The Clock Described is a massive mid Victorian Wall Clock. The large, stunning, high quality brass and iron movement is housed in a heavy duty solid oak case. The case, which can be described as an early Arts & Crafts design and the movement are both in superb and original condition throughout. Having been made soley for the purpose of serving Christ's Hospital and it's pupils - the clock has a wonderfully illustrated provenance, it's history which connects its maker to Big Ben and benefactor to the Bouncing Bomb of World War II - is a most fascinating story - which is revealed below!
The Movement of 8-day duration is of the highest specification, with a deadbeat escapement, maintaining power, stop work to the winding, counterpoising to the motion work and passing strike on a large bell. The weight line passes above the movement over a winding barrel to keep the brass-cased weight to the side and clear of a tubular brass bob and its wooden rod. The pendulum itself its hung from the backboard.
The 24" Diameter Painted Iron Dial has black roman numerals, black minute ring and bears the maker's name: BROCK (of) 64 GEORGE ST. PORTMAN SQUARE, LONDON and is numbered: 1732. It has a silvered brass sight ring and is behind glass set within the large oak door. It also has unusual but original blued steel hands.
The Original Case is of very heavy thickly cut oak, 33” wide and 56” high. Below the dial a chevron-shaped door still bears the original gilded statement: that the clock was gifted by B.A. Willcox, a Governor & Almoner (of Christ’s Hospital) in 1879.
ames Brock started work as a foreman in Edward Dent's workshop, overseeing the building of The Great Westminster Clock at The Palace of Westminster (Big Ben to the uninitiated).
In March 1859, after testing and refining - the clock was finally installed in the world-famous clock tower. Work began on the clock in 1852 after an 8-year dispute with the Royal Clockmaker Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854) who lost the contract, largely because he refused to submit plans and estimates for the contract until 2 years after it was put out to tender by the Government of the day. The clock’s mechanism was designed by Edward Beckett Denison (later to become Lord Grimthorpe) to specifications laid down by the Astronomer Royal George Biddulph Airy (1801-1892) and it was the foreman of Dent’s Workshop- James Brock, who oversaw the construction of that enormous machine. Brock later left Dent’s employment and setting up business on his own account in George Street, Portman Square, it was here that he was commissioned by B.A. Willcox to build this massive wall clock for Christ’s Hospital.
Brock died in 1893 at the age of 67. Writing in the Horologist Magazine Lord Grimthorpe said of him: “I am sorry to say – James Brock is dead. He was an excellent and charming man who built a sufficient factory in a stable-yard in that region where we made the Westminster clock and sundry other large ones.”
A very rare and fine Longcase Regulator with gravity escapement by James Brock c1880 is on permanent display at the British Museum. The Regulator is also illustrated in the book entitled ' Clocks ' by David Thompson of the British Museum, in which the book illustrates sixty-six of the rarest and most interesting clocks in the Museum's collection.
Click image to view The Great Westminster Clock (Big Ben)
The Clock's Benefactor
orn in the year of the Battle of Waterloo (1815), B.A. Willcox was the son of a pioneering nineteenth century businessman, Brodie McGhie Willcox, a co-founder of the P&O shipping line.
Listed as a Governor and Almoner, the clock’s benefactor dedicated much of his life to Christ’s Hospital and its schools located then in London, Hertford and later at Horsham. Interestingly, Willcox lived in Portman Square, London – a brief stroll from Brock’s workshop. It makes sense to me that when he initially decided to commission a 'special ' clock ( for the prestigious school) - he would have chosen a clockmaker with a reputation for making buit to last, high-quality precise movements. - He wouldn’t have had far to walk!
Dying in 1901, Willcox was buried next to his father in Highgate Cemetery. In his will Willcox gave a bequest financing prizes for both boys and girls (Hertford and Horsham). At the Boys’ School one of the first winner of the Willcox Prize was a certain young Barnes Neville Wallis for science. Worth £7 10s, Master Wallis spent the prize money on a lathe when he left school in 1905. He went on to become a world-famous knighted scientist, engineer and inventor. Sir Barnes Wallis is of course best-known for inventing the Bouncing Bomb used in the RAF’s Operation Chastise to destroy the dams of the Ruhr valley during World War II.
So there it is: Big Ben, Sir Barnes Wallis, and The Bouncing Bomb – all linked by a wall clock!
hrist’s Hospital, also called The Bluecoat School because of the pupils’ distinctive uniform, was established in 1552 as a charitable school by the young Edward VI. “Its genesis was the earlier dissolution of the monasteries and the resultant overlow onto the streets of the poor and destitute”
The London school occupied a site at Newgate for 350 years until it was demolished to make way for the capital’s main G.P.O. building.
