As the 1893-94 session drew to a close, the realisation that the accounts might end with an adverse balance was raised by the treasurer, Mr Henry Planck, at the council meeting of 2 April. It was resolved, on the motion of Alfred Brothers, that at the next council meeting it should be considered what steps, if any, might be taken towards increasing the resources of the branch. The secretary was instructed to remind again those members whose subscriptions were overdue. But there was concern regarding the finances and time was not lost in reporting this to London. After discussion on 30 April a letter was sent to Mr Philip Duke, secretary of the BAA, explaining the financial situation. The gist of the letter was that before the branch had been formed there were 22 members of the BAA resident within the geographical area and now there were 83, of whom 58 had joined the Association directly through the branch. This seemed to justify the original decree that the branch subscription should be as low as possible, but, unfortunately, the sum of 2/6d had subsequently proved to be insufficient to cover the financial outlay. A deficit of about £5 was forecast for the present session. Most of the outlay was for the hire of the room for meetings which, at 15/- a night, amounted to £12 a year whereas the income from 72 members totalled only £9. The letter went on to say that it would be detrimental to increase the branch subscription and that members thought it not unreasonable for them to have a room, as the London meetings had, without any further expense. It was thought that of the 10/6d subscription to London 3/- should be refunded to cover the hire of rooms in Manchester. Such an arrangement would have the effect of knitting the branch more closely to the parent association and would allow money towards the establishment of a library. Furthermore, it would be an important sign to other potential branches that, as agreed before the formation of the North Western Branch, there was an understanding that some assistance might be expected.
The reply to this letter amounted to a blow by blow account of the income and expenditure of the parent body which, when re-read today 97 years later, still does not explain why the not unreasonable proposal of the branch was turned down. As this matter which ultimately resulted in the dissolution of the branch has never before been described in detail, it seems worth doing so here. The letter received from London was as follows.
"Thomas Weir Esq. Hon.Secretary, North Western Branch.
The memorial from your Council was duly read at the meeting of our Council, as also a letter from Rev W Sidgreaves, your President of the Branch. Very careful consideration was given to the application re the possibility of making a grant out of the general funds of the Association in aid of the needs of the Branch. The sympathies of the members of our Council were entirely with you, and it was evident that all were quite willing to do anything that could be done in aid of the Branch, subject to what was possible. In the course of the discussion statistics and figures had to be brought forward. The annual balance sheet containing the accounts for an entire session, viz. that of session 1892-93, was referred to. In the light of the facts and figures submitted the members of Council reluctantly felt that they could not propose a resolution in favour of making a grant to the Branch. The Secretaries were therefore instructed to write to you and furnish you with a precis of these figures and statistics for you to lay them before your Council.
The reference to the balance sheet for 1892-93 showed that during that session we spent £397 on our publications. We had 817 members, each of whom received Journals and Memoirs to the value of 9/9d leaving 9d out of the half-guinea subscription to be otherwise accounted for. A sum of about £45 was received by the sale of our publications, but that sum barely covered other expenses viz. the cost of reporting the meetings for the Journal (2d per person); a proportion of the salary of the assistant secretary, much of whose time is taken up in matters relating to the publications, and 3d per person, cost of stationary and stamps supplied to observing sections. For purposes of discussion at our Council meeting, it was therefore taken that the cost of the publications to be defrayed out of annual subscriptions was £397.
During the current session the cost of our publications has been exceptionally heavy, and the proportion of subscriptions received back by each member in the shape of Journals and Memoirs will be larger even than the proportion during the previous session. The cost of the meetings 1892-93 amounted to £16 9s 0d or cost of 5d per member and that includes charges for reporting. Under the most favourable circumstances that leaves only about 5d per member of a Branch in compensation for not being able to attend London meetings. In the interest of our widely extended membership the Council are of the opinion that for the general interest the chief item of our expenditure should be devoted to our publications.
To sum up, the sense of the meeting was that the association could really not afford a grant. If I may venture a conclusion, an entirely un-official remark, I should say I have reason to believe that members outside your Branch would follow the example of members within the Branch by aiding your funds by individual and private enterprise if acceptable. Also that the labours of the Branch have been much appreciated and the zeal and energy of you, the first Branch of the Association, greatly admired and esteemed.
I am, dear Sir, Yours-faithfully
(signed) Philip F Duke,
Hendon. 1894, June 9. "
In response an equally blunt reply was sent back to Philip Duke on 22 June 1894. The gloves were off.
The reply of the Council of the parent Association to the memorial recently forwarded by this Branch received careful consideration at a special meeting of the Branch Council, held on the 18th inst. Copies having been forwarded to the members a few days previously, the deliberation had the advantage of matured thought, and the situation was considered in all its bearings.
I am instructed by the Council to communicate their reply and in so doing would refer to one or two points raised in the course of the discussion.
1st. It was suggested that the London Council had possibly assumed, when considering our memorial, that most, if not all, those members who have joined the Association through this Branch would sooner or later have done so apart from the existence of the Branch: we would however assure you that such is not the case. Of the 58 members who have joined the Association, we should say that four-fifths have done so from one or other of two reasons, (a) of desire to support a local institution, and (b) the advantage of attending a local meeting.
2nd. In referring to the figures you quote it would appear that the net annual gain to the parent association from the 58 new members (whose annual subscription collectively amount to £30 9s 0d) is only about £1 4s0d and that consequently if they resigned the loss to the Association would simply be represented by that amount, but this in our opinion is not so.
3rd. The suggestion in the concluding paragraph of your reply, that we might receive help from friends outside for the simple maintenance of the Branch does not commend itself to us. For mutual satisfaction we desire it to rest on a more stable basis.
