Thursday, 2 September 2010

Cambridge time and money

Cambridge is famous for its colleges and ancient buildings, but there is of course much more to be seen. I rather liked two examples of Victorian banks. The first is fabulously stripy: perhaps the stern lettering over the door is intended to offset the surrounding frivolity.

The second bank, for all its sturdiness, has a similarly fanciful feel with its trefoil arches and carved detail.

Today it is part of Corpus Christi College, and set into the ground floor is an intriguing piece of public art. The clock, unveiled in 2008, is the work of horologist and college alumnus John C Taylor and is extraordinary.

The 'face' is a trio of golden rings, one each for hours, minutes and seconds. Moving time forward is a sort of cyberpunk grasshopper, the chronopage or 'time eater'. (This is a deliberate tribute to John Harrison's grasshopper escapement for converting pendulum motion into rotational motion.) It moves the face and pendulum erratically, so that time does not move forward smoothly but speeds and slows: the clock is accurate only once every five minutes. On the hour, a chain falls into a wooden coffin.

As if such reminders of our mortality were not enough, engraved in the stone below the clock is mundus transit et concupiscentia eius: the world passes, and its desires with it.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Lovely. I've not been to Cambridge recently so have not seen the amazing clock - I wondered if the bank had ever been a Martin's, whose symbol was the grasshopper, but presumably not given the Harrison allusion. Stripy Foster's is an old favourite of mine.

CarolineLD said...

According to a plaque on the side, it was the London & County Bank. Foster's is amazing, isn't it: this is my first visit to Cambridge in 20 years, and it caught my eye right away.

Hels said...

Your second bank looks like a Church of Worship for the God of Money, a pillar of solidarity and morality in the difficult area of Victorian finances.

I can imagine the bank managers being the high priests behind the rood screen, removed from the gaze of normal citizens. The tellers would be the normal clergymen, handing out sound advice and the holy wafer to each customer.

Did customers lower their voices a touch, when they were inside?

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