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Corpus Clock The Coolest Clock You've Never Heard About

Updated on January 31, 2010
The Corpus Clock in its enclosure. image copyright
The Corpus Clock in its enclosure. image copyright

What is the coolest clock in the UK? Big Ben? Well, I think it is the Corpus Clock located on the campus of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England. I don't intend to argue or try to get you to see it my way, but I think you might want to read on, watch the videos and decide for yourself. If nothing else, at least you will have heard about it. It is truly unique, and I love one-offs!

The Corpus Clock was designed by John Taylor who is an alumnus of the University. He also happens to be a clock collector and an inventor, so you could say that this creation of his is the culmination of his life's hobby. The funny thing about this clock is that it is only accurate roughly every five minutes. Taylor says that he wanted something that would represent how time is relative and that would mess with you much as time itself has a way of doing to us. That is fitting. And the ugly-looking creature sitting atop the dial? That is what Taylor calls a Chronophage, which literally means "time eater" according to the Wiki on the topic. Again, that is fitting. It sounds as though this John Taylor guy has a pretty good handle on how strange time can, and maybe he has a sense of humor about it as well.

The Corpus Clock took five years and £1 million to create, and it was officially unveiled on Sept 19, 2008 by physicist Stephen Hawking. A team of hundreds worked on the various aspects of the clock. There are sculptors, jewelers, engineers, and even secret government agents holed up inside a military research institute in Holland who produced the various pieces of the puzzle that is this Corpus Clock. The face itself, described by the designer as being created to look like time moving out in waves, was made by using controlled, underwater explosions to blast the stainless steel plate into the shape of the form. The whole thing is plated in 24 karat gold. Fortunately it is housed behind glass to protect it from thieves and the elements.

Stephen Hawking unveiling the Corpus Clock
Stephen Hawking unveiling the Corpus Clock

The clock itself uses a mechanism known as a "grasshopper escapement", the world's largest in fact.  This mechanism, invented in the 1720's by John Harrison, clockmaker, was revolutionary and solved the problem of converting the motion of a pendulum into the circular movement of a clock's dial.  Almost no one knows what a grasshopper escapement is or looks like, and since Taylor wanted his design to be a homage to Harrison, he decided to make this mechanism the main visual feature of the clock.

The other cool visual feature of the Corpus Clock is how it displays the time.  It uses three rows of continually lit blue LED lights that are visible only through slits in the clock's face.  The outer row of lights represents seconds, and they continually circle the entire face of the clock in  a rapid sweep, and even reverse and run time backward as it were.  According to Taylor the lights themselves use less electrical power than a normal incandescent light bulb.

The Chronophage up close. He's an ugly bugger!
The Chronophage up close. He's an ugly bugger!

If you spend any time watching the clock, you will notice that sometimes it hitches and moves irregularly. The pendulum may even stop moving altogether. This is all supposed to be part of the evil and sinister effect of time that is "terrifying" according to Taylor. Funny how a collector of time pieces would feel this way about the phenomena they were created to measure. Perhaps it's a case of keeping your enemies closer?

You really do need to watch the video, as words alone cannot tell you what you should know about this clock. Enjoy!

Watch a Video of the Corpus Clock In Action


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