The Nelson Monument was built in 1807 – 1816 and was designed by Robert Burn to commemorate the naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson who died leading his fleet to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
The telescope shaped tower adjacent to the Calton Hill observatory rises over 30 metres high and is topped with a mechanised time-ball synchronised with the one o’clock gun which is fired from Edinburgh Castle. The time-ball dropped daily to enable ships in Leith Harbour to set their chronometers by it, and was created as a navigational aid as ships in the 19th Century depended on accurate time to navigate using longitude. Time was calculated by astronomers so ships’ captains would have to reach an observatory to synchronise their chronometers.
Edinburgh born Naval Captain Robert Wauchope proposed a better solution. He suggested a giant hollow wooden ball, visible from miles around, which could be raised every day for 5 minutes and then dropped precisely at 1pm.
Astronomer Chief Charles Piazzi Smyth found the perfect location in 1852 for Edinburgh’s 5 foot shiny, zinc-covered ball – the top of Nelson’s Monument.
Captains down in Leith could now align their time-pieces at sea. Unfortunately, the ball couldn’t be seen in foggy weather, so in 1861 the Castle assisted by simultaneously firing an 18-pound loaded cannon at 1pm each day to overcome the vagaries of the Scottish weather. The ‘one o’clock gun’, which still sounds every day, reminds Edinburgh’s residents that it’s time to adjourn for lunch.
The time-ball is still dropped every day as well, except a Sunday (wind permitting).
Every year on 21 October, naval flags are flown from the Monument signalling his famous words ‘England expects every man to do his duty’.
Nelson’s Monument also hosts a spectacular firework display on 30th December at the end of a torch-lit procession which marks the start of the Hogmanay celebrations.
You don’t need to climb the Monument to enjoy the panoramic views, as behind the Monument lies Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park with the city’s skyline as a backdrop.