I spent a rather pleasant 45 minutes at a small museum in the City of London devoted to the history of clock (and watch) making in London. The collection was begun in 1814 by the Clockmakers guild and is said to be the oldest collection specifically of watches and clocks in the world.
It is not that well known as a museum it seems, and was fairly quiet when I was there, with just a few other people wandering around – which makes it easier to see the exhibits, but is a bit of a shame as it is a really well laid out collection and there is a lot to see there – much of it very very rare indeed.
As you go into the museum, there are large explanation panels which go round the room in order (almost) and explain the history of clocks and clock making in London from about the 1600’s until the current day.
I was interested to learn that while today we consider Switzerland to be the height of watch making, in fact London has been historically the center for quality clocks, and Switzerland only gained prominence through “low quality” mass production in the 19th century.
The exhibition is a mixture of the mechanics of clock making – and the jewelry that is so often associated with the cases used to carry pocket watches.
The information boards are a good mix, being quite informative without either being too technical to understand or dumbed down to appeal to 10 year old kids. They also put each part of the history of clock making into context with the history of London so you can understand how great events such as the Great Fire of London or the Civil War affected clock making in the country.
Harrison and Longitude
I was also surprised to see that the museum houses the Harrison’s Chronometer H5 – which was the famous “watch” which solved the problem of measuring Longitude. Having been to the Greenwich Royal Observatory where the other Harrison clocks are displayed, I guess I had presumed that the actually winning clock was there as well. While the earlier clocks are visually vastly more interesting to look at – it is still quite something to see the original winning watch itself on display at this museum.
The story of Harrison and Longitude was dramatised in a very good 3 hour long docu-drama in 2000 staring Jeremy Irons.
If you have a spare hour one day and are in the area of the Guildhall, I would recommend this little gem of a museum for a visit. I would say that a visit would last anything from 30 minutes to an hour depending on how engrossed you get in the exhibits.
To find the museum – presuming that you approach the Guildhall from the front main entrance – when you get into the courtyard, turn left and head towards the library. The museum is inside the building on the ground floor. There is an x-ray machine for bags – no photography is permitted alas.
The museum is open Mon-Sat 9:30am-4:45pm. Entry is free.
On the web