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Turning back time – mysterious object found at Lincoln Cathedral

A 400-year-old mysterious object has been discovered at Lincoln Cathedral during an audit of the landmark’s extensive collections.

The ‘Clock Jack’, which was hidden in one of the towers, is a wooden knight approximately three ft tall believed to have once been a part of a clock at the Cathedral.

Records suggest that the Clock Jack was connected to the now restored clock in the north vestibule of the Cathedral and the oldest part of that clock, the canopy, is reported to be from before 1380, making it around 600 years old. It is unclear whether elements of this earlier clock were reused or the style was copied again for the later clock.

Fern Dawson, collections and engagement officer at Lincoln Cathedral, found the artefact during a collections audit undertaken as part of the Heritage Lottery-funded Lincoln Cathedral Connected project.

Fern said:

“There was an air of mystery around the Clock Jack when we first discovered it – there was no identification and no one had any idea what it was.”

After reading a number of Cathedral publications, Fern stumbled upon an image captioned, ‘Clock Jack or striking man believed to be from a clock in Lincoln Cathedral’, with a reference to a sketch by Samuel Buck (1696 – 17 August 1779), an English engraver and printmaker.

Searching through the online archives in Oxford’s famous Bodleian Library, the sketch was found. The sketch illustrated an animated clock that sat across the south aisle of the Cathedral. The clock featured an unusual central feature of a sorrowful Christ with an inscription that read, ‘The Glas doth run y’Globe doth goe. Awake from sin. Why sleep you so’. The image also depicted a coat of arms, which has yet to be identified.

Fern continued:

“This is an incredibly exciting find. While I originally thought it was possible the Clock Jack could have been a part of the earlier clock, it has been suggested by the Wallace Collection’s Curator of Arms and Armour, Tobias Capwell that ‘stylistic particulars’ – including the Clock Jack’s beard, rounded skirt and basic shape of the solid, one-piece back plate – point to a mid-late sixteenth-century date.

“Further adding to the mystery are symbols which appear to be a form of short hand on the top right-hand corner of the sketch by Samuel Buck. These markings have yet to be identified. 

“The Clock Jack is an amazing discovery, allowing us, the future generation, a glimpse into a different time.”

Work continues as part of the ongoing Lincoln Cathedral Connected project to identify other undiscovered treasures and histories of Lincoln Cathedral. These unearthed treasures will form part of the exhibitions in the Cathedral’s new visitor centre which opens in 2020.


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