Hampstead lies slightly west of the Greenwich Meridian

ST JOHNS CHURCH in Hampstead’s Church Row lies 0.1811 degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian. Its longitude is 0.1811 W. This fact is unimportant to most people living in the area because Hampstead is high above sea level. However, an accurate measurement of longitude (and latitude) is extremely important to seafarers.

Tomb of the Harrison family in Hampstead

I am no expert in navigation, so please excuse me if the following explanation seems oversimplified. Latitude can be assessed measuring the positions of fixed astronomical objects such as the sun and the North Star and relating them to the horizon. Longitude proved far harder to measure because it involves relating the local time to the time at a reference position, now at the commonly accepted Greenwich Meridian.  The difference in the time at a position in the sea and that at Greenwich is the way that the calculation of longitude is made. Local time can be measured by means such as observing where the sun appears in the sky. Until the 18th century, no clocks existed that could reliably record the time at the reference position whilst at sea. The uncertainty involved in assessing longitude resulted in many unfortunate disasters at sea. In 1714, the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act of 1714, which offered prizes for a simple and practical method of assessing longitude out at sea.

To solve the problem, a clock that accurately recorded the time at Greenwich was required. This clock had to remain accurate despite the many changes that it would encounter as it moved across the seas. It had to record Greenwich Mean Time accurately and reliably despite changes in temperature, humidity, air pressure, motion of the vessel, and so on. Major advances in the solution of this demanding technical problem were made by a carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776), who was born near Wakefield in Yorkshire. For over 40 years, he worked on the problem, producing ever more reliable chronometers, which were tested at sea. Eventually, his H4 design became the prototype for what was best suited to the job. With the help of his son William Harrison (1728-1815), Harrison was rewarded with much of the financial reward offered in the wording of the Act passed in 1714.

When he died, John Harrison was living at his home in Red Lion Square in Holborn, whose longitude is 0.1186 W. He is buried in the same churchyard as the great artist John Constable: in the cemetery next to St Johns Church in Church Row, Hampstead. His tomb, which close to the south wall of the church, is of Portland stone and decorated with pilasters in the style of the architect Robert Adam. The north side of this shoebox shaped monument has an inscription that gives a brief biography of John Harrison. His wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1777, aged 72, is also commemorated on this tomb. The south side gives a short biography of his son William, who is also buried here. In addition to helping his father test his chronometer, he was also a Governor of the Foundling Hospital in London and High Sheriff of Monmouthshire (in 1791).

According to Christopher Wade in his “Buried in Hampstead”, several persons, who were not resident in Hampstead were interred in the churchyard of St John. The Harrisons figure amongst these. Wade states that there is no evidence that John Harrison and his family had any connection with Hampstead. He speculates that they obtained a burial plot there because they were “… affected by the charm of this particular graveyard.”  

The graveyard still retains its charm. It contains the resting places of many people, who have achieved fame in diverse fields of activity. Some of them are mentioned in my new book about Hampstead, which is available as a paperback from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92) and as a Kindle e-book.

A guiding light near Brighton

THE RIVER ADUR rises in Sussex and flows through the county, reaching the sea (the English Channel) west of Brighton and Hove at Shoreham-by-Sea. Facing the rivers opening to the sea and close to the Brighton Road (A259), there stands the slender, tall Shoreham Lighthouse.  The stone lintel over the small, narrow door at the base of the lighthouse bears the date “A.D. 1846”.

Shoreham lighthouse

The lighthouse was built in 1842 and was at first supplied with oil lamps (https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2011/08/26/shoreham-lighthouse/). The structure was first used in 1846, the date on the lintel. In the 1880s, the lighting system was modernised, and the new lamps were powered by gas. It was only inn 1952 that the gas-powered system was replaced by electric lights (http://shoreham.adur.org.uk/lighthouse.htm). Major repair work was carried out in 1985-86, and the lighthouse is still in service, its beams can be seen from up to 15 miles away.

The tower, about 39 feet high, is made from blocks of limestone. The lamp housing topped with a weathervane mounted on a perforated, spherical base. It was rotating very keenly when I saw it on the second day of Storm Eunice (20th of February 2022). The weathervane is above the lamp housing that has and polygonal roof. At each corner of this, there a metal sculpture depicting the head of a fish with its mouth open.

The lighthouse stands facing a largely industrial stretch of the coast and a row of unexceptional looking two-storey residential buildings. This part of the coast is a complete contrast to the grand (and quite as grand) buildings lining the seafront at Hove and Brighton.

The lighthouse stands a few yards away from the new lifeboat station, built in 2010. It was so wet and windy when I stepped out of the car to take some photographs that I did not linger long. However, I noticed many hardy individuals setting out boldly to stride along the shingle beach despite the horrible weather.

A track in Ireland

ONE OF THE JOYS OF driving a car is that you can go wherever you wish. To get from A to B, you can either take the most direct route or find a more interesting one. We often opted for the latter.

