Unusual business - selling time

Posted on Mar 12, 2022      101

A peculiar business was organized in 1836 by an English couple John and Mary Belleville. They made money on the time trade. It looked like this: the new business executives visited the Greenwich Royal Observatory every day and set the exact time on their chronometer. History has even preserved the make and number of the named chronometer: “Arnold №485/786”.

The exact time then had to be delivered to customers: those who needed the exact time. The Belleville family had about 200 regular customers, mostly London watchmakers.

John passed away in 1856 and his wife had to run the business alone for many years. It was not until 1892 that this unusual business was taken over by his daughter, Ruth Belleville, who was in the business of selling precision time even into the twentieth century. True, Ruth had competitors. For example, a certain John Wynn was using the telegraph to transmit information and repeatedly criticized Mrs. Belleville for using an antediluvian method of time delivery. But Ruth did not give up, especially since many clients continued to use her services.

Greenwich Royal Observatory

A much more serious blow to Ruth Belleville’s business was dealt by the Air Force radio station, which began transmitting accurate time signals in February 1924. After that, Ruth was left with only a few of her most loyal customers. But, the timekeeper did not retire until 1940, because of her advanced age - she was then 86 years old and it became difficult to make the 12-mile daily journey to and from the observatory.

After that, Belleville lived for another 3 years. She died in 1943, just a few months short of her ninetieth birthday. By the way, in the last years of her life she was not forgotten - the journalists often visited the old woman to interview a representative of an unusual profession. In 2008, the National Museum of Greenwich even published a book about Ruth Belleville. And her famous chronometer was donated to the Museum of the Association of Watchmakers.

By the way, the idea of transmitting the exact time using a six-point signal, which marks the 55th, 56th, 57th, 58th, 59th and 60th seconds, was suggested in 1923 by the English astronomer Frank Dyson.