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British Industrial History

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Edmund Beckett Denison

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1856. A notice inscribed on the clock reads : "This clock was made in the year of Our Lord 1854 by Frederick Dent of the Strand and of the Royal Exchange from the designs of Ed. Beckett Denison Esq."

Lord Grimthorpe, 1816-1905, Horologist

1851 He designed the great clock for the 1851 Great Exhibition, made by Edward John Dent, which was later installed at King's Cross Railway Station.

In the same year he undertook, in conjunction with George Biddell Airy and Dent, the construction of the great clock for the clock tower in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster. The design was Beckett's, as an inscription records, and it included a new gravity escapement designed by him. Beckett also prepared the specifications for the bell commonly called Big Ben, after Sir Benjamin Hall, commissioner of public works. The clock and Big Ben, like most of Beckett's undertakings, involved him in fierce controversies.

1860 Beckett, having made statements about the causes of the failure of the Big Ben bell, withdrew them after legal action by George Mears

1868 Beckett was elected president of the Horological Institute, on condition that he should not attend dinners, and was annually re-elected, though not always without opposition.

1881 Lost a libel action brought against him by Mr Stainbank of Mears and Stainbank concerning the casting of the bell Big Ben[1]

1905 Obituary

"EARLY on Saturday morning Edmund Beckett Denison, Lord Grimthorpe, passed away quietly at a great age, in his house, Batchwood, St Albans. He was born in 1816. Of his life as a lawyer, a politician, an architect, and a conversationalist, we do not propose to speak. He was a man celebrated for his abilities, notorious as a fighter; but we cannot let his memory pass away without putting on record the fact that be revolutionised the construction of large public clocks, and incidentally produced some of the finest "regulators" ever made. To those who are versed in horology the name of Denison is a household word, but it is not difficult to make any engineer understand what it was that he effected.

Clocks working pendulums are more or less accurate just as they leave the pendulum more or less alone. It is of the utmost importance that the frictional resistance of the escapement should be as small as possible; that whatever its amount, it should remain constant over long periods; and that the driving power of the clock should always be the same. It is only in this way that the length of the are described by the pendulum can be kept nearly always the same, and always traversed in the same period. Now, church clocks must be large because they have to move big bands. Their wheel work is coarse, and the effect of wind on the bands is very great.

Sir Edmund Beckett-Denison designed the great clock made by Dent for the Houses of Parliament, which is probably the finest timekeeper ever used on a public building. It is fitted with the double three-legged gravity escapement. Lord Grimthorpe was a great authority on bells, bell hanging and bell ringing. He was a good mathematician, and in many respects a fine mechanic. As an author, his style was excellent. Even his rampant dogmatism was not without a charm. Our readers will find it worth their while to get his treatise on "Clocks, Watches, and Bells," the first edition of which appeared in "Weale's Series" some fifty years ago. The later editions contain much interesting additional matter." Read More

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Jul 06, 1881
  • Biography of Edmund Beckett Denison, ODNB