Jun 222019
 

Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG

One O’Clock Gun (© Roger Cornfoot via Wikimedia Commons)

Because of the poor Scottish weather, the notorious haar (sea fog), and smog, the time ball at the top of Nelson Monument on Calton Hill was rarely visible to the ship navigators in the ports along Leith and Newhaven who needed to accurately adjust their clocks. As such, in 1861, an 18-pound muzzle-loading cannon from the Half Moon Battery at Edinburgh Castle was commissioned into “Time Gun” service. Its present-day successor is still fired every day at precisely 1 o’clock, except for Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. However, as the speed of sound is 343 metres per second (770 mph) and docks were about 2 miles (3km) away, the navigators had to account for about 10.5s delay when they set their clocks. This can be seen on the “Edinburgh Time Map” prepared by the 1 o’clock gun’s proposer, Charles Piazzi Smyth. Interestingly, the gun has also seen an instance of military action, as it was fired on 2 April 1916 at a German Zeppelin conducting an air raid during WWI.

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Half Moon Battery and firing mechanism in 1861 (Wikimedia Commons)

Time signal delay map designed by Piazzi Smyth (© Alastair Bruce)

Smoke from the One O’Clock Gun (© Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons)

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Jun 222019
 

32 Calton Hill, Edinburgh, EH7 5AA

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 762 kilograms (1,680 lb), 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.

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Nelson Monument – Museums and Galleries Edinburgh

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

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Jun 222019
 

1 Hillside Crescent, Edinburgh, EH7 5DY; marked with a blue plaque

1 Hillside Crescent (with a blue plaque)

Thomas Henderson (1798-1844) became the first Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1834. He was also appointed Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh and worked at the nearby Calton Hill Observatory until his death. His scientific achievements include the calculation of the parallax of a fixed star (the angle describing the difference in the position of a star on the night sky as measured six months apart), leading him to be the first person to measure the distance to Alpha Centauri, one of a group of nearest stars to the Sun. Unfortunately, delaying the publication of his results led to German astronomer Friedrich Bessel and Russian astronomer Friedrich Struve receiving credit for first measuring stellar parallaxes. Throughout his time in Edinburgh, he lived at 1 Hillside Crescent and is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard (very near the memorial in stop number 13 on this tour).

Thomas Henderson

Thomas Henderson’s memorial/graveside at Greyfriars Kirkyard

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Jan 152019
 

Waterfront Avenue, Edinburgh EH5 1RS

The Madelvic Car factory, as it is today

The Madelvic Car factory, as it is today

We have now returned to Madelvic, the legacy of Sir William Peck (1862 – 1925) who was a Scottish astronomer, scientific instrument maker, and a prolific inventor. He was the director of the Edinburgh City Observatory from 1889 until his death in 1925. Peck was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a man with vision: not only did he invent telescopes (one can still be seen in the Stirling Highland Hotel) but he also came up with the idea of an electric car, a most astonishing concept in 1899. This electric car, which he named ‘The Brougham’, was produced in this factory building. It was driven by a three-wheeled tractor-style front axle unit, comprising a motor, batteries and a small central wheel, set behind the axle, which propelled the vehicle. This unit was mounted to the front of a chassis, creating a five-wheeled automobile and could be attached to any horse-drawn carriage. To gain publicity Peck used it to provide public transport between Granton and Leith. For a brief period, the Postmaster General of Edinburgh employed Madelvic to carry the mail between the General Post Office and Leith. The fifth wheel is such an iconic design, Peck had it incorporated into the façade of the office building, Madelvic House, which is now the base of granton:hub.

Illustration taken from The Madelvic Motor Carriage Co. Ltd. original brochure, 1899

The Brougham, From the granton:hub collection, illustration taken from The Madelvic Motor Carriage Co. Ltd. original brochure, 1899 (42pp).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustration taken from The Madelvic Motor Carriage Co. Ltd. original brochure, 1899

The royal mail delivery between Leith and Graton, From the granton:hub collection, illustration taken from The Madelvic Motor Carriage Co. Ltd. original brochure, 1899 (42pp).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir William Peck

Sir William Peck FRSE FRAS (3 January 1862, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire – 7 March 1925, Edinburgh) was a Scottish astronomer and scientific instrument maker and founder of the Madelvic Motor Carriage Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5th Wheel on the Facade of Madelvic House

The 5th wheel, incorporated into the façade of the Madelvic House office building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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