Bang!

Warren asks:

“I was just wondering if you, or anybody else, remembers a gun being fired at noon / 1 o’clock in Greenwich town centre.  I worked in College Approach in the mid 90′s and it used to surprise me every time. It could have been fired from around the Cutty Sark or the Gypsy Moth, when it was there. “

The Phantom replies:

 I don’t recall hearing gunshots around Greenwich town centre at lunchtime for – well, ever, actually, But then I am rarely in Greenwich Town Centre at lunchtimes, especially during weekdays, chiz. Not to mention you are the second person who’s contacted me thinking they used to hear explosions around midday/noon – though the earlier person, who I don’t seem to be able to find in my backlog of email, thought it was cannon fire, which would have been considerably louder, I’d have thought. I confess I assumed my earlier correspondent had got us confused with Edinburgh and that it was something to do with the time ball, but is does occur to me that up until 1998 ‘The Old Royal Naval College’ was just  ’The Naval College’ – perhaps it was military? 

I have a friend who attended the naval college when it was such but he’s away just now, and I can’t ask him until he gets back. Does anyone else remember a regular gunfire shot at either 12.00 noon or 1.00pm in the 90s? And does anyone know what its purpose would have been?


8 Comments to “Bang!”

  1. Dazza says:

    I will refrain from the obvious comment about gunshot in Greenwich becoming more frequent (luckily not actually in Greenwich Town Centre)
    Wouldn’t it be good to have such a ‘tradition’ at the home of time? With all the recent talk of abandoning GMT in favour of EuroTime I think it’s about time (yes, I get the irony) that we started celebrating GMT instead of dumping it.
    By the way, the only banging sound I hear is the thump of lorries running over the potholes in Woolwich Road!!

  2. Idris says:

    Firing a gun at noon (or 1pm) was common practice at many ports around the world and still is in some. In Hong Kong the noon day gun was immortalised by Noel Coward in the song ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’ and is still fired every day. I believe Cape Town also still fires a gun daily as do other ports. The reason for firing a gun is the same reason why the big red time ball on the roof of Greenwich observatory drops every day at 1pm. That is for sailors on the decks of the ships in port to set the time on the ship’s watch. An accurate watch on board ship = accurate navigation (before GPS came along). I believe that other ports have also used time balls in the past, though I’m not sure if any still do. Being alert and ready to set the ship’s watch was obviously very important for navigation and has since led us to use the term ‘on the ball’(i’m assured this is true). Watching a signal (a ball dropping) rather than hearing a gunshot proved to be more accurate for navigation as it avoided the time delay in the sound of the cannon. I don’t recall a time signal cannon firing in Greenwich but I’m sure it has in the past.

  3. darryl says:

    The only time I’ve seen the time ball drop was in the mid-90s (early ’97, I think) and it dropped in silence. That’s not to say there weren’t bangs elsewhere or before then – but I certainly don’t recall anything at the Cutty Sark.

  4. Alf Egee says:

    It was a ceremonial cannon fired from the deck of the Cutty Sark each lunchtime. Quite a bang it made.

  5. Meridian Blue says:

    A number of ports have observatorys with timeballs. There’s one in Sydney and here at Lyttleton http://www.flickr.com/photos/26524054@N06/5347127806/ – the port near Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand.

    There is one in Times Square in NYC of course.

    The ‘Noon Gun’ was another maritime alert- commemorated by the wine of the same name from Flagstone Winery in S. Africa.

  6. Meridian Blue says:

    Here are a couple of pics of the Sydney Observatory, with their Aussie time ball and ‘Noon Gun’

    They don’t drop their time ball every day anymore- just one more reason why greenwich is better than Sydney :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26524054@N06/5347196828/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26524054@N06/5347194960/

  7. Nikki Smith says:

    yup I remember it – use to make me jump out of my skin!

    my best friend and I spent all our spare time in Greenwich, and although many moons ago a definately remember the noise!

  8. Chris says:

    Hurrah ! Someone else who remembers it too :-) & I thought I had been hearing things. It used to be fired from up at the Observatory I think. I miss it too :-(