Greenwich Observatory Now a Museum
LONDON — THE Old Royal Observatory, which made Greenwich in southeast London the center of time and space for 300 years, reopened March 24 as a new museum complex.
Visitors can walk through 16 new galleries in four buildings, seeing how scientists worked with the instruments that measured time, mapped the heavens, and determined longitude to enable sailors to find out where they were. The prime meridian line of zero longitude, from which east and west are measured, runs through Greenwich.
The Octagon Room has been restored to the specifications of its builder, Sir Christopher Wren, who was an astronomer before he became an architect and built St. Paul's Cathedral.
Kristen Lippincott, an American art historian, headed the renovation, which cost nearly $3 million. She is curator of astronomy and head of navigational sciences at the nearby National Maritime Museum.
"I had to ensure that we chose the right architect, who respected the history of the place and realized what a museum is for, and that the exhibits were tailored so they could be understood by our 250,000 visitors a year," Ms. Lippincott said.
The museum has 11,000 instruments, of which 300 are on view, including the books, papers, clothing, quill pens, ink and pills of John Flamsteed, England's first astronomer-royal.
"King Charles II founded the observatory but didn't provide telescopes, so Flamsteed had to get his own made. When he died his widow came, took away the whole lot and they have disappeared," said Patrick Moore, Britain's best-known astronomer. "Edmund Halley, who followed Flamsteed, had to begin again and some of his telescopes are still here."
The observatory was founded in 1675. The astronomers left Greenwich 45 years ago to find clear skies and are now based in Cambridge, 56 miles north of London, while their observatory is on the Spanish Canary island of La Palma off northwest Africa.