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The Piazzi Blog

9th April 2013

Douglas Bateman author of ‘An Electronically Maintained Precision Pendulum Clock: Notes Describing the Theory of the Èscapement and Practical Details of the Pendulum’gave a talk on the Greenwich time ball to members of the Antiquarian Horological Society of Edinburgh and the British Horological Institute at the Canons Gait public house last Saturday. The author whose book on Admiral Wauchope will shortly be available also visited the Nelson Monument to take a look at the lifting machinery, which like the lifting machinery at Greenwich was manufactured by Maudslay, Sons & Field. The author was given the honour of dropping the time ball by John Peat the winder.

31st March 2013

Greyfriars Church

Greyfriars Church

Greyfriars Church opens its doors to visitors on Monday 1st April. If you’re planning to visit Edinburgh, a visit to Greyfriars is essential. Thomas Henderson, Scotland’s first Astronomer Royal is buried in the kirkyard. Check out our Observatory section for further details. If you have any questions relating to this magnificent building, do not hesitate to ask the guides on duty. The original painting of Greyfriars Bobby can be seen in the Visitor's Centre. The church is open from 10.30 am until 4.30 pm Monday to Saturday. The Visitor's Centre is closed on Sunday.

28th March 2013

City Guard - 1

City Guard on the March

City Guard - 2

City Guard at Greyfriars Kirk

The Edinburgh City Guard held their first parade last week. When Thomas Short, an optician from Leith who ran the Gothic observatory on the Calton Hill died in 1788, the lease passed to Short’s grandson, James Douglas, but trouble broke out with Short’s widow over ownership of the telescopes. Forced to pay for warrants to recover them, Douglas decided to throw the Short children out of the house. Armed with cutlasses, pistols, and a blunderbuss, Mrs. Short supported by a band of followers returned and tried to force entry. The Town Guard were called, resulting in Mrs. Short and her supporters being marched off and locked up in the Tolbooth. For further details check out: The City Guard Photo credit: Caroline Walker.

22nd March 2013

Aimed specifically at young minds, the Edinburgh International Science Festival opens on Saturday 23rd March. Based at the City Art Centre, the annual event has been encouraging budding Isaac Newtons to understand the world they live in for over 20 years. Consisting of hands-on exhibits, presentations and workshops featuring robots, computer animation and the wonders that go on inside the human body the Festival is well worth a visit. For further details check out: The Science Festival

17th March 2013

Mike Bundock a member of the British Horological Institute is writing a book on the history of Margate Clock Tower. Built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, the tower was officially opened on 24th May 1889 to coincide with the monarch’s 70th birthday. Costing £12 postage and packing, the profits from the book will go towards financing the restoration of the famous seaport's monument. Further details available from: Mrs Lynda Smith, 5 Addington Square, Margate, CT9 1NN

13th March 2013

Gunner Allison

Bombardier Allison

Gunner Allison with group

Bombardier Allison and women's group

Bombardier Allison Jones marked International Women’s Day on 8th March by firing the One o’clock Gun. The District Gunner from Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire is the first woman to be appointed to the post of District Gunner. The time gun was fired by Lady Scott-Barret the Governor of the Castle’s wife in January 1979 to mark her husband’s retiral. It was also fired by Mrs. Margaret Holroyd, not long after the Second World War, who worked at the Royal Observatory on the Blackford Hill. Crown Copyright / Mark Owens / Army

12th March 2013

The Transit House

Transit House

During the early 19th century to provide a time service for the City of Edinburgh and the Port of Leith, workmen began building a transit house not far from the Gothic observatory and which was completed by March 1814. In addition to a small transit telescope, a clock stood in the window which supplied the time to mariners and the townspeople. A card stating how fast or slow the clock which had two faces, one at the front and one at the rear was running. Converted into an electic clock probably by James Ritchie & Son, the clock provided the time to mariners and the people of the town until the time ball was set up on the Nelson Monument in 1853.

9th March 2013

Edinburgh Life

Edinburgh Life

This month’s ‘Edinburgh Life’ contains a full page article on Greyfriars Bobby Commemoration Day held on 14th January. During the reception held in the Central Library, George IV Bridge following the ceremony, Donald Wilson the Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh announced that the event, held annually, will in future be organised by the Central Library. ‘Edinburgh Life' is available from most supermarkets, newsagents and selected culture centres such as the National Gallery and the National Library of Scotland.

3rd March 2013

William Peck's Gravestone

Sir William Peck's Gravestone

Tuesday 7th March marks the anniversary of the death of Sir William Peck. Born in Castle Douglas in 1861, the self taught astronomer was giving lectures to the public by the time he was twenty one. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1885, he was employed by Robert Cox MP to run a private observatory at Murrayfield. Appointed Director of the City Observatory in 1898, he was knighted in 1917. Elected Honorary President of the newly formed Astronomical Society of Edinburgh seven years later, the astronomer was buried in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh in 1925.

1st March 2013

A fundraising artwork auction will be held on Thursday 14 March 2013 at Lyon and Turnbull, Edinburgh to help finance the Collective Gallery’s move to the City Obervatory. Currently based in Cockburn Street, the Collective Gallery plan to use the observatory and enclosure as a centre for the arts by opening two exhibition rooms and setting up an outdoor events area this summer. For further details check out: The Collective Gallery

25th February 2013

Bruce Vickery will give his talk on ‘Thomas Henderson the first Astronomer Royal for Scotland and The Longitude of Edinburgh’ to the members of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh on Friday, 1st March. The members meet at St. Augustines, George IV Bridge. The talk which was well received by the members of the Antiquarian Horological Society of Edinburgh is well worth attending. Further details available here. You can find out more about Thomas Henderson and the Royal Observatory here.

