Ruth Belville : London’s last time carrier


Today we have something different, a podcast I happened across the other week about a woman called Ruth Belville, who spent fifty years selling a subscription time telling (accurate to within a tenth of a second) service from the Greenwich Observatory. At the time of her retirement c.1939 she was the last of three Belvilles who provided this service.

This rather intriguing method of travelling time keeping started in June 1836, with a 1794 John Arnold chronometer (No. 485/786) given to Ruth’s father John Henry Belville by the Astronomer Royal. There were two hundred initial subscribers for this service – Belville (or an assistant) would visit on a regular basis, showing their customers the time on the chronometer, whose accuracy was checked every morning. Despite technological advances, the time carrying business was continued by his wife Maria after his death, before being passed onto Ruth. Upon her death, the chronometer was left to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.

Each morning, over this astonishingly long period, one of these three Belvilles would have the chronometer set at Greenwich, and then simply travel to the day’s clients, to show them the time.

If like me you didn’t know of this, it is a really fascinating story, and I’d encourage you to listen to this short podcast at this link.

If your interest is sufficiently piqued and you to wish to read more, there are also references at the link to books and articles that have been written about Ruth Belville.

During a brief discussion with #thewatchnerd in London, he told me that the history of the Belville is well known in horology circles over there. Not only this, but in a rather interesting synchronicity of timing, he pointed me in the direction of a press release from 15 June 2016 has announced that financial technology specialists emagine have partnered with Hoptroff London, maker of the world’s most accurate atomic timepieces, to market a 2016 equivalent. As they put it –

“With an industry-leading accuracy of up to 10s of nanoseconds, HoptroffTime (TM) distributes synchronised time to enable end-to-end timestamping of trade flows. The solution combines hyper-accurate atomic ‘grandmaster clocks’ with patent-pending software that automatically corrects for latency right through to application level. HoptroffTime (TM) has built-in redundancy features, ultra-low power credit-card sized colocation solutions, and does not normally require upgrades to existing infrastructure and networks.”

For the full press release and more information about this modern day time version, go to this link.

Categories: Ephemera, London, watches


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