Christie’s 1909 description of the Buildings and Instruments of the Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory

A description was published each year in the Greenwich Observations. The basic text was usually copied from one year to the next, with additions and deletions being made as thought necessary. The description below comes from the 1909 volume.


General Description of the Buildings and Instruments of the Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory

The Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory was erected in the year I838. Its northern face is distant about 170 feet south-south-east from the nearest point of the South-East Dome and about 20 feet south of the new Altazimuth Pavilion. On its east stands the New Library (now used as a store-room), erected at the end of the year 1881, in the construction of which non-magnetic bricks were used, and every care was taken to exclude iron. The Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory is based on concrete and built of wood, united for the most part by pegs of bamboo; no iron was intentionally admitted in its construction, or in subsequent alterations. Its form is that of a cross, the arms of the cross being nearly in the direction of the cardinal magnetic points as they were in 1838. The northern arm is longer than the others, and is separated from them by a partition, and used as a Computing Room; the stove which warms this room, and its flue, are of copper. The remaining portion, consisting of the eastern, southern, and western arms, is known as the Upper Magnet Room. The upper declination magnet and its theodolite, for determination of absolute declination, were formerly placed in the southern arm, an opening in the roof allowing circumpolar stars to be observed by the theodolite, for determination of its reading for the astronomical meridian. Both the magnet and its theodolite were supported on piers built from the ground. In the eastern arm is placed the Thomson electrometer for photographic record of the variations of atmospheric electricity; its water cistern rests on four glass insulators supported by a platform fixed to the western side of the southern arm, near the ceiling. The Standard barometer is suspended near the junction of the southern and western arms. The sidereal clock, Grimalde and Johnson, no longer in use since the removal of the upper declination magnet and its theodolite, is fixed at the junction of the eastern and southern arms, and there is in addition a mean solar chronometer, McCabe No. 649, for general use.

Until the year 1863 the horizontal and vertical force magnets were also located in the Upper Magnet Room, the declination magnet being up to that time employed for photographic record of the variations of declination, as well as for absolute measure of the element. But experience having shown that the horizontal and vertical force magnets were exposed in the upper room to large variations of temperature, a room known as the Magnet Basement (in which the variations of temperature are very much smaller) was excavated in the year 1864 below the Upper -Magnet Room, and the horizontal and vertical force magnets, as well as a new declination magnet for photographic record of declination, were mounted therein.

Thw Magnet Basement is of the same dimensions as the Upper Magnet Room. The lower declination magnet and the horizontal force and vertical force magnets, as now located in the Basement, are used entirely for record of the variations of the respective magnetic elements. The declination magnet is suspended in the southern arm, immediately beneath the position formerly occupied by the upper declination magnet; the horizontal and vertical force magnets arc placed in the eastern and western arms respectively, in positions nearly underneath those which they occupied when in the Upper Magnet Room. All are mounted on or suspended from supports carried by piers built from the ground. A photographic barometer is fixed to the northern wall of the Basement, and an apparatus for photographic registration of earth currents is placed near the southern wall of the eastern arm. A mean solar clock of peculiar construction for interruption of the photographic traces at each hour is fixed on the north side of the central pier. Another mean solar clock for general use is attached to the western wall of the southern arm. For better ascertaining the variations of temperature of the Basement, a, Richard metallic thermograph wax added in February 1886. It is placed on the pier carrying the horizontal force magnet, and gives a continuous register of temperature on a scale of 5° to 1 inch, the scale for time being 24 hours to 5⅓ inches. On the northern wall, near the photographic barometer, is fixed the Sidereal Standard clock of the Astronomical Observatory, Dent 1906, communicating with the chronograph and with clocks of the Astronomical Department by means of underground wires. This clock is placed in the Magnetic Basement because of its nearly uniform temperature.

The Basement is warmed, when necessary, by a gas stove (of copper), and ventilated by means of a large copper tube nearly two feet in diameter, which receives the flues from the stove and all gas-lights, and passes through the Upper Magnet Room to a revolving cowl above the roof. Another gas stove provided with the object of maintaining a higher temperature during the winter, and so rendering the Basement temperature more uniform throughout the year, is placed near the middle of the western wall of the western arm. Each of the arms of the Basement has a well window facing the south, but these wells are usually closely stopped up with bags packed with straw or jute.

A platform erected above the roof of the Magnet House is used for the observation of meteors. A rain gauge is placed on a table on this platform, and there are also thermometers (placed in a louvre-boarded shed or screen, with free circulation of air) for observation of the temperature of the air in an exposed situation at a height of  20 feet above the ground. A wooden stand on which the nephoscope can be mounted for occasional observations was placed there in May 1904.

To the south of the Magnet House, in what is known as the Magnetic Ground, is an open shed, on the west side of the earth thermometers, consisting, principally of a roof supported on four posts, under which is placed the photographic dry-bulb and wet-bulb thermometer apparatus. On the roof of this shed were fixed an ozone box and a rain gauge, of which the former was removed on 1906 October 22, and mounted on the Stevenson screen in the Magnetic pavilion enclosure. About 20 feet south of the southern arm of the Magnet House are placed the earth thermometers, the upper portions of which, projecting above the ground, are protected by a small Wooden hut, and at about the same distance south cast of the southern arm of the Magnet House is situated a Stevenson screen containing dry-bulb, wet-bulb, and maximum and minimum thermometers, and a few feet further east there were two rain gauges, both of which were removed at the end of 1906 February, being replaced by a  single new one.

The Magnetic Ground is bounded on its western side by a range of seven rooms formerly known as the Magnetic Offices.

In the South Ground stands the new Observatory Building erected in the years 1891 to 1898, and on the north side of the Magnetical Observatory stands the new Altazimuth Pavilion erected in 1894 to 1895. In both of these buildings considerable masses of iron have been introduced.

The Magnetic Pavilion, in an enclosure in Greenwich Park, at a distance of about 350 yards from the Observatory, on the East side, was completed at the end of 1898 September, and the instruments for absolute determinations of magnetic declination, dip and horizontal force are installed there. The greatest care was taken to exclude all iron in building the Magnetic Pavilion, and the site was selected so that there should be no suspicion of magnetic disturbance from iron in the neighbourhood. The revolving stand carrying the thermometers used for ordinary eye observations, the thermometers for solar and terrestrial radiation, and the standard rain gauge, were moved to an open position in the Magnetic Pavilion enclosure at the beginning of 1899, a Stevenson screen was added on 1900 March 31, and an additional rain-gauge on 1908 January 1.

The Anemometers are fixed above the roof of the Octagon Room (the ancient part of the Observatory) :-Osler's, for continuous record of direction and pressure of wind, and amount of rain, above the north-western turret, and Robinson's for continuous record of velocity, above the small wooden building on the southern side of the roof of the Octagon Room. Since 1896 February 6 the sunshine instrument has also been mounted on the building which carries the Robinson Anemometer.

Regular observation of the principal magnetical and meteorological elements was commenced in the autumn of the year 1840, and has been continued, with some additions to the subjects of observation, to the present time. Until the end of the year 1847 observations were in general made every two hours, but at the beginning of the year 1848 these were superseded by the introduction of the method of photographic registration, by which means a continuous record of' the various elements is obtained.

For information on many particulars concerning the history of the Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory, especially in regard to alterations not recited in this volume, which have been made from time to time, the reader is referred to the Introductions to the Magnetical and Meteorological Observations for preceding years, and to the Descriptions of the Buildings and Grounds, with accompanying Plans, given in the volumes of Astronomical Observations for the years 1845 and 1862.