History of the Guinness Clocks.
Please read through the history of the clocks or jump to an area below.
i. The Festival of Britain (a tonic to the nation)
ii.The Festival Clock
iii. The Guinness Animals
iv. The routine
v. After the Festival
vi. The Guinness Time Piece
vii. The end of an era
viiii. Your recollections
The Festival of Britain (a tonic to the nation).
During the summer of 1951 the gloom of the post-war Britain was dispelled temporarily with the staging of the Festival of Britain. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park a similar display of British achievements in science and technology, art and culture was staged on London's South Bank and, for the more frivolous minded, at Battersea Pleasure Gardens.
The Festival Clock.
It was in Battersea in May 1951 that the first Guinness Festival Clock began to entertain the public. This 'Crazy Clock' was Guinness's contribution to the Festival fun. It was the brainchild of the Guinness Advertising Manager, Martin Pick, who had trained as an engineer before he entered the world of advertising.
The Clock was designed by the firm of Lewitt Him and took five months for clockmakers Baume and Co Ltd. of Hatton Garden to construct. Standing 25 feet high, the Clock's internal mechanism was highly elaborate and included nine reversible electric motors and three synchronous clocks. No clock of comparable complexity had been made in England for 300 years.
This photograph was taken by my father, Henry Lewis, when he visited the Festival in 1951. People wait patiently while some minor adjustments are being made before the next performance. Every fifteen minutes the crowds were spellbound by the four and a half minute routine featuring well known characters from Guinness advertising.
The Guinness Animals.
The Guinness Festival Clock featured well known characters from Guinness advertisements which everybody knew at the time. The 'Guinness animals' were the creation of artist John Gilroy of S.H.Benson's advertising agency. He produced a series of colourful and amusing posters in which different zoo animals made off with their keeper's Guinness! (The zoo keeper was actually a caricature of Gilroy himself.)
The menagerie included a sealion (balancing a glass of Guinness on its nose), an ostrich (who had just swallowed a glass of Guinness whole), a pelican, bear, lion, tortoise, kangaroo, crocodile and even an upside-down kinkajou. The most famous of all, however, was the Guinness toucan who retained the public's affection from his debut in 1935 right up to his final retirement in 1982.
Guinness also made use of characters from Lewis Carroll's book 'Alice in Wonderland' in its advertising in the 1930s-50s. We might think it unheard of now to use characters from a children's book to advertise beer, but at the time it was quite acceptable. This explains why the Mad Hatter, with his fishing rod, appears on the Guinness Festival Clock, along with the zoo keeper, toucans and other Guinness animals.
So what did the Clock actually do? Click on 'The Routine' below to see the Guinness Festival Clock in a dormant state with an expectant crowd looking on. Position your mouse over the various elements of the Clock and 'click' to reveal what each section did. There is technical data for the item too.
After the Festival.
The original Guinness Clock proved so popular that Guinness received enquiries from a number of local authorities, department stores and exhibition promoters who all wanted to borrow it for display. This inspired the building of slightly smaller 'travelling versions' of the clock, the first two of which were ready by September 1952.
One went to Morecambe loaded on a Guinness tailer to be installed at Happy Mount Park as the main feature of the town's illuminations. It remained there until October 21st and was seen by thousands of people, young and old, as they walked through the park.
Next it appeared in the fifth floor exhibition hall of John Lewis store in Manchester where, although it had to be dismantled to negotiate the stairs and the centre well, it was back in working order within three days.
The other clock went to Southend's Western Esplanade as part of the seaside town corporation's illuminations. In all weathers and at all times people gathered to see the clock go through its routine.
From Southend it went to Park Royal, where it stayed for a short time before moving on to Berwick-on-Tweed, where it stood in front of the town hall for the Christmas festivities.
In all eight travelling Guinness Clocks and one miniature (5ft high) version were constructed, and they were seen at many other places including Paignton, Barry Island, Great Yarmouth, Folkestone, South Shields, Leamington Spa, the Isle of Sheppey, Chester, Warrington, Brighton, New Brighton, Southsea and Bristol.
The clocks toured seaside towns for seven years or more, and also made appearances at trade fairs, carnivals, agricultural shows and in department stores. One went to the USA on loan for two years, and two went to Ireland.
The Guinness Time Piece.
On June 9th 1959 another Guinness Clock appeared called the Guinness Time Piece (which also became known as the Guinness Clock). This was an even more eleborate mechanical contraption, built in three sections, weighing four tons, and mounted on the back of a trailer for easy transportation. It was designed by John Lansdell and Willy Szoomanski and manufactured by F.B.Elcom Ltd.
As with the original Guinness Clocks, every quarter of an hour brought a frenzied burst of activity from an assortment of Guinness animals and their keeper accompanied by fairground music.
In the centre a revolving stage with four set pieces showed Guinness in every season of the year and to the right in front of the caravan the ever-harassed keeper is chased by various animals from door to door. At first the keeper has the bottle of Guinness, then a few moments later, they all re-appear, now running in the other direction, with the brown bear in front with the bottle being chased by the keeper.
