Salisbury Cathedral Mechanical Clock (Salisbury, England)

Salisbury Cathedral Mechanical Clock
Photo by Matt Brown

The mechanical clock at Salisbury Cathedral formerly known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is considered the oldest operational mechanical clock in the world. Built in 1386, the faceless clock was a deviation from the seasonal use of sundials for the residents of Salisbury. The clock quite simply chimed each hour and let the people nearby know when it was time to attend church services.

The Salisbury Cathedral Mechanical Clock is at the top of the list of The World’s Oldest Clocks, but there are plenty of other old clocks that are more highly decorated and much more complicated. The humble mechanical clock lived for many, many years in the bell tower of Salisbury Cathedral, but lost its home when the tower was demolished in 1790. A new, and more complex clock for the cathedral was built to replace it in 1844, and the old clock sat unused and somewhat forgotten.

Though there were people that knew about the presence of the old clock, it was T.R. Robinson, an horology nut of sorts, that saw it while viewing the new clock in 1928. He knew was he had “discovered” was very old and he had a suspicion that it was not only the original clock, but that it was of important intrinsic, and historic value worthy of restoration. There had been over the years some modifications to the clock, but since it was nearly complete, it was able to be restored to near original condition. During restoration, the modified pendulum and recoil escapement added to clock after its original construction, were replaced by a verge and foliot escapement (no idea what that means), and the clock was once again serving the people of Salisbury.

Though similar claims of being the oldest clock are made in other parts of the world, the Salisbury Cathedral clock has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the official oldest in operation. Today the clock may be seen in the left naïve of the cathedral working away, without the hourly chimes, much as it did over 600 years ago.

Salisbury Cathedral Mechanical Clock Facts

  • In February of 1956 a complete restoration of the Salisbury Cathedral Mechanical Clock was performed by the John Smith & Sons of Derby.
  • The Salisbury Cathedral clock is an iron-framed clock and has no dial.
  • The Salisbury Cathedral clock has ticked more than 500 million times.
  • The clock dates from 1386, but this is only the first record of it having existed and many believe it to be even older.