We also wish you to understand clearly that the advantages of our connection with the British Astronomical Association are not under-valued by us: nor do we wish to hamper the funds of the Association; and above all, we most earnestly desire that no ruptive shall take place to cause a severance from the parent association yet we feel that a just settlement of this question is vital to our existence as a Branch, and with the best interests of the Association at least we would urge you to reconsider the matter at issue with a view to adopting a policy more favourable towards Local Branches, even though for the present it should necessitate the curtailing of printing expenses. Such a policy would - we submit - eventually result in largely increasing the membership of the Association and in greatly increasing its usefulness.
The views of the Council may be thus summarised -
(A) That the financial basis of the Branch is at present unsatisfactory seeing that the Branch does not maintain itself, and it is essential that it be reconsidered.
(B) That we cannot exact a larger annual subscription from our members than at present viz. 13/- (10/6 +2/6) without the effect of at once reducing their number.
(C) That to maintain the Branch efficiently a proportion of the annual subscription of 10/6 - say 2/6 for each member resident within the geographical area should be allowed to the Branch to meet its expenses; the parent Association retaining say 8/- per member for printing and other expenses.
Again expressing the confident expectation of this Council that you will see your way to meet us in this matter, which we feel is vital to the existence of our, or indeed any, Branch.
I remain yours obediently,
56 Parkfield Street, Moss Lane East, Manchester"
The reply, acknowledged by Weir on 30 June, was succinct.
The result of the deliberation of our Council on Wednesday is contained in the following resolution which was carried viz. "That as the rate of subscription fixed by the BAA at its formation only suffices to maintain its publications in their present state and to keep up the meeting and provide for the other minor expenses therefore we feel unable to make any allowance to Branches in aid of their local expenses." It is with great regret that this decision has been arrived at.
(signed) Philip F Duke: Secretary."
Nothing further was done regarding the financial state of the branch until September, when after discussing the general format of the meetings for 1894-95, for which reduced terms of 12/- per night instead of 15/- had been negotiated when booking the use of the Library of the Chartered Accountants at 65 King Street, it was proposed by Mr Brothers that permission be obtained from London to extend the boundaries to the coast, thus including Southport, Liverpool, Birkenhead and Chester. This was approved on 31 October 1894.
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Although the branch did not own a telescope, access was given to the 6" refractor at Didsbury Wesleyan College. The telescope had apparently fallen into disuse and Mr Thomas Thorp sent two of his workmen to check the instrument. It was useable apart from a general clean-up, and was made available to branch members under college supervision every Saturday evening. Unfortunately, the time spent on the refurbishment was hardly justified; the telescope was rarely used. No doubt the generally inclement Manchester weather played a part, particularly with the telescope being available only one night a week. But while the instrument was serviceable, problems with the dome shutter, which necessitated repairs in 1898, may also have had something to do with the lack of use. An additional telescope was placed at the disposal of the branch in 1900. This was the 10" Cooke refractor at Manchester University, but, as with that at Didsbury, only limited use seems to have been made of it.
The activities of the branch continued steadily with regular general meetings held either at 65 King Street or, on occasion in conjunction with the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in their rooms at 36 George Street, the old home of John Dalton, one of the city's most famous scientists and originator of the atomic theory of matter. There was apparently no further conflict with the parent association and we may assume that the request to extend the boundaries had been effective. Although the perennial problem of members failing to pay their subscription continued, this was tackled by striking from the register all those whose subscriptions were more than one session overdue. This saved on the expense of sending reminders. Notices of local meetings were no longer sent to those BAA members within the area who had not paid their branch subscription.
However, the financial deficits were increasing and by early 1896 had to be met from the pockets of the better-off members. Nevertheless, in October of that year, the secretary was instructed to write to the recently formed Scottish Branches (Glasgow 1894, Edinburgh 1896) to ask how they financed their meetings. The replies were enlightening. The West of Scotland members were charged 5/- per annum to cover the cost of their meetings whilst the East of Scotland Branch, while hardly yet established, proposed to charge members one guinea, half to be retained for the branch subscription and half to go to London. Thus both the new local branches were comfortably self sufficient on their subscriptions, which, in addition to being much higher than that in Manchester, paid for meeting rooms which were cheaper to hire. However, Manchester still held their subscription to 2/6d and nothing was done to improve the situation until the end of 1898 when, the possibilities of increasing the branch subscription or dropping one of the general meetings having been discussed, it was finally agreed, instead, to cease advertising the meetings in the local press. This saved about 5/- each month and effectively reduced by a quarter the outlay incurred for each of the general meetings. History does not record if these savings outweighed the loss of attendance revenue.
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Subsequently, the India eclipse was to be the subject of a lecture to be given by Miss Gertrude Bacon who had accompanied the BAA expedition. Miss Bacon was ill on the appointed evening and her place was taken by Mrs Maunders who had also observed the eclipse. The meeting was held in the smaller lecture room of the Corporation Art Gallery, Moseley Street, at 8 pm on Wednesday 11 May 1898. Miss Bacon did eventually address the branch on 11 October of the following year when her lecture, entitled 'The Indian Eclipse and its Lessons', was delivered to a large audience of members and friends. Unfortunately, the expenditure incurred in staging this lecture, including room hire, payment to the lantern operator, not to mention Miss Bacon's personal expenses, resulted in the event being a financial disaster, the repercussions of which went on for several months until branch members were again asked for contributions to balance the books.
The next total eclipse, in May 1900, was also observed by our members. Miss Bacon accompanied her father, the Rev J M Bacon, to Wadesborough in the USA. Her subsequent lecture to the branch included a comprehensive description and slide show of her visit to Yerkes Observatory to see the newly completed 40" refractor. Thomas Weir saw the eclipse from Plasencia, Spain and Thomas Thorp, as mentioned earlier, viewed the flash spectrum in Algiers.