DOROTHY Dugdale, knowledgeable own member of Todmorden Antiquarian Society, presented “The History of the Calendar” last week.
Her thorough research gave us a fascinating insight into this vast subject of time, writes Sue Clough.
The most basic clock comprised of day and night, seasonal and natural happenings. Ancient astronomers watched star constellations with phases of the moon. Some cultures worshipped the moon from which many words are derived.
In 4000 BC the Babylonians based their lunar calendar system on 360 day years, 30 day months and 24 hour days. This still forms the basis of positions at sea and dividing circles. It is thought that at Stonehenge around 4000 BC the stones were sophisticatedly aligned for astronomical events.
Dorothy said that the Egyptians were the first to correct this to 365 days. Along the River Nile annual flooding left silt for growing crops, thus flooding was followed by growth then harvest forming three natural seasons.
Astronomers also discovered that the Dog Star, Sirius, ascended in line with the sun, so establishing a solar year of 365 and a quarter days long. This was nearly correct!
In Central America the civilized Mayans had based their year on 365 days with 18 months of 20 days each, plus five spare days named after Gods which people considered unlucky.
After Julius Caesar left Egypt in 47 BC he wanted to “re-order time” as a symbol of his authority. He called in the astronomer Sosigenes for reform of the Roman calendar. Their 12 months alternated with 30 and 31 days except February. In 46 BC there had to be 445 days in the year to compensate the time drift!
In Anglo Saxon Britain time was measured with the Church calendar of Sundays and Saints Days. A family birth might relate to the number of days since a particular Holy day.
When the privileged classes began to build castles, buy armour and import luxury goods from the East, measuring time for contracts and deliveries became increasingly important. Travellers found their dates of departure and arrival confused!
The invention of the printing press meant a mass output of calendars. New charts were circulated showing other errors. Astronomers, mathematicians and intellectuals wanted corrections made. Pope Gregory X111 and Bishops presented a report in 1581 that the Spring equinox was 10 days adrift which confused the date of Easter in the Christian calendar, again.
The Gregorian calendar was not adopted in Britain until 1751 when Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, and Thomas Pelham submitted a Bill to Parliament for an Act for Regulation of the calendar. Eleven days were lost in September 1751 - provision was made for wages, interest, hiring of servants, soldier discharges and criminals!
l The next meeting of Todmorden Antiquarian Society will be on Tuesday, November 11, at 7.30pm in Todmorden Town Hall Court Room. The speaker will be Nick Wild on “John Bright and the Slave Trade”. Visitors are welcome to attend.