From when it was founded to how it became the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), find out the essentials about the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
1. The Royal Observatory was founded in the 1670s by King Charles II, who recognised the importance of developing better naval navigation systems for the country’s sea traders and explorers.
2. Sir Christopher Wren is most famous now for his work as an architect, but he also had a career as professor of astronomy at Oxford. He was one of the advisers to Charles II about setting up the Royal Observatory and designed its first building.
3. Since 1884, Greenwich has been where zero degrees longitude is marked. At the Royal Observatory you can stand astride the Prime Meridian, as it is known, meaning you have one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other in the western one.
4. The Greenwich time ball, atop Flamsteed House, was first used in 1833, allowing ships’ captains to accurately set their chronometers before they set sail.
5. The famous Onion Dome, built to house the enormous Great Equatorial Telescope, was initially made from papier mâché. It was damaged twice by bombs during the Second World War.
6. Astronomers Royal stayed in their posts a long time – in the 250 years there was a working observatory in Greenwich, there were only 10 Astronomers Royal in total.
7. John Harrison, a clockmaker from Yorkshire, finally solved the problem of how to measure longitude in the 1760s with the invention of the ‘H4’ seawatch. It can be seen along with other timepieces designed by Harrison at the Royal Observatory.
8. The view from the Royal Observatory is one of the best in London, taking in the historic architecture of Greenwich, the Thames, the City and beyond. But to enjoy the view, you will have to earn it by taking a 13-minute walk from the National Maritime Museum, up a steep hill in Greenwich Park!
9. As well as learning about the history of astronomy and navigation, at the Royal Observatory you can take courses and book to watch the night sky through the Great Equatorial Telescope, the largest of its kind in the country.
10. The Royal Observatory is part of Royal Museums Greenwich – while you’re here, also visit the Peter Harrison Planetarium, Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, and take in the sights of historic Greenwich.