Greenwich times ladies

. . . By the end of the 19th century reliable timekeepers were becoming available However . . . unless your watch or clock was set to the same time as everyone else, it is of little use. Some signals were available, such as the Greenwich one o’clock ball – but even in London these could not be seen by everyone . . . The solution was simple: rather than having people come to the observatory, have the time go to the people. John Henry Belville (known as ‘John Henry’) would set the time daily on a John Arnold & Son chronometer then travel to London passing out the accurate time. . . a small subscription was required. Henry’s clients included railways, watchmakers and others in the City of London or Clerkenwell districts. Henry continued to sell the time from 1836 until his death in 1856. The role – and the chronometer – were then taken over by his widow, Maria, the first ‘Greenwich Time Lady’. In 1892, Maria passed the family business to her daughter, Ruth, who became the most famous Time Lady.

Ruth Belville had a simple routine. Every Monday she walked across Greenwich Park from her home at 44 Crooms Hill to the Royal Observatory. There she set her accurate pocket watch with the main Greenwich Observatory 24-hour clock on Monday morning, . . . and had the accuracy of the chronometer, which she called ‘Arnold’, certified by an official. Then she would walk around London visiting forty or fifty chronometer makers, who would then transfer the right rime to their own most reliable timekeeper. This simple and relatively inexpensive service continued until the 1930s. Like her mother, Ruth was in her eighties when she retired.

Arnold’ the chronometer was a John Arnold pocket chronometer No 485/786, made originally with a gold case for the Duke of Sussex. John Henry had the case replaced by a silver one because he was concerned that gold might prove too much temptation to the rogues of the London streets. Ruth’s ‘Arnold’ was left on her death to the London Clockmaker’s Company.

In 1852, Charles Shepherd installed a new clock outside the gate of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. This was an electrically operated clock controlled by a master clock inside the main building. . . The original idea came from the Astronomer Royal, George Airy. With the arrival of the railway network, a single time standard was needed to replace the various incompatible local times then in use across the country. Airy decided that this standard time would be provided by the Royal Observatory. His idea was to use what he called ‘galvanism’ or electric signalling to transmit time pulses from Greenwich to slave clocks throughout the country. The new submarine cable recently installed between Dover and Calais in 1851, raised the possibility of sending time signals almost instantly between England and France. . .

By August 1852, Shepherd had built and installed the network of clocks and cables, and for the first time, Greenwich mean time was transmitted along cables from Greenwich to London Bridge, and thence to clocks and receivers throughout England. Sometimes, though, nothing can beat a personal service.

[transcribed from and other websites]