The sun never sets on the Empire

Close-up of the Empire Clock

From his Kent home Owletts in home, Sir Herbert invented a unique clock allowing him to tell the time all around the world.

The electrical workings were co-designed with his son, Henry, and built on a mechanical arm that allows the clock to be pulled out of the wall for ease of maintenance. The front of the clock and its surrounds show Herbert’s love of symbolism.


The idea

Sir Herbert believed that the sun never set on the Empire. This clock was designed to represent the commonwealth, and was a localised reminder of his connection to the Empire.

It was his work across Africa and India that provided opportunities, formed him as an architect, and gave him the name and wealth to take on the family home. He brought the world into his front room, uniting this Kentish Yeomon’s house with the global connections that allowed it to still be standing.


The workings

Made in Medway College in 1933 with help from students, the clock was designed to run on ball bearings, with the dial geared to rotate once every 24 hours.

The electrical motor makes a gentle whirring noise, and has a clever pull out system meaning the back of the clock swings out on a mechanical arm to allow access to the workings. The clock has worked up until recently, and is awaiting some expert attention.

The Empire Clock has a swing arm mechanism to reach the interior workings
The Empire clock pulled out to show the mechanism
The Empire Clock has a swing arm mechanism to reach the interior workings

The symbolism (clockwise)

  • The lion standing atop, with a crown and no initials is the UK.
  • S*AK - South Africa and Kenya are represented by an anchor combined with the astral constellation the Southern Cross (the first place Sir Herbert would have seen this constellation).
  • IOC - Indian Ocean with a boat resembling a dhow. The crescent moon perhaps is a nod to the Sultans and Zanzibari naval power and history.
  • IND - The star of India is 4.5 hours ahead.
  • B - Burma's symbols is at present unknown, it could be representative of the peacock?
  • SHK - Singapore & Hong Kong are squeezed in
  • AUS - covering 3 time zones, for Australia you can see the Southern Cross encased with wattle flowers.
  • NZ - New Zealand shows the Southern Cross, an icon that is still representative to this day.
  • Pacific - spanning four time zones, the mighty pacific ocean is symbolised by a ship
  • Canada - the symbols represent the fish for Vancouver, corn for Saskatchewan, the English rose for Ontario and the fleur de lys for Quebec.
  • NF - New Foundland was a separate country until 1949, when it became a province of Canada
  • Atlantic - with the last ship crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean, the voyage finishes back in the UK.