From 1707 girls were educated at Hertford, the last moving from London in 1778, although it was only after 1902 that this became a girls only school. Before the London school was destroyed, 1200 acres of land were purchased from the Aylesbury Dairy Company for £47,000, the C.H Horsham foundation stone being laid by the Prince of Wales, latterly Edward VIII. The date October 23rd 1897 was the anniversary birthday
of the school’s foundation by Edward VI. The boys were relocated from London and Hertford in 1902.
The Girls’ School at Hertford closed in 1985, its pupils merging with the Boys’ School at Horsham in the same year. With many millions of pounds in assets, a large part of the school’s income subsidises school fees, thus maintaining a link with its charitable conception.
hrist's Hospital, Hertford closed in 1985, and the recent discovery of several, rare Victorian and Edwardian photographs, showing the clock in situ between about c1899 and 1906, prove beyond doubt that it looked down on the pupils in the Hertford dining hall from at least between c1899-1985, as another photograph, this one in colour, shows the clock in the same dining hall shortly before it was removed in 1985.
However, having assumed the clock was originally gifted to the Hertford School in 1879 - this most recent photograph offers up an intriguing twist to the story. The c1899 photos of the dining room show the walls to be somewhat spartan. The later pictures around 1906 show decorative gasoliers hung from the ceiling and a distinctive heraldic frieze and stylised ‘corbels’ fixed to the walls. These items were salvaged before the London Schools’ demolition. It is interesting to speculate that the interrupted decoration atop the frieze clearly matches the same style of decoration atop the slanting ‘roof’ of the clock-case. Even the gilded boundary of each of the heraldic badges of the schools’ former presidents, running along the entire length of the frieze, bears a close connection to the gilded door on the clock case! It is not, I think, fanciful to suggest that the clock’s connection to Christ’s Hospital began during 1879 at the school’s historic birthplace in Newgate, London. However, the above is based on assumption only. At the moment I have no documents to support this theory. It is of course very possible that the clock was originally gifted by Mr B.A.Wilcox to Hertford Christ’s Hospital in 1879 and not the London school.
Victorian Photograph c1899
Showing the clock in situ, hanging in the Dining Hall of Christ's Hospital Hertford
The clock in situ on the opposite wall in the re-furnished Dining Hall of C.H Hertford in 1906. New additions to the Hall had come from London CH after its closure in 1902.
would like to thank Mike Barford and his team at the Christ's Hospital Museum in Horsham, who have been so kind and helpful by researching this clock and Mr Willcox for me. Also for supplying me with the Victorian and Edwardian photographs and allowing me to use them along with other previous printed documents and information on Christ's Hospital and B.A Willcox for this website. Also many thank's to Christ's Hospital for giving me some original blank frieeze and finials to mount each side of the clock. - I am truly grateful!
Below - showing an Edwardian Photograph c1906
would like to thank Phyllis Hoffman (a former pupil of CH Hertford) for supplying and allowing me to use her colour photograph of the Hertford Dining Hall with the clock in situ c1985 - which shows that the unusual clock case top mouldling was made to match the Newgate frieze top moulding - suggesting to me that the clock may have spent about the first 20 years of its life hanging with the frieze in the London Christ's Hospital School where it was originally gifted by Mr B. A. Willcox in 1879 and before being salvaged and moved to Hertford - sometime after 1897- when it had just been decided that the London school was to close. However, as mentioned previously - the above is based on assumption only. At the moment I have no documents to support this theory. It is of course very possible that the clock was originally gifted by Mr B.A.Wilcox to Hertford Christ’s Hospital in 1879 and not the London school. It is also possible that the Victorian photographs showing the clock in situ, actually date nearer to 1879 than to the date given as c1899 since none of these photographs are dated! But for me the added mystery surrounding this historical clock is what makes it so interesting and special!
James Brock 1826-1893
B.A. Willcox Esq. (1815-1901)
A Brief History of the School
Below, showing another Victorian photograph of the clock in situ c1899
The Clock Description
Clockmaker, watch and chronometer maker.
