Edinburgh Castle: A short history of the one o’clock gun

Staff Sergeant Thomas McKay ('Tam the Gun') makes sure of the time as Lieutenant General Sir Norman Arthur fires the One o'Clock gun to mark his retirement at Edinburgh Castle in January 1988.

Staff Sergeant Thomas McKay ('Tam the Gun') makes sure of the time as Lieutenant General Sir Norman Arthur fires the One o'Clock gun to mark his retirement at Edinburgh Castle in January 1988.

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IT’S now an Edinburgh tradition, but the one o’clock gun originally came into being out of necessity over 150 years ago.

It has been 155 years since the first audible indication of the time was made during bad weather at Edinburgh Castle.

The One 0'Clock Gun takes up its new position at Edinburgh Castle in January 1972.

The One 0'Clock Gun takes up its new position at Edinburgh Castle in January 1972.

The citizens of Edinburgh, as well as the ships docked in the ports of Leith and Firth of Forth over two miles away, were able to hear the signal, quickly making it a curious visitor attraction.

With an electric cable stretching over 4,000 feet from the rear of the gun to the Royal Observatory on Calton Hill, the original 18-pound gun was operated via a mechanical trigger at precisely 1pm each day apart from Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day.

The 94-pound artillery weapon was provided by the Royal Artillery, and intended as an alternative to the Calton Hill Time-Ball. This other method of telling the time, positioned atop the Nelson Monument, was hindered by fog, mist or being out of the line of sight, with the definitive report of a cannon favoured over the Time-Ball.

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Sergeant David Beverage, district gunner at Edinburgh Castle, puts forward the clock which stands alongside the one-o'clock gun. Image: Jane Barlow

Sergeant David Beverage, district gunner at Edinburgh Castle, puts forward the clock which stands alongside the one-o'clock gun. Image: Jane Barlow

Since its early days, the gun has moved from the Half Moon Battery over to Mill’s Mount Battery, and the weapon of choice is now a L118 Light Gun. This particular weapon has been in service for approximately 15 years, and is traditionally fired by a volunteer District Gunner from the 105th Regiment Royal Artillery.

To date, the longest-serving gunner has been Staff Sargeant Thomas “Tam the Gun” McKay MBE, who fired the Edinburgh landmark daily from 1979 until his retirement in 2005.

His nickname was passed onto a GNER locomotive during a naming ceremony at Edinburgh Waverley train station in 2006 to commemorate his career.

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Edinburgh icon "Tam the Gun" prepares to fire on a sunny afternoon. Image: Paul Parke

Edinburgh icon "Tam the Gun" prepares to fire on a sunny afternoon. Image: Paul Parke

Blue, the official mascot of the One O'Clock Gun Association, lays a wreath at the gravestone of Greyfriar's Bobby in the Kirkyard on his birthday.

Blue, the official mascot of the One O'Clock Gun Association, lays a wreath at the gravestone of Greyfriar's Bobby in the Kirkyard on his birthday.

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