The Chingford Meridian
Another in my Greenwich-related days out today; the glorious Chingford Meridian. Right at the top of Pole Hill, the highest point in Chingford, the then-Astronomer Royal, John Pond, erected an obelisk so that everyone north of the river could delight in Britain being the centre of the world. It was put up in 1824 under the excuse that it would help astronomers find True North from the transit telescope. It was the pride of Chingford.
Then disaster struck. Zut alors! The Meridian line changed. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – Paris was most keen to become the city of the Meridian – but it did shift everything by the frustratingly short distance of 19 feet, in 1850. Suddenly the good folks of Chingford felt as though they were somehow committing a fraud – luring unsuspecting meridian-chasers up to the top of the hill, only to sell them a lie.
They considered just moving the monument – but it was solid granite and had been enough of a huff and puff the first time. No one wanted the job of moving it again…
It hung around like a bad smell, embarrassing the mayor and shaming the councillors for 34 years. When the new line was officially adopted in 1884, they decided enough was enough. A new, somewhat less attractive pillar was erected (I mistook it for some kind of MOD relic when I first saw it) and an apologetic plaque stuck on the old one.
Visiting the monuments is quite a fun quest, if you’re stuck for something to do in the long school holidays. We spent quite some time trying to work out exactly where it was, so you don’t have to – the map reference is here – and, in fact, once you actually have the map it’s quite obvious where it is – it’s the bit marked “Obelisk…”
You can drive reasonably close – go to the top of a loop-y road of a very residential nature and park as near the apex as possible. You have to climb the last 50ft or so, but it’s not a big deal – the grass is roughly cut and although there are no signs you just head for the top.