Grandfather's Clock - the story behind the song
In Piercebridge, England in north Yorkshire there was an old hotel called the George Hotel.
The place was a rest stop for weary travelers and was run by two brothers, last name of Jenkins. In the lobby of the hotel was an old upright clock. The clock always kept perfect time until one of the old Jenkins brothers died. Gradually the clock started losing time, first a minute or so every few days, then a minute a day, then several minutes a day. Clockmakers were called in to repair the clock, but no matter what their level of expertise, it seemed nothing could be done.
One day shortly after the second old man Jenkins passed away in his ninetieth year, the old clock quit running completely. It never ran again.
Attempts to fix the clock by the new owner of the George Hotel failed. But the clock, having become somewhat of a mysterious landmark in the hotel, was left to stand in the corner of the lobby - dusted and polished, but silent.
Sometime during the 1870's, a man, a songwriter from the States came to stay at the George Hotel. He was told the story of the Jenkins brothers and the old clock. It inspired him. When he got back to the States he wrote a tune about the clock and its story, but to personalize the lyrics somewhat he decided to write about one old man and visualized that old man as his own grandfather. The tune was named "My Grandfather's Clock." Henry Clay Work had already gained much success in the United States during the Civil War for several tunes he penned - Kingdom Coming and Marching Through Georgia among them.
The tune My Grandfather's Clock became very well known, but perhaps more well known than even the tune is name for that type of clock. Before Henry Clay Work named the tall standing clock in his song Grandfather's Clock, those types of clocks were known as case clocks, coffin clocks, standing clocks, upright clock, long clocks, etc. It was only after the tune was written that they became known as Grandfather Clocks.
Henry Clay Work was born in Middletown, Connecticut on October 1, 1832. During his life he wrote many popular American tunes but seems to have reached his peak during the Civil War period of the United States. Among his tunes are "Marching Through Georgia" and the nineteenth century hit, "The Ship That Never Returned." This tune inspired a re-working of the lyrics in "The Train That Never Returned," which inspired the tune "The Wreck of the Old '97." "The Wreck of the Old '97" is ever popular among fiddlers. The Kingston Trio borrowed the tune by Work and added a melodic bridge in a further re-working of the original idea of "The Ship That Never Returned" which was called "The MTA Song." This song tells the story of Charley who rides a non-stop subway and just keeps on going round and round the system.