What’s The Time, London?
For a city that’s psychologically dominated by a very big grandfather clock* it’s appropriate that clocks and time feature so heavily in the city’s past and present. After all, London is the home of time itself, with the Greenwich Observatory setting Greenwich Mean Time. But there are many other London clocks of note.
Big Ben is not the largest clock in London, however. That place belongs to number 80 The Strand. Shell-Mex House faced a height restriction problem when it was built in 1930, but the restriction only applied to inhabited parts of a building, so a clock tower was exempt. It has two faces, best seen from Hungerford Bridge walkway.
I live within sight of two grand clocks. The first is the green and white Caledonian Market clock tower. The park in which it stands once housed London’s largest cattle market, and the tower was supposedly built to stand the force of a bull charge. It’s now open to the public. The second is the great clock-spire of St Pancras, which looks like a fairytale castle in silhouette.
I’ve always liked the art deco clock on Cambridge Circus, with four women balancing a clock like a beach ball, and the grand Queen of Time double clock that stands above the entrance to Selfridges, but Fleet Street and Holborn have an array of clocks, some hidden. St Dunstan-in-the-West has a clock installed five years after the Great Fire which features London’s great guardians Gog and Magog hitting the central bell with hammers.
The church of St George the Martyr in Southwark has its celebrated three-sided clock, with the fourth face blacked out because the residents of Bermondsey were not prepared to contribute to the church, so the church denied them time. Eventually they capitulated and put the clock face in, but blacked it out as a reminder that it wasn’t paid for.
Two of the most unusual modern clocks are the aquatic clock in Covent Garden that used to empty water onto passers by and the bird clock of the London zoo which squawks and swings and automates toucans, much like the Guinness Clocks of old did.
Churchill’s astronomical clock at Bracken House has his face at its centre, measures time by the heavens and is set in pink to reflect the colour of the newspaper it housed, the Financial Times. All further odd London clocks welcome!
*It’s typical that London’s icon has three names, so nobody knows what to call it; St Stephen’s Tower, the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben, the nickname for the bell, which is actually called The great Bell.