original early Arts
and Crafts wall clock.
Made of massive and
heavy proportions, the
clock is of the highest
quality and has a
and most interesting
Dining Hall Clock
The Christ's Hospital dining hall, Hertford, 1879. Image courtesy of Christ's Hospital
The very rare Christ's Hospital dining hall clock shown here has survived in a fabulous original condition throughout and is an historically important clock for the prestigious and World-Famous School. Having been made solely for the purpose of serving the Hertford Christ's Hospital school and its pupils from 1879 – the giant mid-Victorian clock has a wonderfully illustrated provenance, it's history which connects its maker to Big Ben and its benefactor to P &O Ferries, Sir Barnes Wallis, and the Bouncing Bomb of World War II - is a most fascinating story - which is revealed below!
James Brock, 1826-1893
A highly respected clock, watch and chronometer maker, James Brock oversaw the construction of the Great Clock for the Palace of Westminster in the workshop of E.J.Dent. In March 1859, after testing and refining the clock (Big Ben to the uninitiated!) was finally installed in the world-famous clock tower.
Horse bus in front of Big Ben, London, late Victorian period. Alamy.com James Brock was foreman and oversaw the construction of the Great Clock for the Palace of Westminster in the workshop of E.J.Dent.
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, Brock, who oversaw the prestigious scheme.
Edward Beckett Denison with The Great Westminster clock. Image by Alamy.com. James Brock had worked closley with Edward Beckett Denison throughout his career.
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 the clock for Christ’s Hospital. Brock was held in great esteem by Dent, and therefore allowed to produce clocks under his own name while employed by Dent’s, for whom he seems to have made the majority of their regulators, including for E J Dent’s successors after he had left their direct employ. As their outworker, his serial numbers therefore fell within Dent’s own series, and can be dated by reference to the records of Dent’s production.
Late Victorian Pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge. Alamy.com Westminster Palace and Big Ben in the background.
James 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.”
One other ‘large’ clock of Brock’s is on permanent display at the British Museum. Another very fine example by Brock can be seen and illustrated here by Dr John C Taylor
The Clock's Benefactor
B.A. Willcox Esq.(1815-1901)
Christ's Hospital, London 1895. Alamy.com B.A. Willcox was a Governor and Almoner, to Christ’s Hospital and its 3 schools located then in London, Hertford and Horsham in Sussex.
Born in the year of the Battle of Waterloo, 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 3 schools located then in London, Hertford and Horsham in Sussex.
Interestingly, Willcox lived in Portman Square – a brief stroll from Brock’s workshop. It makes sense to me that when he wanted to commission a clock for the school, he would have chosen a clockmaker with a reputation for making 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.
Family grave of Brodie McGhie Willcox in Highgate Cemetery, where B.A.Willcox is buried. Own work by Simon Edwards Esq
In his will Mr B.A.Willcox gave a bequest financing prizes for both boys and girls. At the Boys’ School one of the first winners 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.
Photograph of Barnes Wallis in RNV uniform Datecirca 1914.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
So there it is: Benefactor, Big Ben, and the Bouncing Bomb – all linked by a wall clock!
The Brief History
Christ’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 IV. “Its genesis was the earlier dissolution of the monasteries and the resultant overflow onto the streets of the poor and destitute” (Wikipedia)
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.