Arcadian Times





Kew Time

The King's Observatory Kew played a very significant part in early timekeeping. The prime meridian was originally at Kew. So reknowned for the work on the science of time, and especially in the case of John Harrison and his dispute, there is a theory that the saying "OK" was coined from the King's Observatory, Kew. Accurate timepieces were stamped with a stamp from the King's Observatory Kew, and thus if something was said to be working well it was OK.


Above: The original prime meridian, with the obelisk marking North and the observatory behind.


The Prime Meridian and the The Regulator Clock

Justin Vulliamy was Swiss born and came to London in about 1730. He joined the business of Benjamin Gray who was a well renowned clock maker in Pall Mall and worked in London until his death in 1790. Justin Vulliamy was to marry Gray's daughter and they had a son Benjamin Vulliamy (1747-1811). Justin Vulliamy was to succeed Benjamin Gray in the family business and was succeeded himself by his son Benjamin. This Benjamin Vulliamy was very much in favour with George III and it was his clock 'the regulator clock' c 1780, that was the principal timekeeper at the King's Observatory and regulated London time. The Observatory acted as the Prime Meridian and regulation of the clocks in the Houses of Parliament as well as other locations. There were daily observations of the Sun as it passed the meridian and thus time was regulated to a second. It was not until 1884 that The Royal Observatory at Greenwich became the Prime Meridian and the official regulator of time.

Below- On Display at Science Museum 'the regulator clock'


Kew and John Harrison

The King's enthusiasm and passion for clocks and watches allowed John Harrison to launch a successful appeal directly to George III in his dispute with the Board of Longitude over the £20,000 prize for determining longitude. Harrison wrote via Dr. Stephen Demainbray to the King on 31 January 1772. Dr. Demainbray and George III oversaw the testing of John Harrison's H5 watch at Kew Observatory and Dr. Demainbray's manuscript of the event is in the collection at King's College Library, London. The King had forgotten that he had stored some lodestones no doubt from his natural history collection nearby and thus initial trials were not successful. When they realised the lodestones would be affecting the trials and removed them the H5 was accurate to 1/3 sec/day over a ten week period. William Harrison the son of John Harrison was summoned for an interview and the King is said to have stated "... these people

have been cruelly wronged...,"and "By God, Harrison, I will see you righted!" The Board of Longitude did not recognise the results of the trial at Kew, so John and William petitioned Parliament. In June 1773 by an Act of Parliament they were awarded £8750 and it was from this time onwards that John Harrison was popularly acknowledged as having solved the problem of longitude.

Article: Arcadian Times.