The Great Clock at St. Paul’s Cathedral

Clock tower bell tower dome

This is not the Great Clock–Langley Bradley’s “celebrated piece of mechanism…in the year 1708, in accordance with the instructions given by the great architect of the structure, Sir Christopher Wren” (The Nottinghamshire Guardian, Apr 2, 1869, p. 10).  Wren’s plans for the St. Paul’s Cathedral began in 1673.  Plans for the dome were done 1687-1708 and for the towers 1685-1710 according to the website for St. Paul’s Cathedral, which includes extensive drawings from Wren’s work.  Wren left large holes in both towers in order to hold a clock, and all manner of chaos ensued for the next couple of hundred years related to the clocks and bells.

Clock St Paul

A New Clock for St. Paul’s.

The great clock of St. Paul’s has, says the City Press, been taken down, and is to be replaced by one of modern construction.  The clock which was put up by Langley Bradley in 1708, is in splendid condition, and might to all appearance go on for  another two centuries without failing to bear accurate record of the passing time. (The Star, Mar 11, 1893, p. 1)

But, as usual, there is a great deal more to the clock story.  Heather Hobden of the Cosmic Elk provided a fairly detailed account of the clock saga in ‘St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, its Clocks and the ‘Facts Against Scandal’ account.  As early as 1716, a contract for a new clock with Messrs. Wright and Street was initiated.  They began the project in 1717, but 2 years later had “discovered what the wind from the Thames could do to a clock in such an exposed condition.”  In 1719, the Commissioners ordered panels installed in the vacant holes in order to keep out the weather.  By 1720, Wright and Street’s account was settled for “£500 plus Bradley’s old clock.”  This seems to indicate that Bradley’s clock was replaced?  The clock tower was restored in 1815, and Wright and Street’s clock “functioned with the weights above – same as Bradley’s (even been confused with Bradley’s clock in F. J. Britten’s Old Clocks and Watches” (Hobden).  Hobden’s research (originally published in Clocks, February and March 1979) was conducted with the assistance of Robert Crayford, Assistant Surveyor and assistant to the Librarian.  She provided a number of historic photographs and design drawings, and utilized the Fact against Scandal: Or A Collection of Testimonials, Affidavits, and other Authentick [sic] Proofs…Frauds and Abuses at St. Paul’s.  It appears that this indicates replacement of Bradley’s clock and that Wright and Street’s clock had been erroneously claimed as Bradley’s subsequently?

Time passes…and in 1893, it looks like a new clock (or another new clock?) is in the works.  The Westminster Budget reported that the Bradley clock of 1708 had disappeared, with the illustration below.

The_Westminster_Budget_Fri__Mar_17__1893_

The Westminster Budget, Mar 17, 1893, p. 7

There is something wanting about the top of Ludgate-hill…the big clock has disappeared from the left-hand tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Of course, the successor to the clock which Langley Bradley put up in 1708 is to be possessed of “all the latest improvements”; it will be an eight-day clock..

Hobden, however, reports in 1892, plans are made for a new clock, which was installed by John Smith and Sons of Derby…an 8 day clock, and the weights were hung “down the centre of Wren’s Geometrical Staircase, until 1969 when it was converted to electrical auxiliary winding. This was the clock we saw.”  One final mystery:  the empty clock face.

DSC_1386.NEF

In Hobden’s work, she mentions the empty clock face and the open exposure of the clock works to the weather, and that you can see from inside the tower out across London.  She provided a photograph to illustrate.  I increased the exposure of my photograph, and sure enough, you can see the internal mechanisms.  While it seems unusual, I suppose since this clock has survived since 1893 (and it is installed on 3 of the 4 openings, it cannot have been that disastrous, even if the Bradley clock and the Wright & Street clock were said to have been victims of the “hurrican” [sic] winds of storms.  One might assume that the clock is still exposed to the winds from across the Thames and the winds at such heights.

This entry was posted in Baroque, churches, Italianate architecture, London and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Great Clock at St. Paul’s Cathedral

  1. peggyjoan42 says:

    A complicated piece of history about clocks. Wow – how does anything ever turn out right when things like this happen. Interesting story.

    Like

    • Suzassippi says:

      Yes, way more complicated than I had initially supposed! I actually found the book Hobden referenced, and Britten clearly thought the clock replaced by Wright and Street was the Bradley clock. I did not turn up anything much in the newspapers, but Bradley was seen as quite reputable, as was Smith & Son (maker of the current clock), but no such indication for the Wright and Street duo, nor what happened to their clock. When I run into a mystery like this, I cannot seem to let it go until I can figure it out, but then, like the Westminster Arms, sometimes there is just no trail in what I can access.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a mystery!

    We enjoyed services many times at St Paul’s.

    Like

Comments are closed.