Travel Shot: The Mechanical Clock

The gentle whirring and the polite clicking sounds coming from the… contraption was fascinating. What is it, I wondered, as I walked around it. What were the ropes for, ropes that ascended to the ceiling? And the slowly moving wheels? And why was it cordoned off with a “Please do not touch” sign?

That July afternoon of 2009, I was at Salisbury Cathedral wondering what this contraption was all. A simple information plaque on one side enlightened me and I did a double take when I read it. This… contraption was a clock? A clock without a face? And that too 700 years old?

The Mechanical Clock. One of the stone weights can be seen hanging on the left, behind the clock. Note the ropes going out of the frame of this  photo—these are attached to a bell, which strike at the hour every hour.

I was standing before the oldest Mechanical Clock in Europe. There are even claims to this being the oldest working mechanical clock in the world. Dating back to 1386, this clock was re-discovered in the Cathedral in 1928 and restored back to working condition in 1956. Most of the parts of the clock are original as is its wrought iron frame.

A single-strike clock, i.e. it makes one strike for every hour of the day, the power to run it is supplied by two large stone weights. As the weights descend, ropes (which are attached to a bell) unwind from the wooden barrels. Before the weights reach the floor, they have to be wound back up again. For more technical details on the working of the clock, please click here.

Though the Salisbury Cathedral had many other attractions on offer—an impressive 400 feet tall spire and an original copy of the Magna Carta, among others—it is the simple (?) mechanical clock that remains with me after 3 years. A clock that works even today after so many centuries and is accurate to within 2 minutes.

Not bad for a 700-year old clock, eh? 🙂

PS: For more photographs of Salisbury, please click here.