Around my house I have a few clocks; that in itself isn’t really that unusual. After all, most people need some way to tell the time while their phone charges. What is odd about my clocks is that most of them don’t run. One of the many things on my Great List of To-Be-Accomplished Projects™ is to learn to repair them, as well as build some of my own (especially wooden gear clocks). It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid and learned that my grandmother’s grandfather clock was built from a kit.


Another clock from my childhood that left an impression


Edmund Beckett Denison was an English lawyer in the nineteenth century (awesome segue, right?). Like me, he had an interest in building clocks. Somewhat unlike me, however, in 1851 he had the chance to design a clock movement for the Palace of Westminster, which had suffered a fire. It wound up (clock humor!) taking 5 more years to complete the clock tower.

By Diliff (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This one

So, Beckett took the extra time to refine his design. In the process, he invented the double three-legged gravity escapement. (For the non-clock nerd, the escapement is the part that forces the movement to move in discrete steps, rather than spinning the hands around the clock, Bugs Bunny-style).


By Hughhunt - Own work, Public Domain,

Pfff, I could have done that


This escapement is what gives the movement its famous accuracy. When Big Ben starts to run fast or slow, and they need to tune the 660-lb pendulum (driving an additional 5 tons of clockwork), they use penny weights. This escapement became the standard for really accurate tower clocks. Which is what I really like about this story.
Amateur horologist and lawyer sounds very fancy, but really, Beckett was a maker. He tinkered with the technology of the day, and came up with something amazing. In his own way, he changed the world with his hobby.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *