Daily Archives: May 14, 2020

The Royal Observatory

Wren tore down the castle standing here and built the observatory out of the recycled stone. What a guy!

By now all 17 of you weirdos who’ve been reading this history have gotten the idea that time/distance/astronomy are interlinked—at least if you want to know where you are.

Eratosthanes, then Ptolemy, then just about everybody who drew a map chose their own prime meridian. That’s fine so far as it goes. But to be useful, a prime meridian needs to have an observatory. An observatory is where astronomers can keep track of the stars and regularly publish charts showing their positions and movements. Navigators can use those charts to check the stars’ positions and tell time from that information.

In ad 1675, King Charles II realized how important astronomy would be to all those ships who were expanding England’s trade around the world. He commissioned an observatory in Greenwich (a section of London) and had it designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who designed pretty much every building in London.

Something I never knew before this morning: Christopher Wren was an astronomer as well as an architect. One of those professions was his side-gig. Makes one’s life achievements seem somewhat inadequate, doesn’t it? You’re welcome.


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space