A History of Richmond Scientific Society

The Society was founded on 2nd March 1948 by Samuel Tolansky, a Lithuanian who was Professor of Physics at Royal Holloway College and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, at age 41.

His opening address was What is Atomic Energy?  He was President for that year and a Vice-President for the following two years.

In January 1949 he gave a lecture on Interpretation of Dreams, and in January 1950 a lecture on Extreme Cold and Extreme Heat.

In his professional life he became particularly interested in the optics of diamond, and investigated optical characteristics of moon dust from the Apollo 11 first moon landing.

In 1969 he appeared on the BBC astronomy programme The Sky at Night. This picture is from a BBC news programme at the time.   He was a principal investigator for the Apollo programme, and a crater situated near the Apollo 14 landing site was named after him.

Early Years

In 1948 the Society held five lectures in Richmond Community Centre, Sheen Road, an AGM with Biological films, and an annual dinner, with visits to Wisley RHS Gardens, Kew Observatory, Oxshott Woods (a 'fungus foray') and Kew Gardens.

1949 started in January with a Saturday public exhibition in the Community Centre. Again five lectures, with a tour of Old Richmond, visits to Glaxo Laboratories, Down House (Darwin's home), Hampton Court, National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and another fungus foray.

In 1950 there were five lectures as usual and visits to The National Gallery and Morden water purification works. In June the Society hosted the 54th Annual Congress of the South Eastern Union of Scientific Societies, and Dr.J Ramsbottom, one of our prominent members, was elected President of the Union.

In 1951, to reduce costs, lectures were held in St.Luke's Church Hall, but soon changed to the Parkshot Rooms; later to the Old Town Hall. Since 1981 we have used Vestry House.

Charities Commission

The original object of the Society was "to bring together all those interested in the various branches of science by means of lectures, discussions, visits, excursions, and other suitable activities".

In 1988 we applied to the Charities Commission for us to become a charity. We changed our rules as they required, our object now being "to educate the public in the various branches of science", and having eight described powers including "to provide monies, goods or services either alone or in association with any other body or persons" and "to organise and provide or to assist in the organisation and provision of a regular programme of educational visits and excursions".

We became a charity on 7th March 1988.

British Association for the Advancement of Science

On 11th September 2002 we became the first affiliated society acting as a Branch of the BA (as they were known at the time). We had a mutually agreed 'Memorandum of Understanding', defining our role, and entitling us to grants from them.

The £250 grants were put towards hall hire and other expenses


Hampstead Scientific Society (HSS) also became an affiliated society. (We have an arrangement with them giving members of each society free attendance at the other's lectures).

In 2011 the BA changed their name to British Science Association to avoid confusion with British Airways, but they forbade abbreviation to 'BSA' to avoid confusion with motorcycles! They also changed their logo

In 2017 they were now allowing the use of 'BSA' and changed their logo again.

In 2020, BSA made all their branches autonomous, so there was no longer a place for us as an affiliate acting as a branch. Also their grants are now only given to organisations who try to interest people not already interested in science. RSS events do not qualify so we no longer receive grants, and we are no longer affiliated.

Educational Support

In December 1986, we started 'Richmond Holiday Lectures' for schools. Initially a three day series called 'Life in Orbit', in Jodrell Lecture Theatre, Kew Gardens. Titles were Let's escape from Earth, Seven nights in orbit, and Next stop the space station.

Heinz Wolff (pictured above), who had recently appeared on TV running The Great Egg Race, was hired to perform. The event was financed from donations from many local businesses, Parish Lands owners of Vestry House, and an entry charge of £2.50.

The following year was equally successful.  Professor Richard Gregory of Bristol University and 'The Exploratory' science museum gave talks on Seeing, Hearing and Inventing, in the Edmond Kean Theatre, Richmond Tertiary College, Twickenham

It benefitted by a donation of £250 from Sainsbury's as part of their 'Good Neighbour' scheme. Local Manager Nigel Bacon is shown handing their cheque to John Bradbury, RSS President at the time.

In December 1988, Prof Charles Taylor, assisted by Bill Coates who had also assisted in many Royal Institution Christmas televised lectures, gave talks on Science in Our Lives in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre.

In 1989 the talks had to be arranged for January. Prof Maunder of Newcastle University talked on Motion - the constant challenge, but the attendances were extremely disappointing, owing to State school pupils having to return early from Christmas holidays.

RSS decided to abandon further holiday lectures as the schools would not grant concessions. Instead, in 1990, RSS held an event in Orleans Park School, a performance by the Kinetic Theatre of Where there's smoke there's a fire in October, and a lecture by Dr Peter Musgrove, MD of The Wind Energy Group entitled Wind Power: Britain's best renewable energy option in November at The Tertiary College.

The lectures were given under the banner 'Young Science Events in Richmond' (YSER). These were also poorly attended despite extensive advertising, so RSS passed their surplus monies to the Royal Institution, ending our sponsorship of YSER.

However in 1998 RSS received a legacy from former member Dr Grace Waterhouse, and from this fund made donations to YSER until 2005.

More recently, RSS has received legacies from former members Cecil Gittins and John Millbank, and is now in an even better position to donate to school projects. Beneficiaries to date are Teddington School, Richmond Maker Labs, and Holy Trinity CE Primary School. Tiffin School has on loan a solar telescope bought and owned by RSS.


Membership remains fairly constant at about 50, and lecture attendance is typically 30.

Compiled in 2020 by John Bradbury, ex-President, and Dave Williams, Secretary.