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  • Place of origin:

    Clerkenwell (made)

  • Date:

    1857-62 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Moody, Francis Wollaston, born 1824 - died 1886 (painters (artists))
    J. Smith & Sons (maker)
    J. Warner (founder)

  • Credit Line:

    Gift of the Department of Education and Science

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Cromwell Road Entrance, case EXP

J. Smith & Sons (the company that became Smiths Metal Centres) was established in 1780 at a site in Clerkenwell, London.

The original business was clock making and J. Smith & Sons became a very well known name as a supplier of all kinds of clocks from large turret clocks for buildings such as chucrhes to small decorative clocks for mantlepieces.

Over time the business developed various new skills and techniques and their clocks were recognised for their excellence at numerous trade exhibitions and export fairs. As a consequence the business grew quickly to become one of the major clock makers in the country but when war broke out at the beginning of the 20th century the demand for clocks, especially the large clocks Smiths specialised in declined dramatically.

Over time, the clock making side of the business declined and the last clock was made in 1938. Smiths was still a large successful business but instead of clock making it now focussed all its efforts on material stock holding and distribution. Today, Smiths is one of the UK's largest suppliers of engineering raw materials.

Physical description

Pendulum clock with two weights. Highly decorated faces depicting bearing the same design, executed by F.W. Moody, showing allegorical figures of Day in a chariot followed by a cloaked woman representing Night, with - below, the figure of Time, with his hour glass and scythe. The irrevocability of Time is represented by the letters of the Latin word IRREVOCABLE spaced out between the Roman numerals around the faces. The hands, a later addition, of wood are scrolled and gold in colour.

Extract from the Illustrated Catalogue of the London International Exhibition 1862, Volume II.

Eight-day turret or church clock, of the same construction and material as that supplied by the exhibitors to the order of the Government Department of Science and Art, and which may be seen in the Museum, South Kensington. The wheels and bosses for the pivots to act in are of gun metal, the mixture being the same as that used for the manufacture of ordnance bearings, the pinions of wrought steel, cut and finished in an engine as well as the wheels; thus securing the greatest possible accuracy. the frames are of iron, and so constructed that any part can be removed for cleaning without disturbing the remaining parts. The escapement is on the principle of Graham's deadbeat, and the steel pads are made to slide in turned grooves, so as to set the pitch with the greatest exactness; they may be removed as they are secured by screws. The striking apparatus is on the repeating principle, which prevents the possibility of striking wrong hours - a fault so common to many clocks with locking plates. The maintaining power to keep the clock going during winding is by lever and bolt; there is a small inside dial to set the hands by. The pendulum has a heavy spherical ball, and the rod, which is of prepared pine, coated with varnish and afterwards French polished, is thus secured against the action of air or damp; the pendulum is set in beat by means of a traversing screw, and the crutch has also two large screws to regulate and reduce its friction.

Place of Origin

Clerkenwell (made)


1857-62 (made)


Moody, Francis Wollaston, born 1824 - died 1886 (painters (artists))
J. Smith & Sons (maker)
J. Warner (founder)

Marks and inscriptions

J. Warner, Crescent Foundry, Cripplegate, 1862
Cast into the bell


Weight: 1305 kg

Object history note

This turret clock which has been re-erected in its former position in the main entrance was originally bought by the Science and Art Department (later the Department of Education and Science) for the South Kensington Museum, (later the Victoria and Albert Museum). It is an eight day striking clock, originally operated by a pendulum and was made by J. Smith and Sons of Clerkenwell. A duplicate was made by the same firm for the London International Exhibition of 1862 - held on the site of the present day Natural History Museum - where it gained a prize award. The two dials were designed by F.W. Moody who designed much of the decoration throughout the Museum and incorporates allegorical representations of Day and Night.

