Cambridge Part 4: The Corpus Clock

“Time is an illusion.”
― Albert Einstein

Cambridge has a number of distinguished and distinguishing landmarks, most of which are medieval, early modern, or in some way dating from before the 20th century. The Corpus Clock, housed at the library of Corpus Cristi College, is unabashedly modern. Normally facing the street, for Open Days the wall was turned to allow library visitors to get an up close and personal look at and within it.

Invented and designed by Dr. John C. Taylor (who has an amazing collection of clocks which will also feature in tomorrow’s adventures), it is a strange and wonderful creation. The face is plated in pure gold and the design is a rippled effect, created by explosions within a vacuum. They symbolize the Big Bang, the impact of which set space and time into motion and exploded outward. At the top is a grasshopper-like creature that Dr. Taylor calls the “Chronophage,” meaning “time-eater” (which is apparently a pun since an 18th century horologist referred to a clock mechanism as a grasshopper).

It has no hands and tells time through concentric rings of lights to signify seconds, minutes, and hours. When the hour strikes, all the lights flash. And yet it is purposefully designed to appear irregular and sometimes be irregular; the pendulum appears to catch or the lights race and lag. The whole point is to be functional, but also show the somewhat threatening nature of time. The beast (which is apparently nicknamed both “Rosaline” and “Hopsy” by locals and students) swallows the seconds without ceasing, and if you look closely you may catch it blinking or moving its mouth unexpectedly. Time flies, it’s untrustworthy, it’s easily consumed or lost, and there’s no getting it back.

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Pointing out the features of the gold plated exterior.

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But look inside…

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…and the almost science fiction quality is revealed!

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I scrambled up another level in the library to get a less obstructed view because I found the clock unexpectedly delightful. I love seeing things cracked open and their inner workings revealed.

Budding videographer that I am (she laughed!), I snapped a short video of the clock’s function being presented. The speaker does a better job of explaining the lighting sequence than I could, plus you get to see the creature’s movement.

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