23rd February 2013

St Helena Time Ball

St Helena Time Ball

Thursday 28th February marks the anniversary of the death of astronomer Manuel Johnson. Born in Macao, China, he was educated at Mr Styles’ Classical Academy at Thames Ditton before attending Addiscombe Military Seminary where he studied for service with the Honourable East India Company. Sent by the company to St Helena, from 1826 he supervised the building of the Ladder Hill Observatory, making two trips to South Africa to consult with Fearon Fallows on the observatory’s equipment and design. Appointed Superintendent of the Ladder Hill Observatory, he published ‘A Catalogue of 606 Principal Fixed Stars in the Southern Hemisphere’ winning the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal. Returning to the UK he studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating MA before obtaining the post of director of the Radcliffe Observatory in 1839 where he remained until his death in 1859.

16th February 2013

CPS Star Chart

Star Chart

Thursday 21st February marks the death of Professor Charles Piazzi Smyth, Scotland's second Astronomer Royal.

Both he and his wife Jessie loved to travel. The complete opposite of his predecessor Thomas Henderson, the professor fought a constant battle with the authorities in an effort to get funding for the Royal Observatory, but was forced to resign in 1888. Further details can be found on our Astronomer Royals page, here.

As well as being a great scientist, Charles Piazzi Smyth was also an accomplished artist. We show above one of his drawings, published in 1893.

9th February 2013

National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland

The countdown to the Edinburgh International Science Festival has begun. Founded in 1989, the festival has been running for twenty five years. This year’s exciting themes include our world in the future, developments in health and the food industry, urban design, work and play and last but not least, the exploration of outer space. Not to be missed if you're planning to visit the Scottish capital. The Festival blasts off on 23rd March and lasts until 7th April. For further details check out: here

2nd February 2013

Library Panel

Display panel outside Scottish Department, Central Library
Photo credit: Maria Furbelli

The Greyfriars Bobby Trail display boards have now been set up at the Central Library, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Members of the Calton Hill Time Ball Association collaborated with the design staff at the Central to produce the panels. A display case outside the Library's Scottish Department also contains information on the world famous dog's connection with Colour Sergeant Scott. A well designed leaflet is also available from the Library. Further details on Greyfriars Bobby Trail can be found on our Greyfriars Bobby Home Page.

28th January 2013

A 140-year-old plaster prototype used to create the bronze statue of loyal terrier Greyfriars Bobby was sold for £3100 at an auction held at Lyon & Turnbull, Edinburgh last Saturday. The model of the dog who went for his dinner when the One o’Clock Gun fired was bought by the Skye Terrier Club. Margaret Cumming the granddaughter of the statue’s owner commented, 'I am so pleased that ‘Wee Bobby’ will not only be staying in Scotland, but will actually be on Skye. This couldn’t be better and I am quite sure my grandfather would be very happy.' A spokesman for the Skye Terrier Club said,'We are delighted to have bought the statue. He will be returned to the Isle of Skye where he will become a centrepiece to a celebration of the breed on the island.' Our Greyfriars Bobby home page can be visited here.

24th January 2013

Bruce Vickery of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh will give a talk entitled ‘Thomas Henderson the first Astronomer Royal for Scotland and The Longitude of Edinburgh’ to the members of the Scottish Section of the Antiquarian Horological Society on Saturday, 26th January. The members meet at the Methodist Church, Nicolson Square on the south side of Edinburgh. Founded in 1985 by a group of Scottish AHS members headed by the well-known Scottish horologist Felix Hudson, the Scottish Section celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010. The talk which was well received when Bruce gave the presentation at the Central Library a few weeks ago is not to be missed. Further details available here. You can find out more about Thomas Henderson and the Royal Observatory here.

22nd January 2013

David Gill

David Gill 1843-1914

Thursday 24th January marks the death of Sir David Gill. Born in Aberdeen in 1843, he was educated at Dollar Academy. After enrolling at Aberdeen University, where he studied under James Clerk Maxwell, he joined his father’s clock-making business. Preferring the science of astronomy to making clocks, he sold the business and moved to Lord Lindsay’s estate at Dun Echt, Aberdeenshire to set up a private observatory. In 1874 the astronomer joined the expedition to Mauritius where he observed the transit of Venus. A meticulous observer, he was Appointed Her Majesty’s Astronomer Royal at the Cape of Good Hope in 1879. Buried in Aberdeen, the astronomer's solar parallax observations with a heliometer and his calculations of distances to the nearer stars, are testimony to his outstanding work. Photo credit: Wikipedia File:David_Gill

15th January 2013



The ceremony to mark Greyfriars Bobby Commemoration Day on 14th January was a great success. The lament for the little dog was played by world champion piper Jennifer Hutcheon. Lord Provost Donald Wilson announced that the ceremony would be now be held annually. Ruby a Patterdale terrier came from the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home to attend the ceremony. According to David Ewing the manager of the animal sanctuary, William Chambers and Dr John Brown set up a home in 1862. Twenty years later, the first Edinburgh Home for Lost and Starving stray dogs was opened in Comely Bank Gardens, close to where Flora Stevenson's School stands today. By 1900 it had moved to the Broughton Road area where it remained until a new centre known as the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home opened in Seafield in 1957. Photo credit: Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home.