Greenwich Mean Time...Mrs Belleville [Maria Belville] who checks the hour daily at the Greenwich Observatory for the benefit of London clockmakers

This is a half-tone photographic reproduction from the 'Daily Graphic', 31 October 1892, showing Maria Belville (1811-99) the third wife of John Henry Belville (1794-1856) who was an assistant at the Royal Observatory from 1811 under John Pond (6th Astronomer Royal) to his death, still in service, under Pond's successor George Airy. Belville was Pond's protégé and was known as 'Mr John Henry' at Greenwich to disguise the fact that his parentage was almost certainly French (his mother was possibly a refugee of the Revolution who arrived as a pregnant widow). From 1836 he established a weekly call - though probably not personally - on London's principal chronometer makers, with a pocket chronometer set to Greenwich time. On his death his widow Maria personally took over until her retirement at the age of 81 in 1892, being in turn succeeded by their daughter Ruth, who continued as 'the Greenwich time lady' until the 1930s. They all used John Arnold's pocket chronometer No. 485/786, subsequently bequeathed by Ruth Belville to the Clockmakers' Company, London, on her death, aged 90, on 7 December 1943.

This picture may have been taken in the Regent Street shop of clockmaker John Walker, to whom the related article on 'Greenwich Mean Time' also refers as a Belville client. Maria is wearing outside dress as she would have done when making such a call. The clock against the wall is a long-case regulator and the table bears two two boxed marine chronometers. ( A later press photograph reproduced in Derek Howse, 'Greenwich Time and the Longitude' 2nd. ed., London, 1997, p. 91, shows Ruth Belville as a much younger woman than here, at the Shepherd Gate Clock of the Observatory: David Rooney has now identified this as a similar 'set-up' shot, taken on 9 March 1908 for the 'Daily Express' of the 10th.) The image is mounted on a sheet with PAI8782-PAI8785 and PAI8787-PAI8791.

Object Details

ID: PAI8786
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Unknown
Places: Greenwich
Date made: circa 1890; 1892
People: Mrs Belleville
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 189 x 134 mm

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