1797: King's Head Cuckfield 'Tavern Clock' - Penny for the time please

Cuckfield’s King’s Head had a fine ‘Act of Parliament Clock’ (or ‘Tavern Clock’) in the saloon bar. The clock name derives from 1797 when Prime Minister William Pitt imposed an Act of Parliament to levy five shillings on every clock and watch. This was urgently introduced to help fund the war against the French.

King's Head Clock, photo Malcolm Davison.

To avoid paying, people sold their personal timepieces and clocks and relied instead on communal clocks. This tax proved to be extremely unpopular with both clockmakers and clock owners and was repealed within nine months.


Landlords were happy to provide this service to attract new business.


The King’s Head clock was made in this year by Walter Smith who had a shop in Cuckfield from between 1773 and 1813. It can now be seen displayed in the Queens Hall. The clocks always had large unglazed faces so they could be seen from a distance without glass distortion or reflections. This enabled coachmen to keep to their strict schedules - without entering the tavern.


Customers of the nearby Talbot Inn were charged a penny a time by successive landlords of the nearby King’s Head to check the time or to synchronise their fob watches. The Talbot eventually got their own clock for this purpose.


Cuckfield clockmaker Hubert Bates gives us an insight into the prices that Daniel Dench, one of the landlords of the King’s Head was charging his guests:


The Georgian days were days (and nights) of eating and drinking, especially drinking, and host Dench put on the table at the old King's Head. His accounts of one such in 1812 show: 23 dinners, £3 9s; beer and porter, 10s; negus*, £1 3s; punch, £5; tobacco, 5s; waiter, 10s; boots and servants, 6s; chambermaid, 2s. 6d.


* a hot drink of port, sugar, lemon and spice


Sources: ‘West Sussex Inns’ by Brigid Chapman 1988

Herbert Bates diary


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.