It was originally hung in the North Court, being moved to the main Entrance when the Aston Webb extension was completed in 1909. The clock was stopped in 1951 because of the difficulties of winding it by hand and the noise of the chimes was thought to be disturbing for visitors. It languished unused for a number of years until it was finally dismantled and removed in 1969. More recently it has been reconsidered as an interesting object in its own right and worthy of renovation because of its association with the early history of this Museum. An automatic electric winding mechanism has been installed to overcome the earlier difficulties of winding it by hand but nonetheless most of the original mechanism has been salvaged and restored in order to duplicate, as far as possible, its original appearance.

This clock was restored to working order and installed in the Museum, 1983-84.

Historical context note

Transcript of a letter from John Physick, Keeper of Museum Services, Victoria and Albert Museum to Eric Parsons, Supplies Division, Property Services Agency, Southbridge House, Southwick Bridge Road, London SE1. 26/07/1978

Dear Eric,

In 1857, the Department of Science and Art ordered an 8-day turret clock for the Museum, which, since it has never been registered as a museum object, was obviously bought with money allowed for `Works' as part of the original furnishings. It cost £150; that is, £110 for the clock and £40 for the bell and fittings. It strikes the hours, is pendulum operated, and was made by J.Smith and Sons of Clerkenwell, with two large painted faces, designed by F.W. Moody (who decorated much of the Museum).

A duplicate of the clock was later made by the same firm and exhibited in the International Exhibition of 1862, where it gained a prize medal.

From 1862 until 1909 the clock hung, as a museum timepiece, in the North Court, but it was then repositioned in the main entrance of the new Aston Webb building, in the arch which is now the entrance to the shop.

There was an attempt to remove the clock in 1948, but the Director, Sir Leigh Ashton, refused to give his permission. After that time, when concerts were held in the Raphael Cartoon Court, the booming bell proved a nuisance, and it was silenced. In 1951, the clock was at last stopped, mainly due to winding difficulties, and partially dismantled.

Thus it remained until 1958. Sir Trenchard Cox, then the Director, stated, "I am reluctant to agree with the scrapping of this clock which is connected with the period of office of my great predecessor, Cole...[it] is a familiar landmark in the V&A", and suggested that the clock be got going again but without the strike.

However owing to its inaccessibility, there was a problem. Mr. Abbott, of Supplies, wrote on 12/12/1958, that the clock required winding twice a week: "This will necessitate a ladder being provided between the hours of 9 am and 12 noon, and twice a year on a Sunday for Summertime alteration, to give the clock-winder access to the bridge. It is apparently impossible to arrange with any certainty the exact time the winder can call." The provision of this twice-weekly ladder has already caused problems for many years for on occasions it often remained in the Main Entrance waiting for the next visitation of the winder.

Sir Trenchard decided not to proceed, but to leave the clock unwound. The Ministry of Works's clock expert, a Mr May, was reported as having "little regard for the design" and having the opinion that there was nothing extraordinary about the mechanism.

In 1970, the clock was taken down by Supplies and put into store by the Museum - the two faces being cared for by the Department of Furniture and Woodwork, and the mechanism by the Department of metalwork.

The pendulum of interest has now swung back towards the clock. and you will see from our 1978/79 estimates that we would like the clock brought into working order, and reinstalled in its position at the Main Entrance. To overcome the problem of the twice weekly winding and the almost permanent installation of ladders, perhaps an electric winding system can be incorporated (without any alteration to the clock's mechanism), as is being done with so many church clocks nowadays where there is also a problem with winders.

The faces need to be spot lit, as part of the newly-designed Main Entrance hall scheme, and the bell perhaps muffled to reduce its effect on nervous visitors at mid-day!

Yours sincerely,
John Physick
Keeper of the Department of Museum Services.

Descriptive line

Clock with highly decorated round face and pendulum; J. Smith & Sons, Clerkenwell, ca. 1857-62.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Illustrated Catalogue of the London Exhibition, 1862, Vol.II

Production Note

The clock faces were designed by F.W. Moody and painted in his studio.


Gun-metal; Steel; Iron; Pine


Forging (metal forming); Painting (image-making)

Subjects depicted

Scythe; Chariot; Hour-glass; Day; Night


Ph_survey; Clocks & Watches; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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