Mystery surrounds the medieval wooden knight discovered forgotten in a tower at Lincoln Cathedral
This odd-looking ‘clock Jack’, otherwise known as a Jack o’the clock, is a wooden knight three feet tall that would have struck a bell in a mechanised clock to sound the hour in times gone by. It was discovered tucked away in one of the three 80-metre tall towers at Lincoln Cathedral.
Experts are still struggling to put together the pieces of a story behind the clock Jack whose features and finer details have worn away over the hundreds of years, when it was either in use decorating a clock in the cathedral or out of sight in the tower.
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At first the strange looking knight was thought to be part of the clock in the north vestibule of the cathedral, parts of which date back to 1380, but investigation has revealed that it could have belonged to a mechanised clock across the south aisle.
Tobias Capwell, an expert at the Wallace Collection and Curator of Arms and Armour, thinks the clock Jack’s beard, rounded skirt and the shape of its one-piece back plate indicate that it dates to the mid to late 16th Century.
The cathedral, which was constructed in several phases from 1072, is famous for once being the tallest building in the world, with a central spire constructed in 1311 putting its height at 160 metres. The spire was blown down in a storm in 1549 and never rebuilt.
Fern Dawson, who is the Cathedral’s collections and engagement officer, found the wooden knight, and was completely lost as to its purpose and origin when she uncovered it hidden in the tower. “There was an air of mystery around the clock Jack when we first discovered it,” she says, “There was no identification and no one had any idea what it was.”
An image captioned ‘Clock Jack or striking man believed to be from a clock in Lincoln Cathedral’ came to light amidst cathedral publications. It referred to a sketch by Samuel Buck, an English engraver and printmaker, 1696 – 1779, which showed a mechanised clock across the south aisle at the cathedral, with three figures each holding a hammer to strike a bell.
The clock in the sketch boasts what’s been described by the experts as an ‘unusual’ centrepiece of a sorrowful Christ, with an inscription that reads, ‘The Glas doth run y’Globe doth goe. Awake from sin. Why sleep you so’. The first part of this quotation is tantalisingly obscure.
Buck’s sketch also shows a coat of arms, which they cannot identify, and along the top of the sketch there is a set of mysterious ciphers or shorthand symbols that no one has been able to translate. It said however that Buck may have been familiar with shorthand because of a possible intention to go into law before becoming an artist.
So far research into the wooden knight has thrown up more questions than answers, and still nothing is known for certain about the clock Jack itself.
The experts at the cathedral are nevertheless thrilled by the find, and Dawson says it is “an amazing discovery, allowing us, the future generation, a glimpse into a different time.”
Work continues to find and identify other undiscovered treasures and histories of Lincoln Cathedral.
The clock Jack and other unearthed objects will form part of the exhibitions in the Cathedral’s new visitor centre, which opens in 2020.
Lincoln Cathedral is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe, which towers above Lincoln, a prominent landmark for miles around. The imposing West Front incorporates the surviving part of the first Romanesque Cathedral dating from 1072. Most of the Cathedral dates from the 13th century when, inspired by the…