What is it about time? For those of us of a certain age, it seemed our youth was filled with endless Summers in which it never rained, holidays went on for ever and were filled with the sound of leather on willow and strawberries and cream were always on the menu.
Now, time is a chariot, dragging us inexorably to a place none of us want to go. If, however, you are moved to go to the greatest collection of time-pieces in New Zealand, Clapham’s National Clock Museum, time becomes entertainment, even wonder.
Before entering the strangely shaped Time-Machine at the Whangarei Town Basin however, you can contemplate, not the World’s largest budgie perch, but a 22 metre gnomon boasting the southern hemisphere’s largest sundial. And also the heaviest at six tons.
As you stand there, the familiar Westminster Chimes of Big Ben will lure you in to the intriguing, fascinating, amusing and even the downright daft, world of clocks and musical instruments that is the Clapham’s National Clock Museum.
Now that I have your undivided attention, let us turn the clock back to 1859. In New Zealand it was the beginning of the Maori Land Wars, and while the two sides were running around with murder in their hearts, in England 150 years ago the most famous clock in the World was being completed. Big Ben, or the Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster, was first set in motion on May 31st 1859, two years after the Indian Mutiny. In recognition of the World’s most iconic timepiece, Clapham’s Clocks is proud of its own association with Big Ben. I mentioned the familiar chimes as you entered the door. As you enter the Museum itself you will see a lovely model of St Stephen’s Clock Tower that houses the famous bell, of which the original weighs nearly 14 tons. The complex mechanism of wheels and cogs that is the clock itself has written upon it “This Clock was made in the Year of our Lord 1854 by Frederick Dent of the Strand and the Royal Exchange, Clockmaker to the Queen”.
Clapham’s Clocks has two fine examples of John Dent’s work - a lovely cathedral clock and a marine chronometer. John Dent, stepfather to Fred, was one of England’s great clockmakers. Born in 1790, he was apprenticed to his grandfather, a tallow chandler, in other words a candle maker. The apprenticeship was for seven years. Call me a snob, but do you really need to practice for seven years to make the perfect candle! John Dent’s true vocation was making clocks, and by the age of 24 he was making a name for himself in the world of horology. His chronometers were well respected and were purchased by the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the center of the universe when it came to time. Clapham’s Clocks is the proud owner of number 1660. Number 633 was sent to Captain FitzRoy of HMS Beagle. On board was one Charles Darwin. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, before the Grim Reaper taps you on the shoulder with his hour glass, visit the timely treasures and articulated weirdness housed at the Clock Museum. You will come away laughing!