just discern in the photograph the sheen of the brass telescope tube which was painted over, for ease of maintenance, sometime around the late 1960s or early 1970s. Figure 7, approximately contemporaneous with the previous figure, shows Collinson using the Orwell Park Refractor.
Collinson ended his regular use of the instrument in 1935, when he obtained the long term loan of a 25 cm reflector from the BAA [29, 30, 31]. (The instrument had been donated to the Association by Mr A G Batley; it had a mirror by With-Browning and was set on a massive German equatorial mount). By this time Collinson had moved house to Felixstowe and he constructed an observatory in his back garden to house the instrument; it was formed from a 2 m x 2 m shed which could be rolled off on 6 m rails (see figure 8). Collinson reported that, on one occasion, the shed was blown off its rails in high wind!
During the early 1930s, Collinson corresponded regularly with many of the leading amateur and professional astronomers of the day. He was an active member of the BAA and, in 1935, was elected a Fellow of the RAS. He was known to Spencer Jones, tenth Astronomer Royal, who, when approached by the Orwell Park Estate office for advice on the prospects of disposing of the 26 cm refractor, wrote in response:
I believe that Mr E H Collinson has used this telescope on occasions and, if so, you may with advantage ask him for his opinion of this instrument.
In 1938, Collinson married Eileen Mabel Woodhead and the couple went on to have two children. But domestic life was soon to be interrupted by the Second World War, during which Collinson was engaged in relief work in London as a member of the Friends' War Victims Committee, and had little time for observing. When peace returned in 1945, the couple moved to The Ridge, Playford (6 km NE of Ipswich).
At Playford, Collinson resumed observations of Jupiter, sending reports to the BAA until the 1970s, being most active in the 1950s and 1960s. His later observations were included among Jupiter Section Reports. He made a few transit timings but recorded very little in the way of descriptive notes about the planet, preferring instead to draw it.
Collinson returned, after the war, to his passion for photographing meteors and did much to develop photographic equipment using the excellent reconnaissance lenses which became plentiful through military surplus outlets. He tried a new lens, a Kodak Aero Ektar F/2.5, 18 cm FL with coated surfaces, on the meteor camera for the 1948 Perseids. (Figure 9 shows the camera with the Ektar lens .) On 12 August 1948, the camera recorded a magnitude ‑6 fireball in Cassiopeia (see figure 10). D J Fulcher at Ipswich also obtained a photograph and Alcock and two others observed it visually, enabling Prentice to calculate the position of the radiant. Collinson commented that the new lens produced markedly better results than his pre-war equipment [33, 34]. The report of the Meteor Section for February 1949  commented on the improved performance offered by newly-available lenses and announced the establishment of a photographic network for meteor observation. Collinson was appointed Secretary to the Section to assist with the programme of photography.
In 1950, Collinson outlined the state of the art in amateur meteor photography . The availability of reasonably priced, high quality Government surplus lenses had transformed what amateurs could achieve. A rotating shutter (or "chopper") could be used to estimate meteor velocities, and Collinson had recently constructed one for use with one of his cameras. Later in the year, he exhibited photographs of meteors (and drawings of Mars) at a BAA exhibition meeting . Some seven years later, he was reported  as operating three meteor cameras simultaneously for the purposes of comparing performance of different lenses and photographic plates/papers. A little later, at an ordinary general meeting of the BAA , he once more summarised the state of the art in amateur meteor photography. There are no later reports in JBAA of his photographic work on meteors.
In 1950, the Ipswich and District Astronomy Society (IDAS) formed. Collinson joined the Society and, in 1955, was elected President. (He was the second and last President as IDAS folded in 1957.) IDAS made occasional use of Orwell Park Observatory although, by this time, it was in a sorry state following mistreatment by the army during the war years.
Collinson was active in the running of the BAA. He had joined the Council of the BAA in 1927 and, in 1950 went on to become a Vice-President and, on 29 October 1952 , took the chair as President, holding the post for two years. (See figure 11 for his presidential portrait.) His presidential addresses were on The Planet Mars  and Astronomical Photography - Equipment And Methods For The Amateur . As President, he organised a very successful joint BAA/RAS expedition to view the 1954 total solar eclipse in Sweden . 1954 was also the year in which he moved house again, to Culpho End, Culpho (near Playford).
Immediately after his presidential term, he served on the Council of the RAS and the National Committee for Astronomy of the Royal Society. His meticulous observational work on Mars had done much to make his reputation and, upon the death of the BAA Mars Section Director in 1956, Collinson took up the post . As Director, he publicised opportunities to observe Mars and analysed observations. He remained Director until 1979, his tenure lasting into the era of unmanned probes to Mars and spanning a period during which our knowledge of the planet changed profoundly. He ceased to be Director when the Section was controversially absorbed into a Terrestrial Planets Section; he then became a senior adviser to the latter .
