The Grandfather Clocks Story

The combination of a legendary story and a song is what created the name Grandfather Clock as we know it today. The story goes something like this.

Sometime in the late 1700’s there was a hotel known as the George Hotel. The George Hotel was a popular stopover for travelers and it was run by two brothers known as the Jenkins brothers.

The story says that there was a longcase clock in this hotel which was known to keep exceptionally good time. At least it did until one of the two Jenkins brothers died. Suddenly, the longcase clock began to lose time! As much as 15 minutes a day. It got worse and worse until it was losing over and hour every day.

Of course they best clocksmiths were brought in to try and fix it, but no one could. They finally all gave up.

They clock stayed in the hotel but it was no longer a good source of time. Because it was once famous for its accuracy it was now a conversation piece because it was so off on its time keeping.

The story goes on that when the second brother died at the age of 90, the clock stopped running at all. Even when it was wound completely the springs would not work and the hands would not move.

Eventually a new owner took over the hotel and left the clock standing with the hands frozen at the time of the last Jenkins brother’s death.

Now for the song part. The story above was well known to a lot of people from that time. So later in 1875, Henry Work, an American songwriter, was on holiday in England and found himself at the George Hotel. He was told the story of the clock. It inspired him to write a song and publish it. His sheet music eventually sold over a million copies.

Here are the lyrics to the song:

“My grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf

So it stood ninety years on the floor

It was taller by half than the old man himself

But it weighed not a pennyweight more

It was bought on the morn on the day that he was born

It was always his treasure and pride

But it stopped, short, never to go again

When the old man died

Ninety years without slumbering

Tic toc tic toc

His life’s seconds numbering

Tic toc tic toc

It stopped, short, never to go again

When the old man died.

In watching its pendulum swing to and fro

Many hours he had spent when a boy

And through childhood and manhood, the clock seemed to know

And to share both his grief and his joy

For it struck 24 when he entered at the door

With a blooming and beautiful bride,

But it stopped, short, never to go again

When the old man died

CHORUS

My grandfather said that of those he could hire

Not a servant so faithful he’d found,

For it kept perfect time and it had one desire

At the close of each day to be wound

At it kept to its place, not a frown upon its face

At its hands never hung by its side

But it stopped, short, never to go again

When the old man died

CHORUS

It rang an alarm in the still of the night,

An alarm that for years had been dumb

And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight

That his hour of departure had come

Still the clock kept the time

With a soft and muffled chime

As we silently stood by his side

But it stopped, short, never to go again

When the old man died”

The popularity of this song led to these clocks being called Grandfather Clocks. Prior to the song they were referred to as longcase clocks, tall case clocks, floor clocks and even pendulum clocks.

In the early years, longcase grandfather clocks were made almost exclusively for people of fine upbringing or of noble heritage. They have been produced in the U.S. since the late 1600’s, but it really was not until the 19th century that longcase grandfather clocks became affordable for everyone.

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