St Edward’s Gate, Trinity College. Photo from wikimedia.
On Saturday, I was lucky enough to climb Trinity’s clock tower and watch the clock being wound.
The pendulum clock dates to 1910 and has a state-of-the-art monitoring system to check its accuracy, but it is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Trinity: King Edward’s Gate.
This gate was once the entrance to King’s Hall, a college founded by Edward II which was dissolved in 1546 by Henry VIII and joined with Michaelhouse to found the new College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. When Trinity decided to construct the imposing ‘Great Court’, this gate was taken down and rebuilt 100 feet north of its original location in order to fit in with the architectural plan.
After climbing the winding spiral stair, we enjoyed the view out over Great Court to King’s College Chapel.
The clock has a temperature-compensated pendulum 2 metres in length driven by a three-legged gravity escapement. It keeps time to better than one second in a month without any intervention.
Strangely, the clock didn’t strike the quarters at 3.45pm – something clearly went a bit wrong, contradicting this poem about the clock by William Wordsworth:
Near me hung Trinity’s loquacious clock,
Who never let the quarters, night or day,
Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the hours
Twice over with a male and female voice.
-William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1850
Since the early eighteenth century, the Trinity clock has struck the hour twice, first on a low note (the ‘Trinity’ chime) and then on a much higher one (the ‘St John’s’ chime). The bell you can hear striking the hour in this video bears the inscription:
TRINITAS · IN · UNITATE · RESONAT · 1610.
RICARDUS · HOLD · FELD · ME · FECIT.
(The Trinity resounds in unity. 1610.
Richard Holdfield [or Oldfield] made me.)
It was an eventful afternoon: as soon as we had finished winding the clock, a thunderstorm hit central Cambridge, making chimney pots wobble with the driving rain. There were strange red lightning flashes, and drifts of hailstones by the time the wind died down.
In the space of 10 minutes, the view from the tower window went from this:
Great Court from Clock Tower
Flags flutter at Trinity Hall, Clare and King’s
View over the Hall
The mechanism up close
C18th clock face
Two less illustrious timepieces
With thanks to Rick Lupton for letting us see the clock winding, and to Dr Hugh Hunt for permission to publish the photos and films online. More information about the clock, and Dr Hunt’s animated gif of the pendulum can be found here.