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Published: June 12th 2016
The figurehead is Nannie Dee holding Meg's tail.
I’ve always had this romantic idea of Greenwich, the home of the prime meridian, the arbiter of time throughout the world. Imagine what things would be like without Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. Not only would you not be able to pinpoint your location on earth, think about the difficulty of doing business between, say, New York and Geneva, and the nightmare of coordinating flight schedules around the world.
I made my way from central London to Greenwich by boat, definitely the fastest and most fun ways to get anywhere along the Thames. Adjacent to the pier in Greenwich is the Cutty Sark, once the fastest sailing ship to ply the long routes from England to bring tea from China, and later, wool from Australia. Now it is permanently dry-docked and turned into a museum.
Up the hill is Royal Observatory which dates back to 1676, when King Charles II set up a royal commission to look into astronomy as a way to aid in navigation, timekeeping, and ultimately, as a way to measure longitude. Ships kept crashing into things because they didn’t know exactly where they were, and you lose a lot of money
the red ball
Everyday, at five minutes to 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the red ball is hoisted to the top of the pole. At precisely 1 o'clock, the ball drops. This allowed ships in the harbor to calibrate their chronometers with Greenwich Mean Time.
when your ship runs aground. The site he chose was the former hunting lodge of Henry VIII.
Sailors had long been able to figure out latitude, that is, their position north or south of the equator, but longitude proved to be a thornier problem, so much so that prizes for finding a method to establish longitude were offered by various kings throughout Europe. Phillip II of Spain was the first in 1567, and in 1714 the Parliament of England established its own prize with the Longitude Act. Astronomers around the world worked on the problem, and several had developed a way to measure time accurately enough to determine their position in relation to a known object.
Prime Meridians were established in a number of cities around the world, including Kyoto, Paris, Washington D.C., and the Great Pyramid of Giza. In 1884, International Meridian Conference
was held in Washington, D.C.
, and 22 countries voted to adopt the Greenwich meridian that had been established by George Airy at the Royal Observatory, as the prime meridian of the world. France, who wanted the Prime Meridian to pass through Paris, abstained.
Another very cool part of the Greenwich Museum campus is
the Painted Hall. This once served as the mess hall for the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. The entire interior of the hall is lavishly painted. There are reputed to be 360 naked women painted on the ceiling. Admiral Lord Nelson also lay in state in the Painted Hall.
After taking my time looking at all the marvelous art on the ceiling, and getting a crick in my neck, as well as feeling a bit peckish, I asked a docent if there was a café on site. Rather than sending me on the most direct route, he suggested I go through the undercroft of the Painted Hall and through the tunnel to the Chapel. Pretty much nobody goes down here, and it’s kinda cool.
These buildings now house the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and the University of Greenwich. While I was walking around, the sound of opera could be heard in the courtyard, and there was a piano recital in the chapel.
The Royal Museums at Greenwich include the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory, the Maritime Museum, and the Queen’s House, along with the Chapel of the old Royal Navy
There is a brass line in the courtyard of the Royal Observatory marking the meridian; this shows where the meridian runs through town.
College, and the Painted Hall. If you have an interest in things maritime – and the weather is nice - these make a pleasant way to spend the day.
This is my 100th
blog, and I think it’s appropriate that is about a place so steeped in the spirit of curiosity and exploration. Here’s to Greenwich, home of sailors, scientists – and their long-suffering wives - and more than a few scallywags. The Legend of Cutty Sark
In Robert Burns’ poem “Tam o’ Shanter” Tam hears music coming from a church late at night as he rides home from the pub on his horse, Meg. Curious, he goes to look, and finds a coven of witches, along with the devil himself. One of the most beautiful and wanton witches was Nannie Dee. She was wearing a sark, Scottish for chemise, that she had been given as a child. As she grew, the chemise got shorter, or sark. Tam was so taken by the sight of Nannie Dee dancing that he cried out “Weel done, Cutty Sark
At that, Nannie Dee gave chase to Tam who spurs his horse to escape, As
Nannie Dee gains on him, Tam and Meg jump over a stream, knowing that a witch cannot cross flowing water. But Nannie Dee was not about to give up so easily, so she lunged after them and caught hold of Meg’s tail. The figurehead on the Cutty Sark is a depiction of Nannie Dee holding a horse’s tail in her hand.
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