Time for Edith and Thomas

Edith Gihnnyl is interesting in that she has a unique physical location in King’s Lynn. And her story has been known to feature in the tales narrated by Town Guides hoping to generate interest in their fellow travellers. And yet, although she is part of Lynn’s mythology, like many myths, she doesn’t actually exist, and never did.

A Gunsmith and Clockmaker

Edith’s story starts with a man who knew a lot about making metal things that worked precisely. And before I come back to Edith, I need to tell you a bit about that man, Thomas.

Thomas Tue was a local man who was born (probably in King’s Lynn) in November 1613. A now extinct inscription in St Margaret’s in Lynn recorded that Thomas ” … was twice church warden of this parish … he departed November 1710 aged 98 years and 9 days”.

Thomas had a long life and he started his working career as a gunsmith, though he becomes more well-known as a clock maker. One can imagine him beginning his seven year apprenticeship to a gunsmith at the age of 14, and being free of his master by 1634. Webster argues that he probably started clock making as a promising sideline when demand for domestic and public clocks grew during the Seventeenth Century.

Tue was not the only clockmaker in the town. There are at least four others making lantern style clocks in the records for this period. But Tue also produced three clocks for two of the town’s important buildings – two for St Margaret’s, and one for St James’s.

We can assume that Thomas was working in the town throughout the period of the English Civil War, and that he was in the town during the time of the Siege of King’s Lynn in 1643. Assuming he continued making guns during this period it may help explain his wealth. In addition to his own house we know from his will that he owned nine other properties (with other unspecified dwellings). It could explain how he could afford to give three clocks to the town in one year ” … at his own cost and charge”.

Three Clocks

St James’s Chapel used to stand on the site where the London Road Methodist Church and Car Park is now situated – between the Children’s Nursery in St James’s Park and the top of The Walks. The original St James’s Chapel was built in the Twelveth Century, but the remains of the chapel had been later used to build a Town Workhouse. It was on the front of this workhouse that one of Tue’s clocks was placed in 1682.

The workhouse tower where the clock was mounted collapsed in 1854 and tragically killed a local clockmaker (Mr Andrews) who had come to investigate why the clock had stopped working. A workhouse inmate was also killed as he failed to get out of bed in response to noises from the cracking tower. Sadly Tue’s clock was destroyed as well.

The other two Tue public clocks had been given to St Margaret’s in 1681. One of them had both an hour and minute hand (the latest technology) and was placed at the east end of the nave facing west. The other, a Moon Dial Clock was placed on the south west tower. Unfortunately there was a major storm on 8th September 1741. The spire on the south west tower crashed into the nave destroying the lantern (and nave). The main clock was lost and the Moon Clock was damaged. The Moon Clock was poorly maintained after that and fell into disuse.

Reading The Moon

The Moon Clock on the south west tower today is a Twentieth Century partial reconstruction of the original that was made under the direction of the architect, Colin Shewring. The blue disc is the only part of the original 1681 clock that has survived. It is a fascinating reminder of the early technology that sailors used.

Reconstruction of Thomas Tue’s Moon Clock, St Margaret’s, King’s Lynn
Photo © James Rye 2021

The Green Dragon’s Tongue shows the time of the next high tide on the River Great Ouse. (For an explanation of the dragon with a cross coming out of its mouth on the clock, and on why King’s Lynn has dragons with crosses as part of it’s official insignia, see The Sinner and The Dragon.)

The letters in ‘LYNN HIGH TIDE’ are arranged on the even hours, two hours apart starting with the ‘L’ at 12 o’clock (reading clcokwise).

A mechanism also controls the moon that revolves eccentrically behind a hole and indicates, by its position, the lunar phases. The copper disc rotates once every lunar month (approximately 29.5 days).

On Tue’s original clock there would have been an outer rim and a pointer indicating the days of the lunar month. There was also a rim inscribed with the 24 hours of the day to enable the viewer to see the time.

The Return of Edith

If you read the moon clock in an anti-clockwise direction, starting at 11, you get the name Edith Gihnnyl. If you look at Edith Gihnnyl backwards (or if you read the moon dial correctly starting at 12 and moving clockwise) you get the phrase “Lynn High Tide”. The function of the Moon Clock was to give the time of the high tide. It was high enough on the church tower for the sailors in the port of King’s Lynn to see it.

Edith doesn’t exist. She is a tease for those seeking to explain the clock to admirers. Thomas Tue did exist. He was a clever man and must have taught himself a lot about astronomy and circular geometry.

© James Rye 2021

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