ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

From Ancient Water Clocks to Digital Watches

Updated on July 29, 2013
BlossomSB profile image

Bronwen and her family have enjoyed collecting many things, including fans, clocks, books and shells.

Painting of the Big Ben Tower in Misty Rain
Painting of the Big Ben Tower in Misty Rain | Source

Big Ben

  • Big Ben is the name we often give the most popular landmark in Britain.
  • The tower has had different names over time; Big Ben is actually the name of the biggest bell in the clock. It has a number of bells.
  • 'Big Ben' is the biggest chiming clock with four faces in the world.
  • Big Ben, the bell, was installed in the clock in 1858, the year that the tower was completed.
  • In 2012, the tower was renamed Elizabeth Tower, in honour of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.

Clocks in Ancient Times

In the times of prehistory, people were more concerned with finding food and shelter, but as the aeons rolled by, knowing the time became more important. Ways of 'telling the time' developed at different times in different parts of the world.

  • The Water Clock: One of the first clocks in ancient days was a water clock that was discovered in an Egyptian tomb. it was dated back to around 1500 B.C.
  • The Sundial: The sundial was an early invention that uses the shadow of the sun to tell the time. I have a funny story about a sundial. When my husband had a scholarship and we were in England for a year, I was delighted to be able to buy a sundial that would be just right for our garden. After a few years, we got around to building a suitable site for it out of local rocks. Then, looking at where the sun was at the time, we placed the dial in position and cemented it there. However, we had bought it in the Northern Hemisphere and we lived in the Southern, so, sadly, it reads backwards!
  • The Hour Glass: Another early invention was the hour glass. We still often use a mini version of this with our egg-timers, which have been made to tell just the right length of time for boiling and egg in its shell.

The Greeks and Romans: The Greeks and Romans had their horologists and astronomers, too, from early times. In 250 B.C., Archimedes designed a more elaborate clock with gears; it even showed the orbiting of the planets and the moon.

Clocks in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Time-pieces interested people very much in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, many men carried quite heavy watches in a small pocket on their waistcoats. These watches were chained to a button to prevent theft or dropping them. They were often engraved and given as a gift on a special occasion such as a twenty-first birthday, or when the person was emigrating.

Until near the end of the twentieth century, most homes had a good clock displayed on the mantlepiece over the fire-place, and smaller ones around the house. Most needed to be wound regularly, although the first electric clock in Britain was made by the Scottish clockmaker, Alexander Bain in 1841.

Clocks were, and still are, often to be found in churches, as in the one pictured below.

Church Clock
Church Clock | Source

Grandfather Clocks

The invention of the pendulum clock led to the necessity of a long case. These have varied in design over the years and are still popular. The first pendulum clock was invented around 1670.

The Grandfather clock shown here is quite large. It was built around 1832 by James Bowes of Bradford. At one stage in its life, it must have been in a cottage with a low ceiling, as the tallest, central carving was removed and was later replaced by a replica of what what thought to have been there.

The painting of an English priory that can be seen around the edges of the clock face is interesting as it is now much more of a ruin than is seen here.

Grandfather Clock
Grandfather Clock | Source
Close-up of Face, Weights and Pendulum
Close-up of Face, Weights and Pendulum | Source
A Couple of Clock Keys
A Couple of Clock Keys | Source

Clock Keys

Even the design of keys for clocks and watches is interesting. Pictured are two keys for winding clocks. In the days before the digital age, clocks and watches needed to be wound.

  • Some clocks were known as seven-day clocks and only needed to be wound once a week. You will notice that in the Grandfather clock the weights are near the top of the case; it has been wound recently, but near the end of the week the weights will be near the bottom of the case and not visible.
  • Watches and some other clocks needed to be wound every 24 hours. Care needed to be taken, as if they were overwound, the spring could be damaged and the time-piece would have to be mended by a clock maker.

Chinese Clocks

The Chinese have always been good at inventing new things and the clock was one of these.

Early examples were water clocks.

They mastered the intricate design of mechanisms for clocks quite early.

One of the most famous water clocks was the forty foot high clock tower built by Su Sung. It used a water wheel and the mechanism was quite an important innovation as, not only did it tell the time comparatively accurately, it also told the date, the month and the movement of the moon.

Su Sung's clock was completed in 1092. Unfortunately, it was stolen by Tartar invaders in 1126. However, the instructions for the design reached Europe some two hundred years later and its construction is seen to be one of the great mechanical achievements of the Middle Ages.

A Chinese Battery Clock with Time and Calendar in Western Numerals
A Chinese Battery Clock with Time and Calendar in Western Numerals | Source
Chinese Battery Watch with Chinese Numerals
Chinese Battery Watch with Chinese Numerals | Source

The Digital Age

Now, in the digital age, we have the time readily available to us, but there never seems to be enough of it and it seems to rule us, rather than being a thing of interest, mechanical design and beauty.

We have digital watches, clocks and we can easily see the time on our computers, mobile phones, ipads and tablets; we have alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning, but time itself seems to vanish so rapidly.

It reminds me of a song we sang at school a long time ago:

"Time, you old gypsy, will you not stay,

Put up your caravan, just for one day..."

Our Lives and Time

How does time and the necessity of keeping to a timetable influence your life?

Does it rule your every minute, or do you 'take time to smell the flowers'?

Time is still not so important in some parts of the world. There are places where time is still told by the sun.

When we lived in PNG, my husband was visiting and examining schools in the area. He arrived by boat and spent the night in the local teacher's house. Later the next morning, he looked at his watch. It was 9.15 a.m. He said,

"Thomas, don't you think it's time you started school?"

Thomas looked towards the sun and the shadows, and replied,

"Yes, Sir. I think it is."

Small Digital Battery Travelling Clock
Small Digital Battery Travelling Clock | Source

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)