Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Greenwich Mean Time

Now that we have put the clocks back and are running on GMT, winter is "officially" here.

I have never really understood that once-used phrase, daylight saving.  I haven't heard it used for many a long year but have a feeling that it was given when British Summer Time (BST) was introduced as a reason for putting the clocks forward an hour in the spring.  Perhaps it was an attempt to blind people with science, but there was and never has been a way to "save" daylight.  Old Ma Nature doles it out and we take it or leave it.

But it does seem perhaps a tad strange that the world's time revolves around a somewhat obscure and, certainly at one time, run-down part of London.  There was a time when Greenwich (the London Greenwich, not that bit of New York) was really rather posh.  (That bit of NY might have been for all I know, but it's London I'm on about here, OK?)  It was an outer suburb of the capital, practically a village in Kent.  Nowadays one hits the metropolis many miles away and Greenwich, to some of us, might as well be central London.

Of course, this GMT business goes back a few years. Greenwich was the site of the Royal Observatory, although it was later moved to Herstmonceux Castle here in Sussex and is now goodness knows where, and as such, was the centre of all things astronomical and, by extension, horological.  This was all happening back in the days when Britain (or maybe it was simply England) was one of the, if not the, world's greatest maritime powers.  Ships' captains were becoming agitated because although their navigational skills and astronomical knowledge was sufficient for them to know fairly accurately the latitude of their position, that is, the distance they were from the equator, they had no way of telling how far round the world they had sailed.  Their longitudinal position.  I gather that in order to calculate this, they needed accurate timepieces.

In the fullness of time, somebody managed to invent a clock that worked even in the roughest seas and which kept reasonably accurate time.  Now all that was needed was a starting point.  As I said, England (or Britain) was one of the world's leading maritime nations, so it seemed quite natural to base the starting point right here.  And where better than at the Royal Observatory?  And so it was that the Greenwich Meridian, nought degrees of longitude, became the starting point.  And so Greenwich Mean Time was born.  Or invented.  Or discovered.  Or something.

But I have never quite worked out the reason for the "mean" time.  Wouldn't Greenwich Time be sufficient?

In any case, it's all very nearly academic now as GMT has been more or less done away with.  I think it's only the good old BBC that still insists on using it.  Everyone else has switched to Co-ordinated Universal Time.  Which, for some strange reason, is abbreviated to UTC.

A pity, really.  Greenwich Mean Time sounds so much more romantic.

By the way, please don't assume that any of the above is 100% accurate.  It just makes a good yarn.

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