University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

Time and its natural measurers,   pp. 1-14 ff. PDF (9.3 MB)

Page 3

since the writer heard the tale related in a remote
part of Scotland. In later times, the question has
been put, Is there any historic basis for this tra-
dition ? followed by another still more pertinent,
Is the alleged fact mechanically possible ? and to
both an affirmative answer has been given.
An obituary notice of John Hatfield, who died
at his house in Glasshouse-yard, Aldersgate, on
the 18th of June 1770, at the age of 102-which
notice appeared in the Public Advertiser a few
days afterwards-states that, when a soldier in
the time of William and Mary, he was tried by
a court-martial, on a charge of having fallen
asleep when on duty upon the terrace at Wind-
sor. It goes on to state-' He absolutely denied
the charge against him, and solemnly declared
[as a proof of his having been awake at the time],
that he heard St Paul's clock strike thirteen,
the truth of which was much doubted by the
court because of the great distance. But while
he was under sentence of death, an affidavit was
made by several persons that the clock actually
did strike thirteen instead of twelve; whereu pon
he received his majesty's pardon.' It is added,
that a recital of these circumstances was en-
graved on the coffin-plate of the old soldier, 'to
satisfy the world of the truth of a story which
has been much doubted, though he had often
confirmed it to many gentlemen, and a few days
before his death told it to several of his
An allusion to the story occurs in a poem
styled A Trip to Windsor, one of a volume
published in 1774 under the title of Weeds of
Parnassus, by Timothy Scribble:
'The terrace walk we with surprise behold,
Of which the guides have oft the story told:
Hatfield, accused of sleeping on his post,
Heard Paul's bell sounding, or his life had lost.'
A correction, however, must here be applied-
namely, that the clock which struck on this im-
portant occasion was Tom of Westminster, which
was afterwards removed to St Paul's. It seems
a long way for the sound to travel, and when we
think of the noises which fill this bustling city
even at midnight, the possibility of its being
heard even in the suburbs seems faint. Yet we
must recollect that London was a much quieter
town a hundred and fifty years ago than now,
and the fact that the tolling of St Paul's has
often been heard at Windsor, is undoubted.
There might, moreover, be a favourable state of
the atmosphere.
As to the query, Is the striking of thirteen
mechanically possible ? a correspondent of the
Notes and Queries has given it a satisfactory
answer.* 'All striking clocks have two spindles
for winding: one of these is for the going part,
a 'aich turns the hands, and is connected with
and regulated by the pendulum or balance-
spring. Every time that the minute hand comes
to twelve, it raises a catch connected with the
striking part (which has been standing still for
the previous sixty minutes), and the striking
work then makes as many strokes on the bell
(or spring gong) as the space between the notch
which the catch has left and the next notch
allows. When the catch falls into the next notch,
* Second Series, vii. 14.
it again stops the striking work till the minute
hand reaches twelve again an hour afterwards.
Now, if the catch be stiff, so as not to fall into
the notch, or the notch be worn so as not to hold
it, the clock will strike on till the catch does
hold. . . . If a clock strike midnight and the
succeeding hour together, there is thirteen at
once, and very simply. . . . If the story of St
Paul's clock be true. and it only happened once,
it must have been from stiffness or some mecha-
nical obstacles.'
In connection with the above London legend,
it is worthy of remark that, on the morning of
Thursday the 14th of March 1861, 'the inhabi-
tants of the metropolis were roused by repeated
strokes of the new great bell of Westminster,
and most persons supposed it was for a death in
the royal family. It proved, however, to be due
to some derangement of the clock, for at four
and five o'clock, ten or twelve strokes were
struck instead of the proper number.'     The
gentleman who communicated this fact through
the medium of the Notes and Queries, added:
'On mentioning this in the morning to a friend,
who is deep in London antiquities, he observed
that there is an opinion in the city that anything
the matter with St Paul's great bell is an omen of
ill to the royal family; and he added: "I hope the
opinion will not extend to the Westminster bell."
This was at 11 on Friday morning. I see this
morning that it was not till 1 A.M. the lamented
Duchess of Kent was considered in, the least
danger, and, as you are aware, she expired in
less than twenty-four hours.'
A watch differs from a clock in its having a
vibrating wheel instead of a vibrating pendu-
lum; and, as in a clock, gravity is always pulling
the pendulum down to the bottom of its are,
which is its natural place of rest, but does not
fix it there, because the momentum acquired
during its fall from one side carries it up to an
equal height on the other-so in a watch a spring,
generally spiral, surrounding the axis of the
balance-wheel, is always pulling this towards a
middle position of rest, but does not fix it there,
because the momentum acquired during its ap-
proach to the middle position from either side
carries it just as far past on the other side, and
the spring has to begin its work again. The
balance-wheel at each vibration allows one tooth
of the adjoining wheel to pass, as the pendulum
does in a clock; and the record of the beats is
preserved by the wheel which follows. A main-
spring is used to keep up the motion of the watch,
instead of the weight used in a clock; and as a
spring acts equally well whatever be its position,
a watch keeps time though carried in the pocket,
or in a moving ship. fn winding up a watch,
one turn of the axle on which the key is fixed is
rendered equivalent, by the train of wheels, to
about 400 turns or beats of the balance-wheel;
and thus the exertion, during a few seconds, of
the hand which winds up, gives motion for twenty-
four or thirty hours.-Dr. Arnott.

Go up to Top of Page