24 August 2016 | 29 °C

London's Unusual Clocks Explained

London's Unusual Clocks Explained
After a few pints, we reckon these six clocks in Canary Wharf probably get quite confusing. We always imagined they were something to do with the different financial trading centres in various time zones around the world. They're actually an art installation, imaginatively named "Six Public Clocks", by Konstantin Grcic, and have been in situ since 1999. The design is based on the iconic Swiss railway clock. On each of the 12 clock faces (each clock is double sided) the hands are in the same position, but each one has a different number on it's face. Another row of clocks, installed by artist Richard Wentworth, can be found nearby on Westferry Road. Dubbed 'Globe', these do show the time in different countries.
After a few pints, we reckon these six clocks in Canary Wharf probably get quite confusing. We always imagined they were something to do with the different financial trading centres in various time zones around the world. They're actually an art installation, imaginatively named "Six Public Clocks", by Konstantin Grcic, and have been in situ since 1999. The design is based on the iconic Swiss railway clock. On each of the 12 clock faces (each clock is double sided) the hands are in the same position, but each one has a different number on it's face. Another row of clocks, installed by artist Richard Wentworth, can be found nearby on Westferry Road. Dubbed 'Globe', these do show the time in different countries.
The Fortnum & Mason clock was added to the front of the Piccadilly building in 1964, and the two men represent the store's founders, Mr Fortnum and Mr, yep, Mason, who appear once an hour. We can't comment on the likeness to their real life counterparts, but what we do know is that the bells on the clock came from Whitechapel Bell Foundry, where Big Ben was also cast. There are 18 bells in total, which chime every 15 minutes. Apparently the clock weighs three tonnes, and the front of the building had to be reinforced before it was hung. To give a better idea of scale, each of the men is 4ft high.
The Fortnum & Mason clock was added to the front of the Piccadilly building in 1964, and the two men represent the store's founders, Mr Fortnum and Mr, yep, Mason, who appear once an hour. We can't comment on the likeness to their real life counterparts, but what we do know is that the bells on the clock came from Whitechapel Bell Foundry, where Big Ben was also cast. There are 18 bells in total, which chime every 15 minutes. Apparently the clock weighs three tonnes, and the front of the building had to be reinforced before it was hung. To give a better idea of scale, each of the men is 4ft high.
The Swiss Clock and Glockenspiel in Leicester Square originate from the Swiss Centre, which until very recently stood where M&Ms World does now. When the Swiss Centre was demolished in 2008, the original clock sadly went with it. But in 2011, Westminster Council rebuilt the glockenspiel just a few metres from where it originally stood, along with a restored clock, which is now controlled remotely from Derby. Every hour, the figurines, representing traditional Swiss farmers, move.
The Swiss Clock and Glockenspiel in Leicester Square originate from the Swiss Centre, which until very recently stood where M&Ms World does now. When the Swiss Centre was demolished in 2008, the original clock sadly went with it. But in 2011, Westminster Council rebuilt the glockenspiel just a few metres from where it originally stood, along with a restored clock, which is now controlled remotely from Derby. Every hour, the figurines, representing traditional Swiss farmers, move.
This clock has stood outside London Zoo's Blackburn Pavilion tropical bird house since 2008. Designed by Tim Hunkin (who is known for creating unusual and dramatic clocks), the original brief was not for a clock, but rather just a monument showcasing the Victorian attitude to the animal world. The first plan was to design a clock in a cage, but the zoo rejected this idea as they were trying to do away with cages at the time. Every half hour, the people come to life, the two birds hanging from the wire begin to circle the clock, and the eight birds in front of the clock disappear one by one, to reappear around the edges of the clock face or on the "Blackburn Pavilion" lettering behind.
This clock has stood outside London Zoo's Blackburn Pavilion tropical bird house since 2008. Designed by Tim Hunkin (who is known for creating unusual and dramatic clocks), the original brief was not for a clock, but rather just a monument showcasing the Victorian attitude to the animal world. The first plan was to design a clock in a cage, but the zoo rejected this idea as they were trying to do away with cages at the time. Every half hour, the people come to life, the two birds hanging from the wire begin to circle the clock, and the eight birds in front of the clock disappear one by one, to reappear around the edges of the clock face or on the "Blackburn Pavilion" lettering behind.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the astronomical clock outside Bracken House in the City is the face of Winston Churchill at its centre. He was a personal friend of Bernard Bracken, former chairman of the Financial Times, who used to own the building. There are no clock hands -- instead the outer dial with Roman numerals rotates to give the hour -- whatever is in the usual 12 o'clock position is the current time. The month of the year is also shown in this way, and the number directly below the face is the date of the month.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the astronomical clock outside Bracken House in the City is the face of Winston Churchill at its centre. He was a personal friend of Bernard Bracken, former chairman of the Financial Times, who used to own the building. There are no clock hands -- instead the outer dial with Roman numerals rotates to give the hour -- whatever is in the usual 12 o'clock position is the current time. The month of the year is also shown in this way, and the number directly below the face is the date of the month.
The Dent clock in St Pancras station came to be quite aptly named; the current clock is a replica of the original, which was sold to an American for a lot of money in the 1980s. In the process of lifting it down for the sale, it was dropped and smashed. The buyer clearly wasn't a fan of jigsaw puzzles as he backed out of the sale, and a retiring train driver from Nottinghamshire bought it for £25, put the pieces back together and hung it on the side of his barn, where it remains to this day, to the best of our knowledge. Dent the clockmakers were commissioned to make a replacement, so they tracked down the original, and created a new one, a close replica. That new one can be seen in St Pancras station today.
The Dent clock in St Pancras station came to be quite aptly named; the current clock is a replica of the original, which was sold to an American for a lot of money in the 1980s. In the process of lifting it down for the sale, it was dropped and smashed. The buyer clearly wasn't a fan of jigsaw puzzles as he backed out of the sale, and a retiring train driver from Nottinghamshire bought it for £25, put the pieces back together and hung it on the side of his barn, where it remains to this day, to the best of our knowledge. Dent the clockmakers were commissioned to make a replacement, so they tracked down the original, and created a new one, a close replica. That new one can be seen in St Pancras station today.
Covent Garden's oft-overlooked Water Clock (or “aquatic horology” if you go by the adjacent plaque) was created in 1981 by Tim Hunkin (also responsible for the Blackburn Pavilion clock) and Andy Plant. The minutes are represented by the hollow tube, which slowly fills with water. Each hour, water tips from the roof into the cups above the clock face, setting off bells. The figurine people water window boxes (concealed behind the shop sign), causing plastic flowers to “grow". We can only assume that this is a homage to the floral history of the Covent Garden area. Sadly, the hands of the clock are no longer working and it is stuck in the position shown above.
Covent Garden's oft-overlooked Water Clock (or “aquatic horology” if you go by the adjacent plaque) was created in 1981 by Tim Hunkin (also responsible for the Blackburn Pavilion clock) and Andy Plant. The minutes are represented by the hollow tube, which slowly fills with water. Each hour, water tips from the roof into the cups above the clock face, setting off bells. The figurine people water window boxes (concealed behind the shop sign), causing plastic flowers to “grow". We can only assume that this is a homage to the floral history of the Covent Garden area. Sadly, the hands of the clock are no longer working and it is stuck in the position shown above.
It wouldn't be right to do a feature about London timepieces without mentioning Greenwich. The most unusual feature of the Shepherd Gate Clock is that it has a 24 hour dial. Mounted on the wall outside the Royal Observatory, it is thought to have been the first clock to display Greenwich Mean Time to the public (although to this day, it doesn't display daylight saving time). It was originally controlled by electric pulses from a master clock inside the building, but the master clock is no longer in use and this one is controlled by a quartz mechanism. Shepherd refers to Charles Shepherd Junior, who made and installed the clock in 1852.
It wouldn't be right to do a feature about London timepieces without mentioning Greenwich. The most unusual feature of the Shepherd Gate Clock is that it has a 24 hour dial. Mounted on the wall outside the Royal Observatory, it is thought to have been the first clock to display Greenwich Mean Time to the public (although to this day, it doesn't display daylight saving time). It was originally controlled by electric pulses from a master clock inside the building, but the master clock is no longer in use and this one is controlled by a quartz mechanism. Shepherd refers to Charles Shepherd Junior, who made and installed the clock in 1852.

