A Tavern Clock, circa 1775


A Classic English Dial Clock, circa 1880


The Origins of the English Dial-Clock

The Tavern Clock, ancestor of the dial-clock, became popular when King George III ("Mad King George"), introduced a government tax on all clocks and watches in 1779. This made timepieces very expensive to buy or to own, so people relied more and more on clocks in public places. There were very large clocks on churches and public buildings, but smaller clocks were needed for smaller buildings such as taverns, which were popular with ordinary people of the day.

The faces of Tavern Clocks were originally of the same dark wood as the clock case, or painted as shown in the example on the left. This is a typical Tavern Clock made by John Harrison of Norwich in the second half of the eighteenth century. But these faces could be difficult to see in dim, smoky taverns. So the Tavern Clock style developed over the following decades into the English Dial Clock, with its characteristic round white dials and brass bezels. The earliest examples began to appear at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

While the older clocks needed long cases to accomodate the weights which were used to drive the mechanism, better quality metals and engineering gradually made it possible to build high quality spring-driven movements. These were housed in a small case behind the clock, so the long-case style gradually disappeared, though a shorter case was retained in the "drop-dial" style for purely ornamental reasons. The spring-driven mechanism incorporated a device known as a fusee, which uses a tapering spindle to deliver a constant amount of power to the mechanism from the mainspring, no matter whether the clock is fully wound, unwound, or anywhere in between.

The illustration bottom left shows a typical Victorian English Dial Clock made in around 1880 by A Bromwich of Coventry. Clock-faces were almost always inscribed with the maker's name and the town where they were made. The wooden case was usually mahogany or oak, and the face was covered by the "glass" to protect the hands, and to make the face easier to clean. The edge of the glass was protected by a brass rim called a "bezel".

The basic dial-clock design remained unchanged right up to the 1930s, when the last ones were produced. It became so popular that at the turn of the century, the Bank of England and St. Pancras Station in London each had over 300 Dial Clocks on their inventory, an amazing number when you consider each clock required weekly winding and regular maintenance.

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