Collinson contributed to observation and analysis of many astronomical phenomena in addition to those mentioned above, including the following:
In 1972, Collinson moved home to Fox's Corner, Snape. A year later he retired from his legal practice. While a practising solicitor, he had providing legal advice to the BAA on a variety of topics but, shortly after retiring, he indicated that he could no longer do so, as he could not guarantee to be up-to-date with his knowledge of the law .
When Eileen passed away in 1979, Collinson moved back to Playford, to a bungalow, The Copse, Church End. He set up a new observatory in his back garden for the long-serving BAA reflector. (Unfortunately, he missed the opportunity to observe the 1980 opposition of Mars as the telescope was not ready in time.) He joined OASI in the late 1970s, remaining a member until his death.
In his final years, Collinson made solar observations using the Watson-Conrady refractor, and worked on variable stars, making magnitude estimates with binoculars and collating and analysing observing reports. Figure 12 shows Collinson at home at Playford with the borrowed BAA reflector ; he ceased using it in 1984 and returned it to the Association. In May 1984 he contributed his last article to the OASI Newsletter. In 1986 the BAA awarded him its Steavenson Award for his work on variable star observations [56, 57] - his prize was the 1986 edition of Hoffmeister's Variable Stars. Unfortunately, Colinson was unable to travel to London to receive the Award, so Michael Maunder, a member of Council, travelled to his home to make the presentation . In 1989, Collinson suffered a stroke and was effectively immobilised: this put an end to his observational work, but he maintained involvement with amateur astronomy via his many friends. At this time he generously donated his equipment and extensive collection of books to the BAA . He passed away on 26 September 1990. To quote his obituary by Dr Richard McKim , the BAA lost a gentleman astronomer. So too, did OASI. In his memory, a framed copy of his BAA presidential portrait hangs on the wall of the spiral stairs at Orwell Park Observatory.
Dr Richard McKim (BAA Archivist and Director of the Mars Section) holds Collinson's photographs and observing logs. We are indebted to Richard for his considerable assistance in producing this article.
Some of Collinson's drawings of Jupiter:
Collinson contributed three brief pieces to the OASI Newsletter. The Newsletter noted his award of the BAA Steavenson medal and, of course, his passing.
Candidates for Election as Members of the Association, JBAA, vol. 31, no. 1, p. 50, October 1920.
New Members of the Association, JBAA, vol. 31, no. 2, p. 94, November 1920.
Report of the Meeting Held Wednesday 30 March 1921 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 31, no. 6, pp. 213-215, March 1921.
Some six decades later, Collinson informed Honorary Secretary of OASI, Roy Gooding, that that the Ipswich Section of the Chaldaean Society was the first astronomical society that he joined. The historical record shows his recollection to have been erroneous.
Prentice, who had proposed Collinson for membership of the BAA, was also a solicitor, practising in Stowmarket.
Contemporary accounts give the date of the eclipse as 07 April 1921. This is because they use the timescale Greewich Mean Astronomical Time (GMAT), which is effectively GMT running 12 hours behind, so that the day starts at noon. It has the advantage for astronomical purposes of avoiding a change of date in the middle of the night. Its use was discontinued at the beginning of 1925.
Insert in vol. III, no. 12 of The Chaldaean, Autumn 1921.
A C D Crommelin, "Comet Notes", JBAA, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 115-116, December 1922.
Many years from now, some current ideas of the cosmos may seem equally risible!
E H Collinson, "Seasonal Changes in the Crater Eratosthenes", JBAA, vol. 34, no. 8, pp. 306-307, June 1924.
E H Collinson, "Transit of Mercury", JBAA, vol. 34, no. 7, p. 274, May 1924.
E H Collinson, "The Northern Milky Way", JBAA, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 132-135, January 1927.
Report of the Meeting Held Wednesday 23 February 1927 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 37, no. 5, pp. 149-158 and Plate VI, February 1927.
F W Longbottom, "Note on a Simple Clock-Driven Equatorial for Celestial Photography", JBAA, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 104-105, December 1920.
JBAA, vol. 37, no. 5, Plate VI, February 1927.
H H Waters, "The Photography of Meteors", JBAA, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 78-80, December 1925.
E H Collinson & J P M Prentice, "The Photography of Meteors", JBAA, vol. 37, no. 7, pp. 266-270, May 1927.
Report of the Ordinary General Meeting Held 25 January 1928 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 109-117, March 1921.
E H Collinson, "An Automatic Meteor Camera", JBAA, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 150-153, February 1929.
Report of the General Meeting Held 31 January 1934 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 133-138, February 1934.
E H Collinson, "An Improved Automatic Meteor Camera", JBAA, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 157-160, February 1934.
E H Collinson, "Meteor Photography, 1928-34", JBAA, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 116-119, January 1936.
