Royal Observatory Founded
In 1675 Charles II ordered that a royal observatory be built on a hill in Greenwich Park, on the site of the ruined castle that had belonged to Henry V 's brother Duke Humphrey of Gloucester . King Charles was interested in astronomy in the broad sense, but the project was of major strategic and military importance too - it was intended to provide a solution to the navigational problem of determining longitude.
Christopher Wren was chosen as architect for the building, and he may have had some assistance from one of the other great figures of the age, Robert Hooke . The king himself laid the first stone for the new building, on August 10 1675.
In spite of using what we would term recycled materials - some from the Tower of London - the building came in over budget, though at £520 in total this was only £20 above what had been agreed. It included the beautiful Octagon Room, one of the most iconic interiors of the Caroline age.
Sadly, the observatory which is now called Flamsteed House after the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, proved to be some 13 degrees out of its intended alignment with true north, partly because the existing foundations of the ruined tower were used in the construction. Consequently a small shed nearby was used for significant positional observations, though those concerned managed to keep news of this embarrassment from the king. Government construction projects over budget and with errors covered up; plus ca change.
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