Jun 222019

32 Calton Hill, Edinburgh, EH7 5AA

The Time Ball at the top of the Nelson Monument

Time Ball on Nelson Monument (© Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1853, the second Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smyth, secured the installation of a time ball at the top of Nelson Monument. This tower, which looks like an “upturned telescope” and is clearly visible from most of Edinburgh, was designed by the architect Robert Burn and erected in 1815. While an interesting curiosity these days, the time ball used to be vitally important to ships in the port of Leith in adjusting their clocks for navigation, as it was  raised and dropped exactly at 1 o’clock each day, a tradition that continues. The ball, constructed of wood, covered in zinc, and weighing 90 kilograms, as well as the operating mechanism were made by Maudslay, Sons and Field of Lambeth, who also made the time ball mechanism for the Greenwich Observatory. It was installed by James Ritchie and Son (Clockmakers) Ltd, who still maintain it to this day on behalf of Edinburgh’s City Council. (There is an untrue myth that the original ball was much heavier, at 762 kilograms, in part perpetuated by Smyth himself!)

Find out more

Nelson Monument – Museums and Galleries Edinburgh

Photograph of the National Monument, Nelson Monument, and City Observatory on Calton Hill in the background

National Monument, Nelson Monument (tall tower) and City Observatory from the North (Wikimedia Commons)

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