We used to do driving holidays long before ‘satnavs’ and Google mapping were available to ordinary motorists. We relied on maps and atlases, always trying to find the most detailed available.

In Easter 1993, we sailed from Swansea in Wales to Cork in Eire. After a superb breakfast in Cork, which included some of the best black pudding I have ever eaten, we began driving towards Kilshannig near Castlegregory on County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula.

Armed with a detailed Michelin road map and with a whole day ahead of us, we opted for a picturesque, but less direct, route.

Two interesting features of Irish roads soon became evident. First, there were bifurcations or t junctions where the same destination was on signs pointing in opposite directions. This was not a joke to confuse but simply an indication that both roads eventually met in the same place, maybe, for example, having skirted around different sides of a hill. The other thing is that we would be driving along a road and spotted a sign saying it was ‘5’ to the next village. Soon after that, another sign would inform us that it was ‘7’ to the same place, even though we knew for sure that we were going in the right direction. Ireland was busy converting its road signs from miles to kilometres, but many of the signs failed to include to which unit of measurement they referred.

We turned on our radio and listened to a programme in which someone was describing how to improve one’s skills when playing the game of curling. Every now and then, the presenter would say something like:
“Now, you hold it like this, see?”
The only problem was that there is nothing to be seen during a radio broadcast.

It was a lovely day and we were driving with the roof open. We drove past a golf course when suddenly there was a sharp clunk on the strip of roof between the car’s front windscreen and the open roof window. A poorly skilled golfer had made a poorly aimed shot. His ball had struck the car. Had it struck any where else, there was a good chance that it neither hit one of us nor shattered the windscreen.

Eventually, we reached Kenmare, having passed through Bantry Bay. Our most direct route would have been to go from Kenmare to Killarney via Muckross. However, my wife had discovered an alternative route on the map. It was marked on the map using the thinnest white line, which on Michelin msps denotes the most basic rustic thoroughfare. It was the road across a mountain pass called the Gap of Dunloe.

At first, the picturesque narrow road, not much wider than our Volvo saloon car, was easy to negotiate. We notice no other cars on it, but plenty of walkers and cyclists.

Soon, the track began to ascend, but not in a straight line. It wound up in a series of tight hairpin bends with very few passing places. After a while, we met a car coming down in the opposite direction. It was clear to me that my driving skills were better than the other. So, I had to reverse around several hairpin bends to reach a passing place.

We made it over the summit of the pass, and reached our hosts, Rober and Margaret at their cottage at Kilshannig, on a spit of land almost surrounded by sea and distant mountains: some of the beautiful scenery I have seen in Europe.

After welcome cups of tea, we told our hosts about our journey from Cork to Kilshannig. When we told them that we had driven across the Gap of Dunloe, Margaret exclaimed:
“But, that’s a footpath. We have often thought of visiting it, but we were worried that neither our Land Rover or our car would be able to cope with crossing the Gap.”

Some know, others don’t

I know it is not a good idea to make generalisations, but it is quite fun to do so occasionally. So, here goes! This time, I am going to generalise about taxi drivers’ knowledge in London, Bombay, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad.

The drivers of London’s characteristic black (usually) cabs are only allowed to work when they have “The Knowledge”. That is, they have passed an examination that requires the candidate to have a very detailed knowledge of the streets of London. A London cabbie only very rarely does not know the way.

London’s minicab and Uber drivers do not have to be tested on The Knowledge, but they are usually very adept at using GPS systems.

In Bombay, there is a huge number of yellow and black cabs. In my experience, the drivers usually know their way around the city. Some of them raise all kinds of objection s before they give in to your wish to hire them, but once aboard they will take you where you want without requiring navigational assistance.

I find the best way to get around Bangalore is to travel in an autorickshaw. Their drivers often know the way, and if they do not, they will ask fellow autorickshaw drivers, who can point them in the right direction. Uber and it’s competitor Ola exist in Bangalore, but their drivers, often from out of town, are often clueless about the city’s geography and find GPS hard to understand.

It is our experience with autorickshaw drivers in Ahmedabad that prompted me to write this blog. We have made many trips in their vehicles. An enormous proportion of the drivers will tell you that they know how to reach a place, but in reality they have no clue. They will not admit their ignorance and are often reluctant to stop and ask for directions from bystanders.

One driver in Ahmedabad, who was completely lost, got annoyed with us, his customers, and said: “Why are you going somewhere if you don’t know how to get there? I should leave you here, and you can find your own way.”

I did say that I would be generalizing. In all fairness, I must record that some of the autorickshaw drivers in Ahmedabad have been very knowledgeable about their city, but these have been in the minority.

So, when you visit the truly wonderful city of Ahmedabad, you will find it helpful to be able to access Google maps on your mobile phone while travelling around.