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By David Rooney on

Waiting For The Balls To Drop

All this talk recently about coastal navigation aids got me hunting through our pictorial collection, and I thought you might like to see this railway poster I found:

'Invest in a holiday at Deal', 1910s (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

Tsk tsk. I can’t imagine what Trinity House would have said about that. The woman’s clearly obscuring part of that buoy. Think of the risk to shipping! It’s an accident waiting to happen…

Deal, on the Kent coast, was an important port, a strategic site for shipping, and an ideal spot to erect a time ball to allow ships to check their chronometers as they passed through the English Channel. You can see the ball and its tower in this (rather more restrained) poster:

'Deal and Walmer', 1952 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

The Deal time ball is still there, and when I visited a few years ago, it was still in operation, although the mechanism’s not original. It used to be triggered by an electrical signal from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which has the original time ball, put up in 1833.

More on maritime time signals another day…