Yes, yes, we know. We missed Big Ben. Technically, that's the name of the bell, not the clock. More on that particular brand of pedantry here.

Photo sources: Canary Wharf by Andy Worthington, Fortnum & Mason by Guy Tyler, Shepherd Gate by Stuart Sunley, Swiss Court by NickyJameson, St Pancras by Chris Beckett, Bracken House by Check-in London, Covent Garden Water Clock by Matt, Blackburn Pavilion, Big Benzene and the Upton Park clock by Londonist.

Can't get enough of London's clocks? Our photo gallery has some more pictures of London's finest timepieces. What's your favourite London clock?

Video: See the Fortnum & Mason clock in action.

Last Updated 03 March 2016

Laura Reynolds

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Manofstraw

The clock on the platform at bethnal green tube is fantastic, I'd love to own it.

Skwyllie

Lovely clock on Stoke Newington High Street

Peter Kemp

The famous clock within the 'new' Arsenal Emirates stadium. Moved from the 'old' Highbury ground. Check my facts, but it dates from the 1920's and was the thinking of the then progressive Arsenal Manager, Herbert Chapman. The aim that every time a match stopped for injury, the clock would stop and then an accurate 90 minutes could be measured :)

Guest

that's a pretty old pic of Covent Garden’s Water Clock. here's one i took of it just ten days ago

Guest

that's a pretty old pic of Covent Garden’s Water Clock. here's one i took of it less than two weeks ago

HHGeek

"... it is thought to have been the first clock to display Greenwich Mean Time to the public (although to this day, it doesn't display daylight saving time)" - well, yes, it wouldn't show daylight saving time. GMT is absolute; everything else is relative. That's kind of the point, isn't it?