By NEWHALL DAVIS
IFROM earliest days man seems to have felt the need for some means of measuring time, and there are those who tell us that the gigantic artificial mound of Silbury Hill, on the Bath Road. was originally raised, some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, to show by its shadow both the hour of the day and, by a little calculation, the day, week, and month of the season.
Generally, time was measured by the ancients by dividing the day and night into twelve hours, each measured by sundials, sand-actuated clocks and clepsydra, or water clocks. The stars were the time keepers for night before any mechanical means of measurement were invented. On starless nights, under shelter, the passing of time could be recorded roughly by the time of burning of a candle of mutton fat with a rush wick.
The water clocks measured time by the dripping or flow of water, and one of their more ingenious uses was to determine the duration of speeches, for orators were each allotted a certain time if a number of others were to speak on the same occasion.
Some of these water clocks were of beautiful design, the most popular being provided with a Cupid to mark the time with his arrows on the column of the clock, whilst a second Cupid, weeping copiously for so little a fellow, kept the clock supplied with sufficient water.
This water was, of course, the motive power. From Cupid's eyes or other source it flowed into a wheel-trough which it filled in a certain time. When full, this trough turned over, actuating the mechanism, and another trough came immediately into place.
360 Days The wheel revolved, as a general thing, in six days, and, by a series of pinions and wheels, the movements were communicated to the pillar on which time was marked for 360 days, or, with other gearing, for 24 hours only.
In pre-Reformation monasteries, priories and abbeys, time was generally kept by the repeating of paternosters by the monk on duty for that purpose. Such was the constant devotion shown during that period that a monk, constantly repeating psalms or prayers for the dead and the living, associated the idea of numbers of prayers with the passing of time, and whenever asked could always give, with extreme accuracy, the quarter, half, or hour, together with the number of the hour.
Followed later the introduction of weight and of spring-operated clocks, which, in spite of the fact that many of the specimens extant date from early medieval period, cannot be regarded, for the purpose of this article, as early timekeepers.