There is a sign-post in Holmbury St Mary with the cryptic initials MSSL on the finger pointing up a narrow lane into the hills above the village. Following this lane one rises higher and higher and deep into wooded countryside. Amongst the various properties along the way is one called Holmbury House. Looking down the well-kept drive one can see attractive gardens and hedges. It seems like just another high value estate within the Surrey Hills. However, if one is able to enter and approach the buildings, Holmbury House is very different. It is the home of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory which forms part of University College London.
MSSL was the destination for a group of 40 Surrey Hills Society members on a bright, sunny, evening early in June. We were greeted by various MSSL personnel and encouraged to walk the grounds and through part of the house. Most of the group had never been to MSSL before and the stunning views from the terrace were a wonderful introduction to the location. Looking south there were views across to the South Downs and the Shoreham Gap whilst, turning round to face the house, an interesting 19th century building meets the eye. But this was only the start of the evening …………
Moving into the wood panelled Common Room, we were treated to an introduction to MSSL and the work that they do as part of the global space science programme. This was then followed by a brief history of the house by one of the design engineering staff who had discovered that his great-grandfather had been the chauffeur there when the house was owned by Arthur Guinness (of brewing fame).
Two fascinating presentations by a PhD student and a member of the teaching staff rounded off the talks. Being able to describe their work on solar flares and other astro-physical work in terms that a lay audience could understand was an achievement in itself. The use of computer graphics and other images to help explain the subject really allowed us to gain an appreciation of the complexity and relevance of the research which is being undertaken.
The evening was rounded off with refreshments and the social element which helps to make Surrey Hills Society events so popular with our members. The MSSL representatives joined us for more questions and general chat and everyone lingered to explore the surroundings to the full.
In summary, a marvellous evening and (due to the fact that MSSL is not normally open to the public) an excellent example of one of the benefits of belonging to the Surrey Hills Society.
Right photo shows two of the PhD students – Jack Carlyle and Alice Foster.