Tuesday, 20 October 2015

"My Grandfather's Clock" - A Song by Henry C. Work

A Mauchline Ware Miniature
Grandfather Clock, c.1880's
[From my own collection]

When we look closer into objects we can often discover a 'hidden' history behind these items of which we were previously unaware.

One such item is my 'Mauchline Ware' black lacquer miniature Grandfather Clock which stands just 25cm high. Manufactured in Ayrshire Scotland, 'Mauchline Ware' spurned all sorts of wooden related souvenir items, most bearing printed or photographic images, which would appeal to locals or tourists alike. These are highly collectable today. To read my previous Blog on 'Mauchline Ware', click Here.

Kirk Street, Strathaven c.1880's
[From my own collection]

My miniature clock would appear to date from the late Victorian era and includes not only a printed photograph of a horse and cart with a number of men in Kirk Street, Strathaven and a working pocket watch for a face but also, and more importantly, the words and musical score to a song by Henry Clay Work entitled "My Grandfather's Clock" appear on the trunk.

Henry Clay Work 1832 - 1884
[Source : www.hymntime.com]

So who was Henry C. Work and what do we know of his song? It would appear that prior to 1876 Mr Clay (1832 - 1884), an already well known American composer and songwriter, was travelling through England and happened to stay at the old George Hotel in Piercebridge which is on the border of Yorkshire and County Durham.

The hotel proprietors had been two elderly brothers named Jenkins. In the lobby stood a longcase clock, which would be regularly wound and kept good time. But after the death of one of the brothers the old clock started to lose time at an ever decreasing rate, despite the efforts of the hotel staff and local clockmaker to fix it. Upon the death of the second brother, into his 90th year, the clock stopped completely.

The Music Score and Words for
"Grandfather's Clock" by Henry C. Work, 1876

Henry Work heard of this story which then inspired him to write a song based around "Grandfather's Clock", becoming an immediate hit and, if the publisher can be believed, "the most popular song in America". But certainly, over a million copies of the song sheet and score were sold. It also quickly became popular in Great Britain and even today remains a favourite of British brass bands. It is likewise very well known among those who enjoy American 'bluegrass' music. I note that the song appears to be variously titled "Grandfather's Clock" and "My Grandfather's Clock" but the former appears to be the more correct title.

The words and score of
"My Grandfather's Clock" as
printed on my miniature clock
[From my own collection]

The song, which is told from the perspective of the grandson, is based on his Grandfather's clock :

"The clock is purchased on the morning of his grandfather's birth and works perfectly for ninety years, requiring only that it be wound at the end of each week. The clock rings 24 chimes when the grandfather brings his bride into his house; and before the grandfather dies, it rings an eerie alarm; the family recognizes that the grandfather is near death and gathers by his bed. When the grandfather dies, the clock suddenly stops, and never works again."

 A cylinder Phonograph recording 
of "Grandfather's Clock"
by the Edison Quartet, 1905  

Henry Work is also credited with the term "Grandfather clock" now being used to describe a longcase clock, such a term having not been known until after 1876. One would also believe that, evidenced by the score appearing on my miniature "Grandfather Clock", that the song definitely proved a great hit in Scotland. And what better way to generate sales than to successfully combine this by now well known song and a miniature Grandfather clock? In a roundabout way, while the original Grandfather clock in the George Hotel inspired the song, the song then most likely inspired the miniature 'Mauchline' black lacquer ware Grandfather clock in my possession.

Some really great instrumental 'Bluegrass' 
versions of "Grandfather's Clock"

Henry Clay Worth is probably still best known for his rousing American Civil War era song "Marching Through Georgia" but composed many other well known melodies and songs which remain very popular today.

Bibliography :

- Wikipedia
- The George Hotel, Piercebridge

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