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Grandfather clocks are synonymous with elderly grandparents, with hand carved workmanship and old-worldly designs. Therefore, it is not unusual that we do not often wonder why they are called Grandfather or Grandmother clocks. But have you stopped to think of where the name originated? It is an interesting little tale, which does not have anything to do with grandparents, per se.
Until 1876 the “Grandfather” clock was called by its original terminology, a Longcase clock. A rather unassuming and self-describing name.
This was until an American songwriter by the name of Henry Clay Work visited the George hotel in Yorkshire, England. In the lobby of the hotel, he spotted a large beautiful Longcase clock. Despite its prominent position in the hotel, the clock did not seem to be operating, serving no apparent purpose. Of a curious nature, Henry enquired with the owners as to the clock’s history and its lack of movement.
The owners spun a tale (whether true or not) that intrigued Henry. Apparently, the hotel had previously belonged to two brothers, the Jenkins. The Jenkins brothers had purchased the clock and wound it regularly. That was until the untimely death of the first brother, when the clock started to slow, however upon the death of the second brother, the clock stopped abruptly – on the minute, the brothers’ heart had stopped.
According to the new owners, the clock had been left with the purchase of the hotel, and numerous repairmen had tried to fix it, yet the clock still refused to work.
Whether this tale is true, or more likely; that the owners came up with a story because the clock had broken and they did not have the money to have it fixed, nor did they want a beautiful clock to be thrown away. Either way, as a storyteller himself, Henry thought it was a wonderful tale and decided to write a song based on the incident. The song, he decided, was to be named “My Grandfather’s Clock”.
The lyrics tell the story of a person’s Grandfather and his pride and joy in his clock. His clock kept perfect time, it reflected his moods and the steady tick kept him company. But when the Grandfather died, the clock stopped also. The chorus goes as follows:
“Ninety years without slumbering (tick, tick, tick, tick),
His life seconds numbering (tick, tick, tick, tick),
It stopp’d short – never to go again – When the old man died”
The song became incredibly popular and sold over a million copies in sheet music, which was extremely unheard of at the time. The only other song to have sold in those numbers, was Marching through Georgia which was, and still is played by most marching bands.
The huge swell in popularity of My Grandfather’s Clock quickly changed how people thought of the “Longcase” clocks. Not too long after, the original name disappeared completely, to be replaced by Grandfather clock.
Ask your friends of family if they know the origin of the Grandfather clock name, it is a wonderful story to tell.
The name Grandfather may have originated in the 1870’s, but the clock design itself is much older than that.
The first Grandfather clock was created in Britain in 1680, by clockmaker William Clement. It was only thanks to an invention; an anchor escapement system, invented in the 1670’s, was the clock able to be built. Before the 1670’s a clock pendulum required a full 80-100 degrees of swing, which was not possible in such a narrow box. The new anchor escapement allowed clockmakers to create clocks that only needed between 4-6 degrees of motion. A smaller swing and a longer pendulum meant that the clocks only required a minimum amount of power compared to previous designs. This lower power – driven by the clock weights, increased longevity, accuracy, and length of time before the clock had to be rewound.
All Grandfather clocks were typically made in two varieties of wound time, an 8 day and a 30 hour. 8-day clocks were more expensive and were easily spotted by their multiple weights and winding points (holes in the clock face, where a key is inserted to wind up). Many people bought Grandfather clocks to add prestige to their homes or businesses, however often they could only afford a 30-hour clock. Clockmakers soon realized that they could add “dummy” weights and false winding holes to 30-hour Grandfather clocks for a fraction of a cost to the consumer. Upon inspection, the 30-hour Grandfathers looked identical to an 8-day clock, and many people purchased these styles of clocks to appear much wealthier than they were.
Most Grandfather clocks nowadays are only 8-day mechanisms, however a rise in the “Grandmother” clock has replaced the lower cost 30-hour clocks. Grandmother clocks, aptly nicknamed due to their similar design, but smaller size, are more cost effective and fit in smaller dwellings.
Grandfather clocks have not changed much over the centuries, utilising the amazing craftsmanship of carpentry and clock making. Small details have been added in recent years, such as moon-phase dials that track the moon’s cycle, hidden safes, and ability to change tunes or silent the clock.
Most Grandfather and Grandmother clocks chime at every quarter hour, and strike on the full hour.
The strike can be adjusted to a few different tunes, the original and most well-known is Westminster Quarters, famous for the sound of London’s Big Ben. The Westminster tune appeared and was common in these small clocks, long before it was adapted for the Cambridge University Church, and then later Big Ben.
In 1793, Dr Joesph Jowett, a professor of Music, was hired with the help of his student William Crotch to compose a small song that could be played inside the workings of the Grandfather clocks. It is thought to have been inspired by Handel’s Messiah during the 5th and 6th measures of I know that my redeemer Liveth. It is doubtful that Jowett or Crotch ever thought that their little tune was to become as famous as it is today, if they had, they might have asked for more compensation.
The Grandfather clocks in The German Village Shop are a wonderful example of the high-quality craftsmanship of bygone eras. With beautiful wooden inlays, carved motifs, and stunningly designed clock faces, they are a talking point of any home. Modern features such as silent night-mode, moon phases and chime changers are prominent on most of our clocks. Check out our range in-store and on our website.