Located at the heart of what is now known as the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich is a residence, built for the first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed and subsequently used by his successors to the post.
The property was built at the behest of King Charles II after he appointed Flamsteed to the post in March, 1675. Flamsteed, who initially worked out of the Queen’s House below, laid the foundation stone for the new property on 16th August that year.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built under the supervision of Robert Hooke, the building was constructed on the foundations of the previous building on the site – known variously as Duke Humphrey’s Tower or Greenwich Castle) – and used bricks from spare stock at Tilbury Fort, and wood, iron and lead from a demolished gatehouse at the Tower of London.
Costing some £520, the three story property featured a large hall and parlour on the ground floor, a bedroom and study for the then-single Flamsteed, a basement kitchen and “astronomer rooms” while on the floor above was a single large, octagonal room, known initially as the “Great Room” and later as the “Octagon. Room”, featuring a series of tall windows through which Flamstead could conduct his observations of the heavens.
A telescope was mounted on the roof and two summerhouses, one of which contained Flamsteed’s camera obscura, were built on either side. Other buildings on the site during Flamsteed’s time included the adjoining Quadrant House and Sextant House (so-named for the equipment they housed).
The original property was extended several times and a series of additional buildings were also added to the site including what is now known as the Meridian Building (which incorporates not only Flamsteed’s Sextant House and Quadrant House but subsequent additions including apartments for an assistant, fireproof record rooms and domes to house equipment including the Telescope Dome.
In 1946, the scientific work of the observatory was relocated to Herstmonceux in Sussex and the complex came under the management of the National Maritime Museum. In 1960, Flamsteed House was reopened as part of the museum; other buildings later followed suit.
The site was renovated in the early 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum in 1993.
These days Flamsteed House hosts displays about its construction as well as what life was like for those who lived there. Wren’s Octagon Room, which houses a collection of timepieces and astronomical instruments, remains a highlight.
Flamsteed House is now topped by a time-ball which was installed in 1919 (replacing an earlier one which was installed in 1833) and drops each day at 1pm.
WHERE: Flamsteed House, Royal Observatory Greenwich (nearest stations are Cutty Sark DLR and Greenwich and Maze Hill Stations); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £16 adults/£10 under 25s/students/£8 children; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory/attractions/flamsteed-house.