As Time Goes By

Tuesday 11th January
As Time Goes By to be given by Richard Norton (Member)
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Talk planned for 11th January had to be cancelled and at the Committee’s suggestion Richard stepped in to repeat a Talk he previously gave 13 years ago, which very few present members would have heard.
Having spoken of his long-term interest in clocks, he outlined his professional training and activities in Horology as his qualification to talk about the history of timekeeping in the Western World over the last 5,500 years.
It is well researched that the Chaldeans and the ancient Egyptians were aware of time, as we know it today, mainly from their study and knowledge of astronomy. They realised the constancy of the year on earth as evidenced by their temples where the rising sun always appears on a particular date, usually mid-summer’s or mid-winter’s day morning, in relation to a particular feature of the building, such as an archway. This is, of course, the same as Stonehenge but that is probably a thousand or more years later. It is thought that they also had time measuring devices such as water clocks where water dripping through an orifice was measured in a calibrated receptacle, but no positive evidence of such has been found. They certainly measured time using what we now call a Sundial, literally a stick stuck in the desert sand throwing a shadow on a divided circular
“dial”. It is thought that our 12-hour day derives from the easy way a circle can be divided using a compass.
Skipping several thousand years, Richard picked up the development of mechanical clocks in the Western World. Without doubt, the “automation” of bell ringing to call monks to prayer in the Christian monasteries was the major factor in this development, occurring in about 1100. Whilst these were purely bell ringing devices, within about 100 years, clocks, as we know them today were being made. There is one of the earliest clocks ever made of this type, still working in Wells Cathedral. By the end of the 14th Century, many churches throughout Western Europe had clocks, usually installed as they are today in the tower.
This outline was followed by a description of the calendar, again going back to the ancient Egyptians, via the Julian calendar named after Julius Caesar to the present day, Gregorian Calendar, first adopted by the Catholic Church in Europe in 1582 and accurate for some 16,000 years.
The talk concluded with slides showing the development of clocks from a reproduction of a Chinese water clock with time indicating display from the 9th Century AD up to the present day. This ended with a description of Atomic Clocks, used to establish Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC) which, globally, has now replaced Greenwich Mean Time, This is based on a statistical average from some 250 Caesium 132 based clocks around the world nominally accurate to 1 second in over 300,000 years. The latest development in atomic clocks is based on the Aluminium Ion with an accuracy of 1 second in 3.7 billion years, infinitely more accurate than the motion of the sun and the stars.
R Norton