25th November 1858. Tempus Fugit.

Richard of Wallingford, the 14th century Abbot of S. Albans was astronomer, horologist and astrologer, (seen below) pointing to his clock, his gift to the abbey. Unfortunately the clock disappeared in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


Richard of Wallingford. Could his disfigured face have been caused by leprosy?

Lewis Carroll’s character the White Rabbit muttering ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late’, suggests time was increasingly important as seen Today in 1858 when only one party had arrived for the 10 am Dorchester Court.

It resulted in the judge, in the absence of the defendant, finding for the plaintiff.(1)

However Dorset clocks were out of kilter with elsewhere as two minutes later the other party arrived, claiming he was on time by the station clock in his home-town of Carlisle in Cumbria.(2)

On Appeal the case was over-turned on grounds that 10 o’clock is 10 o’clock relative to place in the country. Then in May 1880 a Clerk to the Justices wrote to the Times about confusion of the opening and closing times of the polls.

It resulted in an 1880 Act of Parliament ending the confusion by ordering the whole country to set its clocks by Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).(3)

For centuries time in Britain was determined by church sun-dials, for worship, and Canonical Hours of the monasteries with their bells rung seven times a day.

By the time of Samuel Pepys in the 17thc., time was becoming an obsession: ‘I cannot forbear carrying my watch in my hand in the coach and seeing what o’clock it is one hundred times’. He couldn’t ‘think how he had been so long without one’. (4)

It was the railways in the 19thc which finally caused the change in the nation’s timekeeping, as before GMT British Time was localized, which could differ by as much as fifteen minutes. Accurate time-tabling was impossible.

Even within London there was a variation of two minutes between its eastern and western ends of the city.

In the industrial age of strict time-keeping we see, as the Author remembers, factory ‘hooters’ or ‘Bulls’, well into the post-war period.

Watches, now fashion items, have become an extension of ourselves, with parts called teeth (cogs), hands, fingers and faces marking the circling of the days in the year.

We personify time as ‘Old Father Time’ and ‘ The Grim Reaper’.

(1) Carroll also has the Mad Hatter say : ‘If you knew Time as well as I do, You wouldn’t talk about wasting it’. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,

(2) Curtiss v March case.

(3) Act Passed October 13th 1880.

(4) Mechanical ‘Timekeepers’ was a word first used in 1686.

Ref: wikipedia.org/richard_of_wallingford.Pic of Richard.

Ref: ‘Gold Book of S Albans in Latin and the History of the Abbey of St. Albans.

Ref: G.J Whitrow. Time in History. OUP. 1989. p.165.

Ref: thelog.org.


Peter Lightfoot, a Glastonbury monk was also a 14thc clockmaker. An example is in South. Kensington Museum.

The earliest surviving clock in the UK is the one designed for Salisbury Cathedral.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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