Unreliable public clocks

 

You only have to walk around in your own town to observe that of all the public clocks you pass by, only a few tell the correct time. Many show just any time, others have stopped working altogether. Last year, a tongue-in-cheek editorial in the Guardian suggested that it was ‘time for a public clock tsar, with power to demand that owners restore their timepieces to reliable service’.

Editorial in the Guardian of 23 August 2013 calling for a clock tsar

Editorial in the Guardian of 23 August 2013 calling for a clock tsar

 

Here I learned of the existence of the blogspot Stoppedclocks, which invites us to ‘help find and fix all the stopped public clocks in Britain’. So if you have a particular gripe about a faulty clock in your area, you now know where to turn to.

There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. More than three centuries ago a correspondent to a London newspaper ventilated his gripe about the unreliability of public time-pieces. It is quoted here, with the numbers referring to the map, as published in an article by Anthony Turner entitled ‘From sun and water to weights: public time devices from late Antiquity to the mid-seventeenth century’, published in Antiquarian Horology in March 2014.

Details from John Roque, Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster and Borough of Southwark…, 1747. The eastward route of the correspondent of the Athenian Mercury, and the nine numbered locations, from Covent Garden [1] to the Royal Exchange [9], are indicated in red (click on image to expand it)

Details from John Roque, Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster and Borough of Southwark…, 1747. The eastward route of the correspondent of the Athenian Mercury, and the nine numbered locations, from Covent Garden [1] to the Royal Exchange [9], are indicated in red (click on image to expand it)

I was in Covent Garden 1 when the clock struck two, when I came to Somerset-house 2 by that it wanted a quarter of two, when I came to St. Clements 3 it was half an hour past two, when I came to St. Dunstans 4 it wanted a quarter of two, by Mr. Knib’s Dyal in Fleet-street 5 it was just two, when I came to Ludgate 6 it was half an hour past one, when I came to Bow Church 7, it wanted a quarter of two, by the Dyal near Stocks Market 8 it was a quarter past two, and when I came to the Royal Exchange 9 it wanted a quarter of two: This I aver for a Truth, and desire to know how long I was walking from Covent Garden to the Royal Exchange ?

(Quoted from The Athenian Mercury, vi no 4, query 7, 13 February 1692/93).

 

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