St Andrews: the real centre of time

Photo credit: University of St Andrews

St Andrews has claimed that it is in fact the place where time began.

In 1673, almost 200 years prior to the international adoption of GMT, a Scottish astronomer named James Gregory laid down Europe’s first meridian on the floor of his laboratory at the University of St Andrews.

Earlier this week a plaque and brass line to represent the meridian were unveiled, marking the site of Gregory’s lab, in recognition of his impressive body of work. The solid brass line, which divides the pavement on South Street, follows the exact position of Gregory’s original meridian.

The St Andrews meridian was the very first division of the hemispheres but is several degrees west of the Greenwich meridian, meaning it is twelve minutes behind GMT. Perhaps, if things had turned out differently, the world could be running on STAMT (St Andrews Mean Time) instead of GMT, says Dr John Amson, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at St Andrews University. This meridian also casts into doubt the boundary between east and west as it places London and Aberdeen in the eastern hemisphere rather than the western.

Gregory used the meridian, aligned with a metal sight fixed to the window of his lab as well as a fixed post on the horizon, to make astronomical observations. As well as an astronomer Gregory was also an acclaimed mathematician and inventor. He was one of the three founders of calculus (along with Newton and Leibniz), invented the Gregorian telescope and discovered the principles of diffraction grating.

The plaque and brass line marking Gregory’s meridian, commemorating his findings and discoveries was revealed by the University principal and vice-chancellor Professor Louise Richardson together with Graham Wynd, the chairman of the St Andrews Preservation Trust and can be found outside the King James Library on South Street. This will ensure that, although we do not run on STAMT, the significance and groundbreaking nature of Gregory’s work will not be forgotten.


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