The station clock stood at 8:02 and its other minute hand at 8:16. The Dean’s train for London would arrive in thirteen minutes, or had already left a minute ago, depending on which time you accepted. He wiped his brow with a handkerchief, for the day was warm and he had hurried.
The great Cathedral bell had just boomed out the hour across the city – God’s time, marked by the stately transit of the sun across the sky. Sadly, the 9:15 train ran on Bristol and Exeter Railway time, transmitted down the galvanic wires from the Greenwich observatory.
Historical note: Until the advent of the railways, travel was a sedate affair. The fact that time in Exeter was 14 minutes later than London didn’t matter when it could take days to travel between the two cities by coach and horses. There were distinct time zones across the country. But this made railway timetabling very difficult and even dangerous with collisions because guards were using different times. In 1840 the Great Western Railway was the first company in the UK to standardise all its services on Greenwich Mean Time. By 1848 all railways used London time, and by 1855 most towns and cities had adopted the convention. Some towns held out. Exeter took its time from the Cathedral clock and the Dean refused to reset it to “railway time”. The station clock had two minute hands, one showing local time and the other one, railway time. In 1880, an act of Parliament imposed a uniform time on the whole of the UK.
Fancy sharpening your skill with writing exercises? The Scrivener’s Forge offers a new exercise every month to hone one aspect of your craft. Take a look at this month’s exercise on plot.