Time and Society

Essential information

Opening times: 
10am–5.30pm daily | Closed from 16 January until Easter
Royal Observatory, Meridian Line and Historic Royal Observatory, Time & Society gallery

If you've ever wondered about time - from when we started wearing wristwatches to how it makes sense of the world - The Time and Society gallery at the Royal Observatory is for you.

Please note: this gallery will be closed from mid-January until Easter while we carry out essential maintenance work.

See all attractions at the Royal Observatory

The gallery examines the role of timekeeping in our everyday lives. At home and at work, in our personal lives and across societies, we have made timekeepers to coordinate and track the passing of the years. It also looks at how time has been tracked in different eras and cultures. Visit and see:

  • historic timepieces
  • Elizabethan scientific instruments
  • one of the earliest wristwatches

On display are amazing old timepieces, including a scaphe diale, one of the oldest forms of sundial; a tavern clock, which were commonly installed in publicly accessible places for travellers; a leather 'watch wristlet' designed as a ladies' accessory, dating back to the mid-1880s; and the famous Atmos clock, which keeps time by responding to changes in air temperature and pressure. Atmos clocks are frequently given as official gifts by the Swiss Government to famous people, including John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Pope John-Paul II.

You can also see the Cole Compendium, a set of instruments belonging Humphrey Cole, one of the finest makers of scientific equipment in Elizabethan England.