Wadham in Objects: The Beginning of Time

9th June 2015

News, Student news, Alumni news

Horologists Rory McEvoy and Oliver Cooke discussed the history, design and mechanics of two of the College’s most significant clocks at the first event in the Wadham in Objects series.

  • The Tompion clock

    The Tompion clock

  • The Wren clock

    The Wren clock

Oliver Cooke, Curator of Horology at the British Museum, and Rory McEvoy, Curator of Horology at the Royal Observatory, spoke to students, fellows and guests, outlining the history of timekeeping and the significance of the Wadham Clocks. Estates and Facilities Manager, Christopher Daw, described recent maintenance and upkeep of the clocks.

Oliver Cooke began the seminar by describing his fascinating work at the British Museum, in which being an horologist involves not only displaying and talking about clocks and timepieces, but also maintaining and preserving an extraordinary range of timekeeping devices. Oliver dated the College’s Thomas Tompion clock to 1704, the year Tompion became a master at the Clockmaker’s Company of London. Noting its hourly movement and fine walnut casing, he gave the audience an insight into the history of Tompion, his clocks and timepieces.

Moving the focus to the College clock, located in the Front Quad, whose face was designed by Christopher Wren, Rory McEvoy discussed the importance of the pendulum to time keeping, and the clock's place in its history. The clock was originally installed in the quad by Joseph Knibb in 1671; it was the first example of a clock to use the anchor escapement. Rory described how this breakthrough was one of the most important steps towards solving The Longitude Problem.

The College clock’s original movement, which now resides in the Museum of the History of Science, was replaced by a Dent & Co movement in 1870. Following the speaker presentations, the audience moved to the Chapel, where Christopher Daw revealed the Dent movement and spoke about how the clock has been maintained. The audience had the rare chance to see the movement’s convoluted drive to the clock face, which is usually obscured by the organ (which is currently being refurbished). Given the frequency of refurbishment of the organ, it may be a long time before anyone is able to see the tortured path that the movements take quite so easily again!

Organised by Wadham’s Research Associates, Wadham in Objects uses Wadham’s intriguing objects to engage College members in the history of the College. ‘The Beginning of Time’ is the first in an ongoing series, the next of which will take place in Michaelmas term 2015.

  • Rory McEvoy describes the original Knibb movement of the Wren clock.

    Rory McEvoy describes the original Knibb movement of the Wren clock.

  • Christopher Daw with the current  Dent & Co mechanism of the Wren clock.

    Christopher Daw describes the current  Dent & Co mechanism of the Wren clock.

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