It was 135 years ago this month that the International Meridian Conference held in Washington, DC, declared the Greenwich meridian to be the prime meridian of the world.

The conference had been held at the request US President Chester A Arthur with the aim of finding a “common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world”.

Pressure to designate such a prime meridian had been building thanks to the need for navigation purposes as well as the need to create uniform train timetables.

Twenty-six nations were represented at the 1884 conference including Great Britain and the US as well as France, Russia, Germany, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire.

The resolution, fixing Greenwich as the Prime Meridian, was passed on 22nd October. The delegations voted 22 in favour to one against. San Domingo, now called the Dominican Republic, voted against while France and Brazil abstained.

As a result of the decision, the International Date Line was drawn up and the world’s 24 time zones were created.

North America and most European nations had aligned their clocks with Greenwich with 10 years.

The official mean time clock at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, is known as the Shepherd Gate Clock.

PICTURE: The Shepherd Gate Clock at the Royal Observatory (Alvesgaspar/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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A statue of Russian cosmonaut and first man in space Yuri Gagarin has been relocated to the newly named Yuri Gagarin Terrace outside the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. First unveiled in The Mall, not far from Admiralty Arch, on 14th July 2011, the statue was a gift from the Russian federal space agency, Roscosmos, to mark the 50th anniversary of manned space flight (you can read more at our earlier post here). But it was only granted permission to remain on the site for 15 months and so has now been relocated to Greenwich where it as officially unveiled last Thursday in the week of Gagarin’s birthday by his daughter Elena Gagarina (pictured here with Royal Museums Greenwich director Dr Kevin Fewster). The statue – a 3.5 metre high zinc alloy figure – shows Gagarin dressed in a spacesuit and standing on a globe. It stands just outside the observatory’s Astronomy Centre. For more on the Royal Observatory Greenwich – the “home” of Greenwich Mean Time, see www.rmg.co.uk.

Leaving Wren’s churches momentarily, we turn this week to another of Wren’s designs, that of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London’s east.

Commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II, the first part of the observatory – Flamsteed House, named for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed – was designed by Wren with, it is believed, the assistance of architect and scientist Robert Hooke.

Built using second-hand materials including stone brought from a Tudor fort at Tilbury, Flamsteed House was located on the former site of Greenwich Castle which had been previously used as a guest house and hunting lodge by Henry VIII. It is said to be the first purpose-built scientific research facility in the country.

The turreted building includes the Octagon Room from which Flamsteed made observations of events in the skies (although its position meant its use for this was somewhat limited), as well as living quarters for the astronomer. On top of the house is a red time ball which, since it was first used in 1833, has marked the time by falling at 1pm each day.

These days part of the National Maritime Museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, the site also hosts the Prime Meridian and is the place from where Greenwich Mean Time, since 1884 the basis for all world time, is calculated.

WHERE: Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.nmm.ac.uk/places/royal-observatory/