The thin brass line

I wrote some time ago of attempts by the French, not for the first time, of attempting to wrestle back the Prime Meridian from England. At the end of that recent conference there doesn’t seem to have been consensus as the proposal was kicked into the long grass.

We might have beaten the French in their attempts to put Greenwich, so to speak, in Paris, but technology seems to have taken from us that frisson of adventure in having both feet planted on the Eastern and Western Hemispheres at the same time.

Millions of tourists have stood precisely here, in the courtyard at the Royal Greenwich Observatory astride the famous brass meridian. The meridian which passes directly through the observatory, and is precisely defined by the centre of the crosshairs of George Airy’s 1851 transit telescope.

Above the telescope on the outside of the building there is a clock counting the days since the Millennium, a silver plaque and a tiny hole out of which a green laser shines along the meridian after dark, visible for many miles to the north and a red line down the face of the building marks the precise longitude at which time begins.

At least it did show the Meridian until Global Positioning Systems came about. All this technical stuff is a bit much for your average cabbie. So here is a video clip describing the reason that geophysics has moved our line 102½ metres further east than the official Greenwich meridian and why when you stand in the courtyard at Greenwich wielding a handheld GPS device it doesn’t show a longitude of precisely 0°0’0″ and instead of intersecting a fine purpose built observatory designed by Sir Christopher Wren, does in fact, straddle a waste bin.

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