Margate’s time ball on the town’s clock tower is working again, thanks to the efforts of Margate Civic Society and others including the Hollywood director and graphic designer Arnold Schwartzman.
Click on the thumbnail above to see a FaceBook video clip of it operating. I hope the chap who made it won’t mind…
Originally designed to enable seafarers to set their chronometers, the Margate Time Ball operated for the first time in over 90 years on Saturday 24th May at 1pm, and from now on will drop at 1pm each day.
There’s a nice article by Mr Schwartzman in this copy of the Civic Society’s newsletter from which we learn that the director grew up in the town, and that for many years he has for many years treasured a set of crested china Margate Clock Towersfor many years
Originally designed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, the Margate Clock Tower at the junction
of Marine Drive and Marine Terrace was not in fact completed and brought into action .
Built by public subscription at the cost of £1,300, the 80ft Portland Stone tower is in the elaborate ‘French Renaissance’ style. The ball mechanism has not operated since the mid-1890s, when local residents complained about the noise it made.
The idea of the time ball was first proposed by Captain Robert Wauchope of the Royal Navy- a Royal Navy and were first introduced in 1829, when the Admiralty set up the world’s first time-ball at Portsmouth Harbour. In 1833 it was followed by another at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
Ramsgate’s Clock Tower was an obvious site for a time ball, not least because it would have been visible to many of the ships passing from the Channel to the Thames Estuary on their way to the great ports of London.
In his article, Mr Schwartzman reports that of the 150 public time balls installed around the world, notably those in Mauritius, St Helena, Cape of Good Hope, Madras, Western Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Bombay and Washington DC, more than 60 survive, including one at Deal, Kent that was first set up in 1855.
The Deal ball was the first to be operated by a direct signal via the South Eastern Railway: atAt 12:57 GMT, the ball was lifted to the top were it was held, then at 13:00 GMT an electrical impulse, sent down the railway’s wires from Greenwich released the catches so that the ball dropped.
Radio time-signals introduced in the 1920s made the time-balls obsolete.
PS There’s some smile-inducing British Pathé-style shenanigans involving young sailorsand young women on Margate beach here.