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The Corpus Clock, Cambridge

The Corpus Clock

The Corpus Clock

Although I have never owned any Apple products I nevertheless recently devoured the obituaries of its mentor Steve Jobs, inspired to find out more of this pioneering genius. I was both intrigued and delighted to read that the Company’s lead designer behind the iconic iMac, iPad and iPhone products was a 44 year old Brit called Jonathan Ives.

My total ignorance of his importance reminded me of a visit to Cambridge last summer when I came upon a large crowd watching the machinations of a large golden object which graces the exterior of Corpus Christi’s new Taylor Library. This I learned was the Corpus Clock, designed by the library’s benefactor Dr John Taylor, an alumnus of the college and inventor of world wide fame but hitherto unknown to me despite my using his principal invention on a daily basis.

Dr Taylor it transpired perfected the kettle thermostat with the invention of a heat-sensitive bimetallic strip which automatically switches the kettle off once the water has boiled. Not only that but his company also invented the cordless connector that powers my under-floor heating. Although this clock cum public work of art does not have hands or digital display, it is most respects a traditional timepiece driven by a spring but one which measures time in a completely new way.

Whereas the mechanism of a conventional clock is hidden from view, here a so-called ‘Chronophage’ (time-eater) in the form of a giant grasshopper in perpetual motion literally eats away time through its mouth. It is the largest grasshopper escapement in the world and is Dr Taylor’s homage to the 18th Chorologist John Harrison who invented the mechanism. Aged only 20, Harrison produced a longcase clock using a virtually friction-free hardwood mechanism and went on to perfect a bimetallic pendulum to counteract the erratic movement and temperature  of ships at sea, culminating in his H4 chronometer which finally won him the Longitude Prize in 1773 after a lifetime’s work. He died 3 years later at his home in Red Lion Square,London, the site of which is marked with a blue plaque. He is buried in St John’s churchyard Hampstead.

The Corpus Clock is situated on the corner of Bene’t Street and Trumpington Street opposite King’s College. Harrison’s personal regulator ( longcase clock)  and H5 chronometer are displayed in the Guildhall Clock Museum in the City ofLondon, whilst H4 and its predecessors H1, H2 & H3 are displayed in the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

- Alan

Alan is one of the expert British Tours tour guides.   Tours you might be interested in:  Cambridge and Cambridge & Duxford

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