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Humphry Smith Papers and Photographs, 1928 - 1999

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 220


  • Creation: 1928 - 1999


Conditions Governing Access

From the Management Group:

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Humphry Smith (1914-2005) was Head of the Time Department at the Royal Greenwich Observatory from 1936 until his retirement in 1976. In his 40 years in service, Smith oversaw many important developments at the RGO including the establishment of the chronometer workshop at Greenwich, which was in charge of chronometer testing and watch repairing, the move to Coordinated Universal Time, and the physical relocation of Time Department from Greenwich, first to Abinger during the Second World War and in 1957, to Herstmonceux, Sussex.

During his time as Head of the Time Department, Smith introduced Provisional Uniform Time (the forerunner of Universal Time) and played a huge part in the establishment of the systems of Coordinated Universal Time and International Atomic Time, which are still in use today. He was involved in the coordination of the Time Service between the UK and USA and was an active member of numerous international committees, including the IAU Commissions on time and on the rotation of the earth. He was also responsible for the reorganisation of the records of the Chronometer Department.

During his lifetime, he received several awards including the 1967 award of the American Watchmakers’ Institute for outstanding contributions to the science of horology and an O.B.E. in 1973.


68 archive box(es) (68 boxes) : Paper and photographs

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The Humphry Smith Papers (RGO 220/1) were donated to the RGO Archives by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, on 2 October 2019. The collection had originally been donated by Humphry Smith to Jonathan Betts, horologist at the National Maritime Museum, at some point prior to 2005. Boxlisting of the collection was carried out at the NMM in 2018. As the papers consist primarily, if not exclusively, of Smith’s professional papers relating to his work for the RGO, it was agreed that they belong with the RGO Archives and the papers were duly transferred.

The photographs in this collection (RGO 220/2) were originally in the possession of Humphry Smith and subsequently retained by his family after the transfer of his papers. They were donated to the RGO Archives by Smith’s daughter Corrine Gadsden, with the help of Graham Dolan. The collection was transferred to the care of Dolan on 13 February 2019, who kindly listed the photographs and arranged for their subsequent transfer to the RGO Archives, where they were received on 7 January 2020.

Processing Information

Catalogued by Dr Emma Saunders, August 2021.

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom