oxford time

19 oxford time

Great Tom Bell hangs at the top of Tom Tower in Christ Church College, and is the loudest bell in the City.  Every evening at five past nine 0’clock it rings out 101 times.  Apparently this custom dates back to the College’s earlier custom of ringing the bell once for each student in order to signal to them that it was time to return to the College before its gates were locked for the night.  The Latin inscription on the bell begins “Great Thomas the door closer of Oxford…”.

The timing of the chimes relates back to a period before the national adoption of Greenwich Meantime, when every town had its local time depending on its distance from zero degrees Longitude.  This was calculated as 4 minutes for every 1º difference, and as Oxford was calculated as being one-and-a-quarter degrees west of Greenwich, Oxford time was therefore five minutes behind London time.  Hence, Great Tom’s ringing at five-past the hour marks this historic Oxford Time at this five-past-nine slot; the rest of the time it refers to today’s accepted GMT.

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