I had a joint ticket for an exhibition, the Planetarium and the Observatory (an Astro ticket), so after I left the National Maritime Museum where Ships, Clocks & Stars was located, I struggled up the massive hill to the Royal Observatory, just in time to see the red Time Ball drop at 1 pm. This was first used in 1833 and was a way for ships’ crew and ordinary Londoners to set the time accurately.
The first thing I did was go to the Astronomy Centre, where I attended a Planetarium show called Dark Universe. This was great fun and it was an awesome experience – we sat in chairs looking up at the domed ceiling and it felt as though we were flying through the stars. The show is about what we know, and don’t know, about the universe and it is narrated by astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson. I came out with my head spinning as I tried to comprehend how vast space is. After that I wandered around the Astronomy Centre building, looking at the exhibitions and the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, which had some amazing entries.
Next I went to the Royal Observatory proper. Flamsteed House was the first building of the Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 and built on the site of Greenwich Castle. The House contains the Astronomer Royal’s apartments, where the Astronomers Royal from John Flamsteed onwards lived and worked, and the Octagon Room, designed as the perfect spot from which to observe planetary motions, but which was actually not used for this purpose as it wasn’t positioned properly.
When I visited, the House was home to Longitude Punk’d, an exhibition complementing that at the NMM and consisting of responses to the “Longitude Problem” by a variety of steampunk artists. The artists worked together to create a kind of ‘alternate history’ and designed products relating to this, which were very inventive and impressive.
I visited the ‘Time and Greenwich’, ‘Time for the Navy’ and ‘Time and Society’ galleries which were all about the role of time in different aspects of human history (The ‘Time and Longitude’ gallery had mostly been taken to the NMM for the Longitude exhibition). There were some interesting things on display, particularly an inordinate number of clocks. I tried to take advantage of the hilltop site of the Observatory by looking out over London, but unfortunately it was a bit of a rubbish day so I couldn’t see much.
Outside in the courtyard, I watched people taking pictures on the Meridian Line – the Prime Meridian of the world, Longitude 0°. I had a go myself but I only got my feet in as I wasn’t going to faff about with selfies in front of so many people!
Despite the bad weather I had an enjoyable day out in Greenwich. One day I will go back and see the National Maritime Museum properly.
Address: Blackheath Avenue, Greenwich, London, SE10 8XJ
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm daily
Prices: £9.50 adult, £5 child, combined tickets with other RMG attractions available