Showing pupils in the Dining Hall with the clock in situ 3rd March 1953
Christ's Hospital, Hertford
The Clock’s Provenance
Sir Barnes Wallis and the Bouncing Bomb!
n 1985 when the Hertford school closed, the Willcox clock was removed from it's pride of place in the Christ's Hospital Dining Hall. The clock would not be seen or heard of in public again for a quarter of a century, when out of the blue (with its true identity now lost) the clock appeared at a public auction. The auction was held by Gardiner Houlgate on Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd October 2010, Lot no. 1605 where it failed to reach a reserve price (probably due to the sheer weight and size of the clock, since it was never made for domestic use, plus the surprising fact that nobody seemed to be aware of its histrical link to Christ’s Hospital or Big Ben). I purchased the clock in October 2013 from a respected antique clock dealer from the South West of England. It's a little strange really because my passion for collecting antique clocks nowdays only lie in the 17th and early 18th century periods, but after having initially being drawn to the Willcox clock on the clock dealers website I went to view the clock in the shop and immediately fell in love with it. The clock was much larger and heavier than I had imagined from the website images. It gave off a powerful and imposing presence and was clearly made for an institution rather than domestic use - it was obvious to me within seconds of seeing it that this was no ordinary clock! The clock dealer was totally unaware of the clock's true identity, but thankfully had the sense and sensitivity to leave the clock in its totally original untouched and complete condition. It was not until after I had purchased the clock and began to research it that the fascinating story started to unfold. However the questions had to be asked – how and why did the Willcox Dining Hall clock become separated from Christ’s Hospital (its true home?). Surely the clock, with its important historic significance to the famous school, would have been treasured or at least protected within and moved to Christ's Hospital in Horsham where the other Willcox artefacts are held, including the massive ' Willcox Prize Board ', and what happened to the Willcox clock between 1985 and 2010?
aving now researched the matter further, I have found that the clock was not listed for sale or mentioned in the catalogue of Christ’s Hospital Hertford’s own auction held around the time of the schools closure in 1985 and at first it was a mystery to me how the clock became parted from Christ's Hosptal. However, an original typed document, which recently came to light, shows extracts from a listing, prepared at that time, of important items which were at Christ’s Hospital Hertford in 1984 and interestingly, in the Dining Hall section - hand written in pencil and next to the clock’s listing, is the word ‘ sell ‘. This document shows that Christ’s Hospital had every intention to sell the clock and sadly we can only now assume that they did sell the clock which their own Governor and Almoner, B.A Willcox, had specially made for the prestigious School back in 1879 (perhaps C.H. sold it to a private individual?) and this explains how the clock would be allowed to turn up at a public auction unchallenged some 25 years later. The document also shows that the Wilcox’ clock illustrated here with James Brock's unique number of 1732 on the dial (Brock numbered his clocks) is not only ‘the same clock’ mentioned in the 1984 document as being in the Dining Hall, but it also shows that it is ‘ the same clock ‘ as shown in situ in the various old photographs dating from c1890s.
n November 2014, Christ's Hospital in Horsham kindly gave me two seperate five foot lengths of original blank fieeze and two original finials to place each side of the clock - this has not only allowed me to re-unite the clock with some of it's original surroundings - but it will also allow me to virtually replicate the clock's appearence of how it originally looked in the Hertford Dining Hall - keeping it's fabulous historical background alive!
The word 'sell ' can be clearly seen next to the clock's listing
ne of the things I really like about collecting old clocks is that if you research deeply enough, you can usually find out something interesting about the history of your antique clock. With the example illustrated here, I certainly got more than I bargained for - and as I found out more information about the clock's fascinating past - from initially being just very excited, I also felt a sadness around the clock and I then began to feel a sense of duty and responsibility towards B.A. Willcox and his clock. Suddenly I was on a mission to put the record straight and to do the clock justice and by fully illustrating the clock here, I have hopefully not only been able to do that but I have also managed to help give the clock back its true identity, which had been totally lost when I purchased the clock in 2013.
A list of contents for the Hertford Dining Hall that was prepared in 1984.
I am also looking to purchase genuine Christ's Hospital artefacts
from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Christ's Hospital Hertford - Celebrating 400 years old this year! (in 1953)
The Illustrated London News - November 7, 1953
Colour photo of 1985 shows the clock top frieze moulding matches the London frieze
Images of Christ's Hospital, Hertford and former pupils from c1890s - c1920
Images of Christ's Hospital, London
become separated from Christ's Hospital ?
any people have wondered, and I often have been asked, " How did I came to own the Hertford Christ's Hospital Dining Hall Clock? " It is, therefore, my pleasure to give below a brief explanation as to how it was possible for me to become the clock's proud owner.
How did the Hertford Dining Hall Clock
Willcox Prize Watches, Medals, Artefacts and Gifted items Wanted
A portrait or photograpgh of Mr B.A.Willcox Wanted
Please Contact Me for comments on this subject!
This historical clock is offered For Swap
Honour All Men
Love the Brotherhood
Honour the King
(Please note that this clock is large and very heavy!)
Big Ben, P &O Ferries
And it's Fascinating History and Links to:-
Dining Hall Clock
small private collection of
early clocks which have a
primitive or historical
charm about them.