The station clock

In the centre of the British Avenue was Dent’s Turret Clock, awarded the Council Medal for its strength, accuracy and lower cost. Christopher Denison, the son of the chairman Edmund Denison, was struck by the suitability of the clock for the tower at King’s Cross. A price was negotiated both for Dent's clock and for three bells (bass, tenor and treble) obtained from John Murphy, an Irish foundry. The sonorous peal of the largest, weighing 29cwt (1,475kg), had been     frequently heard at the Great Exhibition, where it had also received a medal. 

By the 1840s, Edward Dent had established an international reputation as a watchmaker. On a visit to Russia in 1843, he was presented with a gold medal by order of the emperor for the services of his chronometers to that country. In the same year he was selected to construct a clock for the rebuilt Royal Exchange. The works he established soon made such improvements to clockmaking that English clocks could compete with those of French manufacture. In 1852 he was entrusted with the order for the great clock at the new palace of Westminster, but did not live to see its construction, which was undertaken by his stepson and business partner, Frederick Dent.

For many years, railway time was the only standard time in the British Isles. London time was derived from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, with chronometers set to the master time and transported around the rail network. From the 1850s, time signals from Greenwich could be sent around the rail network via electric telegraph. While standard time was increasingly taken up around the country, it was not till the Time Act of 1880 that Greenwich time became legally binding.


The station clock tower was a feature that signalled the importance of railway time, complemented by clocks within stations, typically on the departure platforms. Here we see the lordly clock tower of St Pancras (Matt Brown, Londonist) keeping an eye on its humbler neighbour.

The clock tower that separates the lunette windows of the Arrival and Departures sheds at King’s Cross is 120ft (37m) high. It was fitted internally with rooms and staircases leading to the clock room and other compartments. The grand feature of the tower is the turret clock itself, the four faces of which are composed of slate; three of the clock faces remain today. The largest of the three bells was for striking the hour. The two other bells struck the quarters for a few years.

The firm of E. Dent & Co. was commissioned in 1965 to replace the old clock mechanism with a simpler electric one. It ceased to trade the following year.