19 November 2012

Keeping time

Can you spot five clocks?
What is amazing is that this sequence of clocks along Fleet Street are all telling the right time! All too often when you see a public clock, it has stopped working - yet another case of neglect and degradation of public services.

Before the days of the Greenwich Time Signal - the beeps that signal the "top of the hour", aka "the pips" - someone went to Greenwich Observatory every day, reset a pocket chronometer to the exact time, and take this time round to merchants and others who had subscribed to this service. From 1836 to 1856 this person was John Henry Belville, after which his widow Maria took on the job, passing it in 1892 to her daughter Ruth, the most famous "Greenwich time lady", who continued in the job until the 1930s, retiring in her 80s like her mother. The Greenwich time signal was started in 1924; before that, another way of getting the accurate time was to subscribe to a telegraphic time signal.