News. Alexander Cumming’s Tavern clock

5th of February, 2018

Few new tax measures are met with rapturous applause: so imagine the introduction of a tithe on time itself? That’s what happened in 1797, though, when a duty of five shillings per clock was introduce throughout Britain, including in people’s homes, by the Prime Minister William Pitt.

The new law hiked the popularity of publicly displayed clocks such as this tablet-dial Tavern Clock, now found outside the Earl’s study and thought to have been made some time in the 1750s by Alexander Cumming - a mathematician, inventor, mechanic and horological wizard who also, curiously enough, patented the flushing toilet.

“It was sourced for the House three seasons ago along with 22 other clocks of the period because the house ‘lacked a ‘heartbeat’,” explains Carol Drummond, the house’s Visitor Services Coordinator. “It would once have hung in an important public or civic building or country house. The quality of the carving of both the mahogany and gilt-wood and the overall shape of the case attest to the influence of a high-quality cabinetmaker.”

The stunning piece’s aesthetic credentials don’t end there, Drummond points out. “Its 25-inch, black painted dial has a band of gilt Roman numerals and a gilt outer band for the minutes and fine Arabic five minute markers,” she adds. “The restored serpentine hands are in brass, and the gilt wood bezel surrounding the dial is carved with interlacing fronds and foliage.”

All in all, a truly taxing job – no pun intended - for the brilliant artisan behind arguably Dumfries House’s most eye-catching timepiece.

Words: Nick Scott

Photography: Sophie Gerrard