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1863 __ Time guns
Comment : The Universal Private Telegraph Company, even from its first years, was not just a provider of communications - as its presence at the International Exhibition of 1862 at South Kensington shows. The influence of Charles Wheatstone was overwhelming; of course the Company displayed to the audience two of Wheatstone’s Universal telegraphs, but it also included and offered for sale examples of immensely advanced technology; his automatic printing telegraph – which it claimed could print 500 code-characters a minute; his magnetic clock connected with several other small clocks; alarm and “exploding” bells worked by electricity; and a magnetic register or telemeter, showing the number of persons passing through the doors and turnstiles of the exhibition. The “exploding” bells were actually Wheatstone’s magnetic exploder for detonating explosive charges; it was widely demonstrated in the 1860s letting-off small fireworks and flares, being adopted by the Army for demolitions in 1861. Commencing in 1863 the Universal Private Telegraph Company installed a series of ‘time guns’ in Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast. These sounded the hour at one o’clock each day based on an electric time signal from the Observatory at Edinburgh, Scotland. [...] In Newcastle, from August 17, 1863, the Universal Private Telegraph Company, at the instance of Nathaniel Holmes, took a time-signal from Royal Observatory, Edinburgh in Scotland, off the Magnetic Telegraph Company’s circuits and used Wheatstone’s magnetic exploders, rather than galvanic batteries, in its office at one o’clock each day to ignite the charges of “time-guns” at the Old Castle in the city and at Barrack Hill several miles away in North Shields, signalling the precise hour of the day as a public service. Prof Piazzi-Smyth, the Astronomer-Royal for Scotland, who introduced the very first electrically-controlled time-gun in Edinburgh in 1861, stated in November 1864 that his Observatory “looked on (Holmes) as the inventor of the distant time gun system”. The Company provided three more time-guns in Scotland: at St Vincent Place, Glasgow on October 29, at Broomielaw, Glasgow on November 10, and at Greenock on the Clyde on November 21, 1863. However all of these were abandoned in November 1864 at the insistence of the Electric Telegraph Company who objected to the use of the Magnetic’s circuits, and who wanted to install its own time-balls regulated from Greenwich. A temporary time-gun was set up by the Company in the yard of the Orphan Asylum in Sunderland on August 26, 1863 to fire off at one o’clock each day in celebration of the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in that city. The reaction of the orphans is not recorded. The Company established a time-gun at the entrance to the basin in Dundee harbour in Scotland on December 23, 1863 for a short period. Its last time-gun was introduced in Belfast in Ireland at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce in 1865. It, too, was connected by a circuit to Edinburgh Observatory and was installed by the Company at the Harbour Office. The gun fired daily at 1 o’clock Greenwich time as part of the Chamber’s campaign to have time uniformity with Britain. (Steven Roberts, “Distant Writing - A History of the Telegraph Companies in Britain between 1838 and 1868”, 2010)One day, a coalminer from some distant part of Durham, who had never heard of such things as time-guns, was passing across Newcastle Bridge, when he was startled by the sudden roar of the gun just above him. Amazed, he asked a passenger “what that was,” who replied that it was “one o’clock.” “One o’clock!” exclaimed the miner; “I’m very glad I were not here at twelve.”. (In “Mechanics’ Magazine” 1864)
Urls : http://distantwriting.co.uk/privatetelegraphy.aspx (last visited )

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