9 interesting facts about City and clockmaking

Fan of S-Town and intrigued by the art of clockmaking? Find out more about the fascinating science of horology and City’s links to the subject.

S-Town, the fascinating new podcast currently taking the world by storm, is the latest production from the makers of record-breaking Serial. S-Town tells the intriguing and at times, tragic tale of eccentric, gothic clock-maker, John B Mclemore, who lives in a small town in Alabama.

Throughout the series, John’s clocks are drawn upon as symbols of his brilliant mind and as metaphors, for the nature of human life and existence and the passing of time itself.

City, University of London has many links with horology — the science and art of clockmaking. Here are 9 interesting facts about horology and the intrinsic links with City:

  1. Horology is the science of time and art of clockmaking. Clock or watch makers and those who study time measurement are often referred to as horologists.
  2. Humans have been measuring the passing of time for thousands of years, with the Ancient Egyptians being the first known civilisation to record the time using the sun.
Horology was one of the first courses offered by City’s predecessor

3. Horology was one of the first courses ever offered by City’s predecessor the Northampton Institute. Students for this early course, in the late 19th Century paid £2 a year and learned basic clockmaking skills, including how to fix existing timepieces and build clocks from scratch.

Northampton Square in the late 19th Century

4. Clerkenwell and Northampton Square where City is based, has many connections with the art and trade of clockmaking. In fact, one of the main purposes of establishing the Northampton Institute was to serve the needs of the local clock and watchmaking industries in Clerkenwell.

5. Northampton Square was once home to the British Horological Institute — an organisation established to “cultivate the science of horology.”

6. One of the world’s most important watchmakers, George Daniels, studied horology at the Northampton Institute. Daniels went on to create something called the ‘co-axial escapement’ one of the most important developments in horology in the last 250 years. This escapement was adopted by Omega and used in their watches.

7. Alongside inventing the co-axial escapement, George Daniels was a skilled watchmaker. He was the first watchmaker to master 32 of the 34 skills required to create a watch alone and by hand. He created 37 watches in his lifetime, each one unique and considered a work of art in their own right.

8. The ‘Space Travellers’ watch created by George Daniels to commemorate the moon landings, was the most expensive English watch ever sold, when it was auctioned for than £1 million in 2012.

9. City’s iconic clock on the redbrick College Building was renamed in recognition of George Daniels. It was built by Messrs Dent and Co, the same clockmakers that constructed the clock in the Elizabeth Tower (popularly known as Big Ben). City’s clock was a backup in case Big Ben was damaged during a world war.

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