diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marking the meridian (125 years old today!)

Greenwich Observatory (south)
i) The meridian exits the rear of the Meridian Building virtually unnoticed, its path marked only by an astrolabe (or, more precisely, an armillary sphere) on a plinth in a flowerbed [photo].
ii) From the hilltop, it's straight down the sloping lawn of the Old Royal Observatory Garden. Even if you think you know Greenwich you may never have been here, gated and secluded behind stepped terraces and trees. Access is from a twisting path that kicks off below the front of the Observatory, and the Greenwich Phantom has the full lowdown.

Greenwich Park
iii) A narrow line of Meridian-marking granite slabs crosses The Avenue - the inclined roadway running from the bottom of the Park to the top. [photo]
iv) Mind that horse! The proposed route of the Olympic Cross Country course wiggles twice across the zero degree line (and another twice to the north of the Observatory too). It's just as well that the 2012 course won't be following the meridian precisely, else there'd be a big tree needing major surgery, and groundsmen would also need to clip the edge of an overgrown old reservoir. Olympic bosses continue to reassure us that the historic Park will be be perfectly well protected from the trampling hooves of global equestrians and, more importantly, perfectly safe from the massed paranoia of certain local neigh-sayers.
v) These could be renamed the Meridian Tennis Courts.
vi) The semicircular Rose Garden is an elegant and peaceful part of Greenwich Park [photo], in bloom even in October! If you fancy a nice sit down, some of the benches around the hedged perimeter are in the western hemisphere, and some are in the east.
vii) Next up, the Ranger's House once used to be home to the Greenwich Park ranger [photo]. More surprisingly, in 1815 that park ranger was Princess Sophia Matilda, the niece of George III. Today English Heritage run the place, and use the house to display a diamond magnate's decorative arts collection. Unfortunately it's shut for the winter to casual visitors at the end of September, and so I arrived a week to late to look inside. The Greenwich Meridian passes through the dining room, the Crimson Parlour and the Gallery, and is marked by a metal plaque on the outside of the southern garden wall [photo].
» Various large enamelled maps around Greenwich Park purport to show the location of the meridian. Be warned that these aren't terribly accurate, and show (for example) the line passing through the putting green and the wrong bit of the Observatory. Too expensive to replace, presumably, although I'm pleased to see that the Royal Parks website includes an updated and rather more precise version.

viii) Ah, the vast grassy plateau of Blackheath, across which the meridian spans the boroughs of both Greenwich and Lewisham. If you mind the footballs, kits and peace campers, it's possible to walk along the invisible line almost completely unobstructed (apart from a rather awkward crossing of the busy A2 near the Blackheath Tea Hut). On the southern edge a slightly-toppled litter bin (on the corner of Hare & Billet Road and Mounts Pond Road) really ought to be an official meridian marker, but sadly isn't [photo].
ix) Onward through the verdant detached gardens of The Orchard and the big villas on Eliot Vale. (Blimey, isn't undulating Heath Vale lovely?) Then across the Lewisham-Kidbrooke railway line, and through the heart of the Sacred Heart Convent on Belmont Hill.

x) On Lee High Road, near the bus stop at the junction with Halley Gardens [photo], is the southern meridian's first pavement plaque [photo]. I had to negotiate a passing couple with a snappy staffie, but once they'd gone I paused by the roadside to take a proper look. This groovy flat stone was laid by the local Mayor in 1984, and apparently commemorates both the meridian's centenary and Lewisham's Anti Racist Week [photo]. The significance of this combination completely escaped me, but maybe there was a special 2-for-1 offer on chiselled slabs at the time. Whatever the reason, the complete ordinariness of this inner suburban street highlights the quintessentially random passage of Greenwich's longitudinal legacy.

See also:
Greenwich Meridian Trail - take a walk along the meridian through Greenwich and Greenwich Park (with a nice map to print out)
International Meridian Conference - complete scans of the proceedings (13th October 1884 on pages 73-112)
Celebrate the meridian's 125th birthday with a lecture at the Royal Greenwich Observatory next Tuesday.

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