Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Origin: Grandfather Clocks

(I find origin items interesting. . . )

Until 1876 grandfather clocks we commonly known as longcase clocks and floor clocks, terms by which they remain known in the antique trade. 

Made to work by the descending weights that were raised weekly, they were notoriously unreliable in keeping exact time.

An English hotel, The George in Piercebridge, Yorkshire, had no such problem. Managed about 150 years ago by bachelor brothers named Jenkins, it had a longcase clock in its foyer that was renowned in the district for keeping accurate time. The clock had been made by Thompson of Darlington, a firm noted for the quality of its watches and clocks.

Both the hotel and the clock remain in existence:

After one of the brothers died, curiously the clock began running slow. Attempts to have it fixed were unsuccessful with the amount of time it was running slow gradually increasing until it was one hour slow per day.

When the surviving Jenkins brother died at the age of 90, and although it had been fully wound, the old clock stopped at precisely 11:05, according to the stories, although it now rests at 11:30. It never ran again.

The new owner tried to have it fixed but those attempts were also unsuccessful so he left it in situ with its hands stopped.

In 1875 American songwriter and abolitionist Henry Clay Work stayed at the hotel and heard the story.

Henry Clay Work

Upon his return to the US in 1876 Work turned the story into a song, albeit with a few changes, entitled Grandfather’s Clock. It was a huge success, selling over one million copies of the sheet music. It also resulted in long-case clocks popularly becoming known by a new name” grandfather clocks.

The original sheet music

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Grandfather's Clock (1876)

Words and Music by Henry Clay Work

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopp'd short – never to go again – 
When the old man died.

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.

In watching its pendulum swing to and fro,
Many hours had he spent while a boy;
And in childhood and manhood the clock seemed to know
And to share both his grief and his joy.
For it struck twenty-four when he entered at the door,
With a blooming and beautiful bride;
But it stopp'd short – never to go again – 
When the old man died.


My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found;
For it wasted no time, and had but one desire – 
At the close of each week to be wound.
And it kept in its place – not a frown upon its face,
And the hands never hung by its side;
But it stopp'd short – never to go again – 
When the old man died.

It rang an alarm in the dead of the night – 
An alarm that for years had been dumb;
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight – 
That his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time, with a soft and muffled chime,
As we silently stood by his side;
But it stopp'd short – never to go again – 
When the old man died.


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And yes, I am aware that there is a bawdy version of the song that uses the same title with one letter omitted.

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