With our rich and prolific history of clockmaking, picking our favourite famous UK clocks is no mean feat. As a result, we have chosen these examples as a showcase of those we consider worthy of interest. Some are important historic artifacts, closely tied to the culture and events of their host cities. Others feature ingenious technical elements or striking and even humorous designs, demonstrating the creativity of British clockmakers up to the present day. While Big Ben might be notable by its absence, it has already featured in our top ten most famous clocks from around the world. This gave us the opportunity to highlight at least one lesser-known clock that is just as worthy of a place in our list.
Once a royal palace of Henry VIII, Hampton Court boasts one of the most impressive astronomical clocks outside mainland Europe. Designed by the Bavarian horologist and astronomer Nicholas Kratzer, it was made by the French clockmaker to Hampton Court Nichloas Oursian in 1540. The highly decorative face is over three metres in diameter and consists of three concentric copper dials revolving at different speeds. These not only show the hour, day and month, but also the phases of the moon, signs of the zodiac and the (pre Copernican) movement of the sun. It also displays the time of high tide at London Bridge, the safest time for members of the court to travel by barge. The original bell, a gift from the Abbot of the Knights of St. John, is still in use today.
One of the most famous landmarks of the Scottish capital, the turret clock on Princes Street is visible across the city. Aside from its commanding appearance, the clock is notable for a unique reason – it almost always tells the wrong time. The North British Railway Company who owned the hotel deliberately set the clock to run three minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean time. Initially this was calculated to allow passengers extra time needed to buy tickets and board trains out of the city. While the hotel no longer has any connection to rail travel, the odd timekeeping has become a city tradition and remains unchanged. There is one exception – The time is reset on New Year’s Eve so midnight celebrations are on time, then reset the next day.
The Pierhead building was originally built in 1897 as a Docks Office for the Marquess of Bute. The clock mechanism was made by William Potts and Sons of Leeds, with an escapement modelled on that of Big Ben in London. The double three - legged gravity escapement uses gravitational forces to provide impulse to the pendulum. Combined with a zinc / iron pendulum to compensate for seasonal temperature changes, this gives exceptional accuracy all year round. The original bell bearing the Welsh inscription ‘Gwell angau na chywilydd’ (Death before dishonour) is no longer used but displayed in the Pierhead building. The Pierhead clock has become so iconic in Wales that it is featured in the opening sequence of the Welsh TV news each day. The building itself is now owned by the Welsh government and houses a Welsh history museum.
Also known as the Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator, this unique water clock in Nottingham’s Victoria Centre was designed by artist Rowland Emmett. Unveiled in 1973, its rotating water wheel covered in jewelled butterflies and frogs is topped by four clock faces and a copper sunflower with raised petals. Every fifteen minutes, the petals lower to reveal an orchestra of birds and squirrels that rotate as ‘Gigue en Rondeau II’ for harpsichord plays.
Said to be the second most photographed clock in England, after Big Ben, the Eastgate Clock was erected in 1897. Funded by public subscription, the clock was built to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign. Officially opened on Victoria’s 80th birthday in 1899, the ornate turret clock sits on the famous Chester walls. The wrought iron pavilion features curved arches, English roses and the Chester coat of arms. Surmounted by a four sided clock with gilt decorations, a copper cupola and weather vanes, it is one of Chester’s most recognisable landmarks.
Although less visually imposing than many clocks on this list, the clock at Clerys department store in Dublin is a symbol of romance to the city. Reopening in 1922 after a catastrophic fire during the 1916 Rising, the ballroom hosted nightly dances with a full orchestra. As a hotspot for young couples, they would meet ‘under the Clerys clock’ before attending the dances. The phrase became famous and soon the clock became a common meeting spot for locals and tourists alike. The department store is now closed but its clock is an established part of Dublin culture.
This imposing and visually arresting Gothic Revival station designed by George Gilbert Scott boasts two impressive clocks. The clock tower with its four clock faces is typical of the extravagant station clocks of the Victorian era. The clock is now powered by an electric motor and the space formerly occupied by weights, winding room and bell chamber is now a luxury hotel apartment. Within the main trainshed a 16’ 9” clock made of slate hung for almost 100 years until modernisation efforts in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it was dropped during the process and smashed beyond repair. The current clock hanging in its place used the original design as a template, built by the company responsible for Big Ben and the Greenwich standard clock. The result, built from painted metal plate and slate perfectly complements the industrial Victorian structure.
The clock gracing the upper North West tower of Westminster Abbey, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, dates back to 1738. It was built and fitted by John Seddon 7 years before the tower itself was completed and two years after Hawksmoor’s death. The simple floral pattern and gilded numerals on the three faces have a deceptively modern appearance, despite their age. Typical of 18th century clock design, when accurate timekeeping was considered unimportant, each face has only one gilded hour hand. Despite refurbishment in 1861, this was not altered, and the clock retains it original design, almost 300 years on.
Clock Corner is a family run business specialising in exclusive, premium timepieces from all eras, from the 18th century to the present day. We stock a wide range of antique clocks of many styles and types and offer restoration, repair and servicing where needed. Whatever your needs, contact us, we will be happy to help.