Historic clocks on show at Science Museum

Two clocks that are among the most significant in the history of timekeeping are going on display in London.

The Wells Cathedral clock, which is one of the world’s oldest mechanisms, and Alexander Cumming’s barographic clock, used in some of the earliest studies of urban climate, are joining exhibits in the Science Museum’s ‘Making the Modern World’ gallery that illustrate the history of industrialisation.

Wells Cathedral clock mechanism © Science Museum Group

The Wells Cathedral mechanism is a significant medieval British artefact thought to date from around 1390 and to have been constructed by the same makers as the clock at Salisbury Cathedral which dates from 1386. It’s been on display at the museum in South Kensington since it was replaced by a newer device in the late 19th century, but visitors will now be able to observe it more clearly than before.

Alexander Cumming's barograph clock © Science Museum Group

The barograph clock, constructed in 1766 by King George III’s clockmaker Alexander Cumming, has been acquired with support from national fundraising charity Art Fund and a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation. One of only four of its type that Cumming is known to have made, it was bought by the famed meteorologist Luke Howard after the clockmaker’s death and used to make systematic observations that are among the world’s first urban climate studies. Its carved mahogany case has been attributed to Thomas Chippendale and demonstrates the detailed craft skill that expressed the importance of science in the 18th century.

The Science Museum’s Keeper of Technologies and Engineering, Dr David Rooney, said, “The Wells Cathedral clock is one of our oldest and most cherished exhibits, while the barograph clock is an astonishing technical and aesthetic tour-de force and an icon of climate science. Both clocks demonstrate how the ingenuity of clockmakers through history has helped shape all our lives.”

More details of ‘Making the Modern World’ at the Science Museum website.

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