The Wheatstone Lecture 2008

Venue: Savoy Place

Location: London, United Kingdom

Event Date/Time: Dec 03, 2008 End Date/Time: Dec 03, 2008
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The Royal Observatory has been exporting Greenwich Mean Time since 1833, when a five-foot time ball was installed on the roof of Flamsteed House overlooking London’s docks. Since then, a wide variety of technologies has brought Greenwich time to the outside world: the electric telegraph, broadcast radio, the telephone network.

But one of the earliest and most enduring Greenwich time distribution networks relied on one family — the Belvilles — carrying an accurate pocket chronometer around their London subscribers each week. This service began just three years after the time ball was installed — and Ruth Belville only retired in 1940, over a century after her father first started the business.

Who were the people behind the technologies of the Greenwich time service? What uses did people make of accurate time, and why did they standardise it to Greenwich? And why did a group of Edwardian electrical engineers try to put Ruth Belville out of business in 1908?

In this illustrated, lively and thought-provoking lecture, the Royal Observatory’s curator of timekeeping will explore the curious history of time distribution from Greenwich, revealing little-known stories behind one of Britain’s best-known measurement systems — Greenwich Mean Time — in the very building where part of its history was made.

About the speaker
David Rooney is a writer, historian of technology and curator of timekeeping at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, part of the National Maritime Museum. He was co-curator of the Observatory’s Time Galleries (2006), awarded the Dibner Award for Excellence by the Society for the History of Technology. He writes and speaks widely on the history of timekeeping and frequently contributes media interviews on the subject.

His most recent exhibition was Spring Foni’ard: 100 Years of British Summer Time (2007) and his book, Ruth Belville. the Greenwich Time Lady is due for release in October2008. Rooney, the son of a clockmaker, originally trained as a physicist, but turned to the history of science and technology while working at the Science Museum, London. He is a Member of the Institute of Physics and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.


Savoy Place
The IET, Savoy Place
United Kingdom