How Greenwich got The Meridian

Greenwich has been home of the world’s time since 1884.

Before the middle of the last century almost every town in the world kept its own time, but with the rapid growth of railways and shipping, the world-wide need for an international time standard became ever stronger.

The International Meridian Conference was held in Washington DC in 1864 and was attended by delegates from 25 nations. By the end of the Conference, Greenwich had won the prize of Longitude 0 degrees by a vote of 22 to one, with two abstaining.

One of the key reasons for the choice of Greenwich was that nearly three-quarters of the world’s commerce depended on sea charts which used Greenwich as the Prime Meridian. Navigators calculated their location from a fixed meridian – an imaginary line on the earth’s surface from North Pole to South Pole (which just clips the edge of the planned Millenium Exhibition site on the Greenwich Peninsula).

Delegates therefore felt it made most sense to name Greenwich as Longitude 0 degrees – and Greenwich became the centre of world time.

Source: Greenwich Time, Greenwich Council’s newspaper, 21/3/96, with additions.

David Riddle
Last updated: 10/5/96, 11.00pm