It was first exhibited at the Guinness Bicentenary Garden Party that summer then set off on its travels via Battersea Pleasure Gardens where it stayed for a fortnight.
Since the Clocks' mechanism could easily be affected by wind, it was necessary to have an electrician standing by. He would also be responsible for counting the visitors to the clock. One enterprising engineer occupied his spare time between performances by setting up an ice cream stall alongside! On another occasion, a child seeing one of the engineers at the back of the Clock exclaimed, "Look, there's the man who sits inside and works all the strings!"
The photo on the right is a clip from an 8mm home movie that my father took at Chessington Zoo in 1963 of the Guinness Time Piece. To see more clips and the video of the Clock in action, click below:
The end of an era.
Changing times were soon to doom these travelling mechanical wonders. Guinness no longer used the animals in its advertisments, and spare parts for the clocks became difficult to obtain. They were finally withdrawn in October 1966 and sent for scrap - a sad end to a much-loved and unique form of Guinness advertising.
There is, however, one clock still in existence - all be it a
miniature version. It is at the Guinness Museum in Dublin and it is
(At the time of writing it has been removed from display to see if it can be restored to working condition. It is due back at the beginning of December 2000)
If you would like to know more about the Festival of Britain then contact Martin Packer at the Festival of Britain Society.
I would like to thank Martin for his contribution to this website. Much of the text was taken from his article in the Feb 1999 edition of the "Best of British" magazine, copies of which can be bought for £3.00 from 01778 342814 on their order hotline.
I would also like to thank Teresa O'Donnell, the Archivist at Guinness, Dublin, for supplying photos and technical data.
This website was constructed using
If you are interested in other Exhibitions and World Fairs then go to my CHOICES page, made possible by the
This is the part where you can help to spread the word about the Guinness Clocks. Have you seen one, which clock was it, where was it, when was it and what do you remember about it? Do you have a photo of it that you want the world to see? If so then please contact me by clicking on the hyperlink below:
Julie Bell writes:
I have fond memories of the Guinness Festival Clock at Battersea from when I was a young girl. I have been trying to describe it from memory to my husband and our daughter and they did not know what on earth I was talking about. Your article is the only one I have ever seen since seeing the real thing around 1959-60!
I remember very well the spinning golden sun and the zodiac clock, well all of it really and those lovely touchans and fish. I would not allow my mum to go home! Mum would get tired and all I kept saying was "Let us wait once more and see it again". Even when I got home I could not rest until I went back - such fun! I can't remember the music that went with it.
(Does anybody know? Please email me above if you can remember. Tony.)
Alan Edwards writes:
I cannot say for sure that this one was at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppy, because I cannot find the negative now. I vividly remember standing waiting for the hands of the clock to come round to the next quarter of an hour to see all the animations moving, then after it had finished, saying that we would wait and see it for just one more time. After our visit to the place where the clock was we would make sure that we walked the same way back to the railway station so that we could see the clock again
My Wife can recall seeing one of the clocks while on a family holiday in Ryde on the Isle of Wight in the 1950's or 60's.
It is one of those cherished childhood memories, and we wished that we had taken just one more picture.
Thanks for an unusual and interesting website.
(Thank you Alan for sending the photograph. Does anybody know where this is? Tony.)
Jerry Franks writes:
I first saw the Guinness Clock on the seafront at Deal in Kent back in the early 1960s when I was about 8. I particularly remember the fish and the 'hopping' toucans. But my greatest memory is of the poor technician who seemed to have to carry out major repairs after every performance. I guess that the clock was quite old by then and required a great deal of maintenance, but the ingenuity of it impressed me greatly.
I have a vague memory of seeing another version a year later which was smaller, of the same general layout but which seemed to work better. This may however be a figment of my imagination.
Graham Cash Writes:
My recollections as a child - Living at Elm Park in Essex, the big day out was to catch the Underground to Upminster then the steam train to Southend (Get off at Chalkwell and walk as the cheap day return was less expensive). See the carnival (Who remembers the big black trains in the procession with pretty coloured lights? I recall that the large one had the name Kursaal Flyer and the baby one was ????.) They looked their best in the torch light procession. They had the carnival 3 times in a week I think.
The other entertainment was Never Never Land, Peter Pan's playground, a ride on a pier train and of course the Guinness Clock every 15 mins. Let's go back again! I recall seeing both the original small clock with the fish being caught (and being disappointed when the doors didn't open) and also the larger Timepiece with the bottle of beer changing hands from the zoo keeper and then coming back in the bear's arms.
These clocks were both at the entrance to Peter Pan's playground, where the loos are now.
Sadly I do not have a picture. Do you?
(Does anyone have a picture? Please Email me. Tony.)
Gillian Halton Writes:
Everything is a bit sketchy now- I was very young at the time. I just remember we had missed the first few seconds of the clock's routine and I made a nuisance of myself because I wanted to wait until it started again, or go back for the next routine, to see what I'd missed. I remember "twirly bits" and what I think was a large toucan which I thought was somewhere near the top and I couldn't understand why people that make "beer" would also make clocks. My Grandad used to take me for days out so maybe, like you, it was at a zoo. I know he took me to Belle Vue and Dudley but that's about it.