A mystery solved

If asked, many Brightonians who can remember the Guinness Clock, give two completely disparate descriptions of the clock. This is due to the presence in Brighton of not one, but two Guinness Clocks in the 1950’s & 60’s. One was a type of travelling Heath-Robinson novelty clock and the other an advertising hoarding, containing a clock, on the seafront.

Guinness clock with doors closed

Battersea original 1951
The original Guinness novelty Clock was the brainchild of Guinness’s advertising manager, Martin Pick, as an exhibit for the Festival of Britain in 1951. It was designed by Lewitt Him & Co. and took Hatton Garden clockmakers, Baume & Co. five months to build with the clock being erected in Battersea Pleasure Gardens upon completion. The clock featured various characters and animals that had been used in Guinness’s advertising campaigns. The principle operating features were the Zoo Keeper under a rising umbrella, an opening whirligig on the top, the Mad Hatter catching fish from a pond below, the clock face and the front doors opening to reveal the Toucan Ballet around the Guinness time tree.

Guinness clock with doors open

Brighton replica
So popular was the attraction that various local authorities and commercial retailers requested that they could display it. As a result two mobile facsimiles were built in 1952 and these ended up at Morecambe and Southend-on-Sea. Thereafter a further eight smaller replicas were built and it was one of these that was displayed in Brighton. A more elaborate travelling version of the clock was designed and built in 1959 and again first exhibited in Battersea Pleasure Gardens. Although the clocks had been hugely successful and will remain as enduring memories for many folk, sadly the last of them was dismantled for scrap in the mid 1960’s.

Comments about this page

  • I guess I must have seen both types then Andy. I lived in Southend until 1955, and moved to Brighton in 1959. As a child, I well remember the anticipation of the clock bursting into action (I think it was) every fifteen minutes! There is a Guinness Collectors web page which describes how the different parts of the clock operated.

    By Alan Hobden (21/05/2009)
  • Hi Alan, Like yourself, the clock I remember was the one in Southend (do you also remember never-never land and the illuminations?). My pictures above were of the original clock in-situ at Battersea. I have seen pictures of the smaller travelling replicas, but the site has excelled in publishing a picture by Stefan of what I believe was the later version of the travelling clock.
    Regards Andy

    By Andy Grant (23/05/2009)
  • Hello Andy, I too remember seeing the Guinness Clock in London when on a school outing in the mid 1950s and latter at Brighton. (The clock filled me with intrigue) Like most young boys I had a curious fascination for all things mechanical, so I made plans to create my own Guinness Clock in model form. My elder sister allowed me to use her old dolls house as she no longer played with it, she also gave me a broken old cuckoo clock and so with other bits and bobs I excitedly set to work. However I soon came down to earth with a bump when my sister discovered the half finished project, pouring scorn on my endeavours, reclaiming the dolls house before any more damage could be don! She then added insult to injury by telling me The Guinness Clock was the creation of a madman who was sent that way by attempting to count all the pebbles on Brighton beach. Needless to say my model of The Guinness Clock was sadly never completed. However she did allow me to keep the old cuckoo clock. As they say what go,es round comes round , as years later I repaired the old cuckoo clock, it sold at auction in Lewes for £175 (I never told my sister).

    By Christopher Wrapson (24/05/2009)
  • Yes Andy, I do remember Never Never Land, built on the cliff(?) near the pier. I recall gnomes and witches lurking in the illuminated shrubbery! And what a pier, with its green and cream trains running the full length. Next to the pier was an amusement park with a wonderful crooked house!  Regards.

    By Alan Hobden (01/06/2009)
  • Fascinating page, thank you. I remember watching enthralled at every possible performance! Though my recollection tells me that the performance on the hour was superior in some way to the quarter hour shows. Exactly how eludes me! Not sure where I saw it either. Seem to be 3 choices ; Isle of Sheppey, Southend or Clacton. Possibly Herne Bay? Did the clocks ever visit Clacton or Herne Bay?

    By Bob (01/05/2010)
  • I am very relieved to find this page. Just browsing for an explanation of these clocks. I have a photograph of one taken in Hemel Hempstead on 3rd June 1961. It looks as though animals appeared through one door and travelled round and away through another door. We saw different designs in several different towns. Children and adults watched them for ages.

    By Betty Mills (03/06/2011)
  • Bob, there was definitely a fixed site Guinness clock at Herne Bay. I was enthralled by it and used to watch it every day as it rose out of a hole in the ground.

    By Andrew (19/01/2012)
  • I don’t know if this site is managed anymore but I have a section on my website about the Guinness Clocks and Timepiece. Go to http://www.bigginhill-history.co.uk/guinnesstime/first.htm
    [Editor: This website certainly is still managed! Thank you for this link.]

    By Tony Lewis (07/04/2016)
  • Contrary to what Andrew says, the Herne Bay clock most certainly did not rise up out of a hole in the ground. Even then the cost of such a spectacle would have been utterly prohibitive. My memories are of the “man in the box”, (the zoo keeper) who in those days I found creepy, the way he rose up, eyes peering around. Does anyone have a decent photo of the Herne Bay clock?

    By Paul (13/02/2017)
  • You may be interested in my re-creation of the Guinness Festival Clock with a personal twist: http://www.crazyclock.co.uk

    By Peter Wagner (28/11/2019)

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