Grandfather Clock History
Antique Clocks Guy Reference Library

How the Grandfather Clock Got Its Name

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Piercebridge, North Yorkshire, England, there was a quaint wayfarer’s country lodge known as the George Hotel. The inn was managed by two bachelor brothers named Jenkins also from England.

The George Hotel today (click to enlarge)

Clock in the George Hotel lobby today
(iimportant to click and enlarge!)

In the lobby stood a floor clock, as they were called back in those days, that had been purchased on the morning of the eldest brother's birth and stood in the lobby for many years. It was said that the clock rang 24 chimes when the brother brought a bride into his house.

One unusual characteristic on the old clock was that it kept very good time. This was uncommon, since in those days clocks were generally not noted for their accuracy.

It was also said that the clock rang an eerie alarm when the older brother for whom it had been purchased became ill, so the family gathered at his bedside. The old clock started losing time. At first it lost 15 minutes per day but by the time (no pun!) several clocksmiths gave up trying to repair the ailing timepiece, it was losing more than an hour each day.

The clock’s incurable problem became as talked about as its precision had been. Some said it was no surprise that, though fully wound, the old clock finally stopped on the day the surviving brother died at the age of ninety, never to run again.

The new manager of the hotel never attempted to have it repaired. Finally, he just left it standing in a sunlit corner of the lobby, its hands resting in the position they assumed the moment the last Jenkins brother died.

In about 1875, an American songwriter named Henry Work happened to be staying at the George Hotel during a trip to England. He was told the story of the old clock and, after seeing the clock for himself, decided to compose a song about the fascinating coincidence that the clock stopped forever the moment its elderly owner passed away. Henry came back to America and, in 1876, told the story in a song sung from the perspective of a Jenkins grandson about his "grandfather’s clock". The song sold over a million copies of sheet music.

Until that time, clocks such as the one in the old George Hotel were referred to by a variety of names, but not before Henry Work wrote his song, about a hundred and forty years ago, were they referred to as “grandfather clocks”.

Grandfather's Clock Music Cover ~ Antique Clocks Guy

(click images to enlarge)

Lyrics to “Grandfather's Clock”
by Henry Clay Work

"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


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


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"

Henry Clay Memorial - click to enlarge ~ Antique Clocks Guy

Work published a sequel to his song two years after, where the clock is shown sold to a junk dealer, its parts sold for scrap and its case burned for kindling. In the grandfather's house (the inn), the clock was replaced by a wall clock. However, the sequel never reached the popularity of the original.

Frank Hayes recorded a parody version in which the grandfather's wish, expressed in his will, is to be buried in the clock. Unfortunately the clock is too large to fit through the door of the house, and equally unfortunately the grandfather's body gets stuck inside the clock and cannot be extricated. The song culminates with the dead grandfather standing in the clock, in the house's hallway, "making faces at us" and "ringing the blasted chimes/Ev'ry @#$%^& night".

In the folksong era of the 1960s there was another parody of this song:

My grandfather’s watch was the best ever made
By the Timex Company.
Just like the clock Cameron Swayze displayed
Last night on the old T.V.

It worked underwater so perfectly
And still made a ticking sound
Which my grandfather tried only this afternoon
And that’s how the old man drowned!

Well, as the highly respected newscaster, Paul Harvey, would have said, “Now you know the rest of the story…”

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