Clocks of days gone by - Scottish nostalgia


25 April 2016
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Bob McMillan recalls the different clocks of days gone by.

Bob McMillan recalls the different clocks of days gone by.

Thinking back to when I was young, I don't remember much about the clocks we had in the house except Dad’s old Smiths alarm clock which would have wakened the dead! We must have had several clocks, every house had, but it is only as I write this that some recollections are coming back.

We had a dark wood-cased mantelpiece clock with a seven-day movement, which only needed to be wound up once a week, and I remember the steady tick-tock of the movement as the pendulum swung back and forth. If it started to lose time my Dad would put a wee tray of paraffin in the bottom of the clock to let the paraffin vapour lubricate the clock.

Dad worked in a brickworks and there was no centralised time-clock system or factory hooter to let you know the time, so he kept an old mantelpiece clock in his work area. As he didn’t usually work at weekends, and the clock needed winding every day, it was carefully carried down to a nearby section, the gas kiln office, which was manned all the time, and the watchman there kept it wound up over the weekend. They had an old valve wireless there and so could set the clock to the chimes of Big Ben.

When I got married we had a modern mantle clock but it was battery powered by then and was, naturally, much smaller than the old pendulum ones. I still had a wind up travel alarm which made a heck of a racket due to its metal casing. As I mentioned, along had come battery driven clocks, still analogue, i.e. with hands and a face, but then digital clocks appeared. Some were very clever with card squares that were flipped over by the mechanism to show the hours and minutes. Most of these were still mains powered as they had a little motor inside and used the 50 cycles mains electrical frequency as the time-keeping element.

Today we take our clocks, digital watches and battery powered analogue watches very much for granted. We are not happy if they gain or lose a second or so in a month, let along the minutes the old fashioned clocks could gain or lose each day!