In 1845, a minute hand that runs 14 minutes faster than the original was added to the clock on St. John’s Church in Exeter. This unique feature aroused the curiosity of people. It was explained in Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post as a “matter of great public convenience” because it exhibited the correct time in Exeter, the “railway time.”
Sense of time has always been exhibited according to planetary motion with the moon’s waxing and waning providing the idea for month. The sun’s passage across the skies gave the idea for midday and high noon. If you are in Exeter, you will see the sun at its highest point 14 minutes after someone has seen it in London.
Naturally, people in Exeter will set their clock by their local celestial observations which mean that if you both live in Exeter and set an appointment for 9:00 AM, the 14 minutes will not have an effect to someone who is in London that is 200 miles away.
According to the early British timetables, time in London is about 4 minutes earlier than Reading time and 7 ½ minutes before Cirencester. Travelers were certainly confused as well as drivers and signaling staff. Railways adopted the “railway time” that is based on Greenwich Mean Time that was set by the observatory.
Some municipal authorities realized the importance of standardized national time but others resented it as a metropolitan imposition. For years, the Duke of Exeter refused to make any adjustments to the clock on the cathedral.
The fact is there is really no correct time, only accurate timekeeping. Time is like money that derives its usefulness from its widespread acceptance. Even the most accurate watches and clocks can wander by 15 minutes a day but while it does not matter to many, it is important to sailors who calculate latitude by observing the sun’s angle.
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