Report of the General Meeting Held 30 March 1938 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 48, no. 6, pp. 235-240, April 1938.
J P M Prentice, "Meteor Section", JBAA, vol. 48, no. 10, pp. 383-384, October 1938.
A King & E H Collinson, "The Bright Meteor of 1928, April 22, 0h 12m", JBAA, vol. 38, no. 8, pp. 263-265, June 1928.
E H Collinson & A King, "Note on the Bright Meteor of September 19, 1930", JBAA, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 121-123, January 1931.
Report of the Meeting Held 25 February 1931 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 41, no. 5, pp. 215-219, February 1931.
Interim Report of Mars Section, The Apparition of 1935, JBAA, vol. 45, no. 9, pp. 347-354, July 1935.
Report of the General Meeting Held 27 February 1935 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 45, no. 5, pp. 175-180, March 1935.
Photograph of Collinson's telescope, JBAA, vol. 45, no. 6, plate facing p. 248, April 1935.
Report of the General Meeting Held 24 November 1937 at Sion College, JBAA, vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 47-55, December 1937.
E H Collinson, "Astronomical Photography - Equipment And Methods For The Amateur", JBAA, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 4-17, December 1953.
Report of the General Meeting Held 24 November 1948 at Burlington House, JBAA, vol. 59, no. 2, pp. 57-65, January 1949.
JBAA, vol. 60, no. 5, plate facing p. 135, April 1950.
J P M Prentice, "Meteor Section Report", JBAA, vol. 59, no. 5, p. 150, April 1949.
E H Collinson, "The Technique of Meteor Photography", JBAA, vol. 60, no. 5, pp. 142-150, April 1950.
Report of the Ordinary General Meeting Held 26 April 1950 at Burlington House, JBAA, vol. 60, no. 7, pp. 177-183, July 1950.
H B Ridley, "Meteor Section Report", JBAA, vol. 59, no. 5, pp. 235-239, August 1957.
Report of the Ordinary General Meeting Held 26 June 1957 at Burlington House, JBAA, vol. 67, no. 8 (part 2), pp. 295-303, October 1957.
Report Of The Annual General Meeting Held 29 October 1952 at Burlington House, JBAA, vol. 63, no. 1, pp. 1-31, December 1952.
E H Collinson, "The Planet Mars", JBAA, vol. 64, no. 1, pp. 4-19, December 1953.
Report of the Ordinary General Meeting Held 28 July 1954 at the Royal Institution, JBAA, vol. 64, no. 8, pp. 356-374, October 1954.
Mars Section, JBAA, vol. 66, no. 6, p. 236, May 1956.
Notices, JBAA, vol. 91, no. 3, pp. 205-210, April 1981.
F M Holborn, "Erratic Behaviour of Z Camelopardalis", JBAA, vol. 68, no. 6, pp. 214-216, August 1958.
F M Holborn, "Z Camelopardalis In 1958", JBAA, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 134-136, March 1960.
E H Collinson, "Z Camelopardalis, 1926-50", JBAA, vol. 85, no. 5, pp. 438-443, March 1960.
E H Collinson and J E Isles, "Z Camelopardalis, 1951-72", JBAA, vol. 89, no. 2, pp. 169-185, February 1979.
Doug Saw, "Variable Star Section Report", JBAA, vol. 94, no. 6, pp. 292-293, October 1984.
W B Housman, "The Aurora of October 17-18", JBAA, vol. 41, no. 9, pp. 405-408, July 1931.
Nova Herculis in December, 1934, JBAA, vol. 45, no. 4, pp. 145-150, February 1935.
M P Candy, "Comet Section", JBAA, vol. 77, no. 6, pp. 382-383, July 1967.
M P Candy, "Comet Section", JBAA, vol. 78, no. 6, p. 413, July 1968.
The Annual General Meeting Held 29 October 1975 at 23 Saville Row, JBAA, vol. 86, no. 2, pp. 103-105, February 1976.
Photographs of Collinson are reproduced by kind permission of Dr Richard McKim.
The BAA makes its Steavenson Award annually to members who have made a significant contribution to observational astronomy.
Ordinary Meeting, 26 March 1986 Held at 23 Savile Row, JBAA, vol. 96, no. 5, pp. 304-306, August 1986.
Annual General Meeting, 29 October 1986 Held at 23 Savile Row, JBAA, vol. 97, no. 3, pp. 183-184, April 1987.
Ordinary Meeting, 25 October 1989 Held at 23 Savile Row, JBAA, vol. 100, no. 1, pp. 46-48, February 1990.
R J McKim, "E H Collinson, 1903-1990", JBAA, vol. 101, no. 1, pp. 12-14, February 1991.
James Appleton, Bill Barton, FRAS, Kenneth Goward, FRAS, Neil Morley