everyone has seen, heard or even owned one, but have you ever
wondered why grandfather clocks are called grandfather clocks?
It began over a century ago in Piercebridge, North Yorkshire,
England, at the George Hotel, a popular stop for horse
coaches, officials and wealthy citizens. It was operated by
two bachelor brothers named Jenkins.
A floor clock had stood in the George’s for many years. It was
considered unusual in that it kept extraordinarily accurate
time in an era when many clocks weren’t quite as precise.
Then one day, two things occurred: The younger Jenkins brother
died unexpectedly, and the old clock began losing time. First,
it was about 15 minutes a day. Even after several clocksmiths
examined it, it eventually lost more than an hour daily.
The clock’s incurable problem quickly became as well-known as
its accuracy had been. So it wasn’t completely shocking that,
even though fully wound, it stopped completely when the other
Adding to the eeriness of the whole thing, the new George
manager never had the clock repaired. He left it standing in
the lobby with its hands resting in the same position they
held when the last Jenkins’ brother passed.
The legend might have remained local had not Henry Work, an
American songwriter, chanced to stay at the George in 1875. He
was told the clock’s story, and decided to compose a song
about it. When he published “My Grandfather’s Clock” after
returning to the states, it sold over a million copies of
sheet music. The song’s title was derived from its first line:
“Oh my grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf, so it
stood 90 years on the floor …”
Until that time, tall freestanding oversized clocks such as
the one in the George’s lobby were called a variety of names.
But since Work’s song was published, they’ve been referred to
as grandfather clocks.