Measuring Time gallery

Time is precious. Before mechanical clocks, people used sundials, water clocks and sandglasses to keep track of time.

But once clockwork was invented, it spread with remarkable speed. Accurate timekeeping was highly prized, attracting the finest craftsmen.

Clock and watchmakers pioneered precision in manufacture and an understanding of materials that underpinned engineering. Early craftsmen, labouring in small domestic workshops, learned to subdivide production into separate specialised tasks – inventing mass production before the factory system.

Today, digital timekeepers are embedded in countless everyday gadgets, but clocks and watches are still objects of desire. ‘It runs like clockwork’ remains a byword for mechanical perfection.

From sand-glasses to sundials, water clocks to the wristwatches that we take for granted today, this rich collection of more than 500 timepieces illustrates the ingenuity and skills of their makers.

On display

Turret Clock, English, 1392

The second-oldest surviving clock in England and third-oldest in the world.

Newton's first reflecting telescope, 1668.

One of the few surviving public clocks that still uses its original ‘foliot balance’ for its time control.

House clock by Thomas Knifton at the Cross Keys, Lothbury, c. 1650

The lantern or ‘birdcage’ clock was the earliest type of clock to be made in any numbers in England.