The theory of the application of pendulums to clocks was worked out in 1658 by the Dutchman Christiaan Huygens but was first commercially exploited by the English clockmaker John Fromanteel in the same year.
Early English pendulum c locks were either spring-driven “bracket” clocks or weight-driven “hooded wall” clocks, which look like the top of a grandfather clock stuck to the wall. Bracket clocks stood on pieces of furniture rather than on mantlepieces over the fireplace (as might be imagined) which were not introduced until about 1760.
From about 1665, the hooded wall clock began to be superseded by the longcase “grandfather” clock .Despite giving the appearance of being free-standing these were actually screwed to the wall because they were top heavy and quite unstable. After the pendulum was introduced, eight-day duration mechanisms became standard, compared to the thirty-hour duration mechanisms of earlier clocks.
The first period of English longcase clocks is referred to as the “architectural” period because the cases of both bracket and longcase clocks were given a classical form with corner columns topped by pediment. This period lasted from 1665 to 1675. The period from 1675 to 1700 is referred to as the “convex” period because the throat mouldings, between the hood containing the clock face and the trunk of the clock, were convex (as they had been in the earlier period). From 1700, the throat moulding was concave.
In 1675, both Christiaan Huygens in Holland and Robert Hooke in England, claimed to have invented the balance spring. This plays a similar part in regulating watches as the pendulum does in clocks. The improved accuracy that pendulums and balance springs gave to clocks and watches meant that it became worthwhile to indicate minutes as well as hours. Although a number of other schemes were tried, the system of representing the hour and minute with two two hands quickly became the standard.
Did you know?
“Grandfather clocks” are named after the song “My Grandfather’s Clock”.
In the 19th century, floor-standing clocks were known as “longcase clocks” and were generally not very accurate. But one particular clock, in the George Hotel in Yorkshire, was exceptionally accurate. The hotel was owned by two Jenkins brothers. When one of the brothers died, the clock mysteriously began losing time. When the second brother died, the clock stopped altogether.
Henry Clay Work was an abolitionist who had served a prison for freeing slaves. On his release, he took up writing songs. In 1875, while staying at the George Hotel, he heard the story of the clock and wrote the song.
The popularity of the song led to longcase clocks being nicknamed “grandfather clocks”.