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The Story of How “Grandfather Clock” Got Its Name

Over 100 years ago in Pierce bridge, North Yorkshire, England, there was a charming travelers’ haven known as the George Hotel. The hotel was a routine stop for horse coaches and was managed by two bachelor brothers named Jenkins.

In the lobby stood a floor clock, as they were called in those days, that had been there for many years. One unusual characteristic of 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.

One day, one of the brothers died and suddenly the old clock started losing time. At first it lost 15 minutes per day but when several clock smiths 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 stopped when the surviving Jenkins brother died at the age of ninety.

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

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 elder owner passed away. Henry came back to America and published the lyrics that sold over a million copies of sheet music. These are the opening words of the first stanza:

“Oh my grandfather’s clock was to tall for the shelf so it stood ninety years on the floor.
It was taller by half than the old man himself, though it weighed not a pennyweight more….”

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 this song, over a hundred years ago. Then after they were they referred to as grandfather clocks .


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