Above the Deal Beach Parade stands a strange little landmark – a monument that is over 200 years old, but has been unused and obsolete for half of its lifespan.
Even stranger is the fact that Dover District Council has agreed to spend £ 80,000 to put this mysterious structure back into operation in 2020 – and it’s almost operational again.
Stranger still is the fact that these structures are incredibly, incredibly rare – there are only seven left in the whole of the UK, one of which is just up the coast in Margate, and there are still more. just over sixty in the world.
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All of this begs the question – what is a Timeball, why does Deal have one on top of a tower, and what is the point of having one when they have been used for last time in the 1920s?
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What is the point of ‘Timeball’?
Timeball may look like a fake sci-fi movie or a new niche Olympic sport, but for coastal towns like Deal, these oddly named structures were absolutely essential.
It all has to do with something that we often don’t think about these days, but rely on every day of our lives – boats.
Before the internet, radio, or even properly standardized time zones, the idea that everyone could just agree on what time it was was much less obvious than it is today.
For industries or technologies that relied on accurate timekeeping, this problem clearly posed some problems – which is why Greenwich Mean Time was invented as a way to have a centralized and standard way of reading time. ‘time.
So how does a bullet on a pole in a seaside town fit into this?
It has less strictly to do with time, and a lot more to do with navigation, surprisingly.
A marine chronometer was essentially a mechanical clock built into a ship and was pretty much the only reliable way a ship at sea could determine where it was – and it relied absolutely on Timeball.
Stopwatches worked by keeping track of time, as you could see you could determine with surprising accuracy where you were in the ocean.
Obviously, this only worked if you knew exactly what time it was – then Timeball was invented, placed along the coasts and in major port cities.
The bullet would fall at 1 p.m. sharp every day, allowing sailors to synchronize their stopwatches, essentially giving rise to the 19th century version of GPS.
The bullets were placed on top of tall structures like the Tower of Deal so that they could be clearly seen by nearby ships.
So what’s so special about Deal’s Timeball?
Built in 1855, Deal’s Timeball sits atop a narrow, white seaside building and operated until it closed in 1927, as it was made obsolete by the introduction of radio.
It was previously electronically connected to Greenwich, which was then also part of Kent, ensuring that the Timeball would fall exactly in sync with the namesake GMT.
It is now a Grade II listed building, housing an award-winning museum that details Deal’s past as a maritime town in its own right.
What is special about Deal’s Timeball is that with the new investment of £ 80,000 in the site’s renovation, it will become one of the few Timeballs that still work.
There’s one you’ve probably heard of before that you didn’t even realize was Timeball – it’s the Time Square New Years Ball dropping off in downtown New York City. – one of the only lasting cultural references to deceased pieces of infrastructure.
It is finally set to reopen in the New Year and recently saw the mast reinstalled, manufactured by local company Fabweld Metalworks, meaning it is only a matter of time before the tower returns in all its glory. .
Cllr Oliver Richardson, Cabinet Member of the Dover District Council for Corporate Property, said: “The Timeball Tower is a fantastic historic asset, and we are delighted to invest in this renovation.
“We would also say a big thank you to the Deal Museum Trust and all of the amazing volunteers who work so hard for this successful award winning attraction.”