Anvil Point lighthouse clock sells at auction for thousands over estimate

A Victorian clock which was once a key part of keeping shipping safe off Anvil Point near Swanage in Dorset, was estimated to sell at between £800 to £1,200 but its rarity meant bidders pushed the price into the thousands.

The historic timepiece eventually sold for more than £8,000 at auction house TW Gaze in Diss, Norfolk, on Thursday 16th May 2024.


The Victorian clock with its 16-second dial created a lot of interest at auction

Serious buyers queued up to bid

The clock was made in 1880 specifically for the Anvil Point lighthouse which was then under construction by the lighthouse authority Trinity House and opened the following year.

The mahogany and silvered brass eight-day wall clock appears to be quite ordinary until closer inspection shows that its second-hand dial measures time in blocks of 16 seconds.

Made by London chronometers Brockbank and Atkins, an engraved inscription on the clock reads ‘Anvil Point, One Revolution of Indicator Equals One Revolution of Apparatus’.

That was enough to have serious buyers queuing up to bid at the auction house.

It ended up as the second most expensive sale at the auction of more than 250 lots of clocks and watches, beaten only by a Rolex Oyster diver’s watch.

Back in the 1960s, the clock was sold to a private collector in Suffolk when Trinity House modernised Anvil Point lighthouse.

This time, the clock is believed to have been bought by a nautical and horological historian from the South of England for a personal collection.

The rocks and ledges around Tilly Whim caves have been a danger to shipping for centuries

Anvil Point was set up with a unique light signature of one flash every 16 seconds so that sailors would know their exact location

Mariners identify lighthouse by its signal

TW Gaze auction rooms director Elizabeth Talbot said:

“Every lighthouse has its own signature sequence and frequency of flashes so that mariners can identify a lighthouse from its signal, and for this reason lighthouse clocks often included a subsidiary dial for help with regulation.

“The subsidiary dial to this clock, which is numbered 1 through to 16, was calibrated specifically to monitor Anvil Point’s original character of making one flash of light every 16 seconds.

“Relatively few of these Brockbank and Atkins lighthouse clocks can be traced but another, made for the Belle Tout lighthouse at Beachy Head in Sussex, has found its way into the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

“Like the Anvil Point clock, it was also engraved for Belle Tout, but calibrated for one flash every 15 seconds, and marked for Brockbank, Atkins and Moore which dates it between 1885 and 1898 when watchmaker George John Moore was a partner in the firm.”


Auction room director Elizabeth Talbot has appeared regularly on Flog It and Bargain Hunt


The lighthouse clock wasn’t in the best condition, but still outshone most lots in the auction

“It attracted plenty of admirers”

Elizabeth Talbot, who has regularly appeared on the BBC’s Flog It and Bargain Hunt programmes, added:

“The clock from Anvil Point wasn’t in the best condition – the case had previously been coated in black and some areas were missed or are fading, the wood is splitting around the dial and there was some wear around the winding key hole and to the numerals VII, VIII and IX.

“The suspension spring on the pendulum is broken and while the pendulum appears to fit, there is no guarantee that it is the original.

“It attracted plenty of admirers at its original estimate of £800 to £1,200, but ultimately was sold to an anonymous online buyer via at £8,500, plus a 22 percent buyer’s premium.”


The inner workings of the clock needed to be precise to time increments of 16 seconds


The magic words ‘Anvil Point’ on the clock face sent its value soaring

Opened in the nick of time

Anvil Point lighthouse was opened by Trinity House in 1881, a year when the first Boer War began in South Africa, when the Natural History Museum opened in London and when the world’s first public building to be fully lit by electricity – the Savoy Theatre – was opened.

Anvil Point was still 80 years away from being electrified and used a multi-wick mineral oil burner set inside a 14-panel optic to produce a beam of light which could be seen from Portland Bill.

The lamp was specially designed for Anvil Point by James Douglass, the civil engineer who was knighted for his design of the Eddystone Lighthouse, and was so efficient that it was used in other major lighthouses around the world.

Its job was to guide vessels away from the Christchurch Ledge and lead them safely into the Solent – and was opened in the nick of time, as the UK endured one of its worst ever gales in October 1881.

The picturesque view back towards Durlston Castle is not quite as welcoming during winter storms

The lighthouse is now fully automated and run from Harwich, with its buildings let out as holiday cottages

Only went electric in 1960

The storm’s effects were felt across northern Europe and right around the UK’s coasts, but worst in Scotland where 189 fishermen were killed in the Eyemouth disaster on what became known as Black Friday.

An explosive fog signal was added to Anvil Point in February 1894, which in foggy weather sounded once every ten minutes, later altered to every five minutes. It was only discontinued in 1988.

During 1960, the lighthouse was modernised and electrified with a new lamp, powered by mains electricity, replacing what was by then a paraffin burner. At the same time a smaller optic replaced the original lens, which was removed and donated to the Science Museum in London.

Anvil Point Lighthouse was fully automated on 31st May 1991 and is now monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations Control Centre at Harwich, with the buildings converted into two holiday cottages.

A view of Anvil Point lighthouse from Durlston Country Park

Further information

  • More about UK’s lighthouses on the Trinity House website
  • Other antiques going under the hammer at TW Gaze

Share this story

Contact us

Do you have anything to add to this story?

We like to keep everything up-to-date, so if you know more, please help us by getting in touch.


Top stories

Most recent

Daughter of Purbeck SAS hero to lay memorial wreath in France A woman from Harman's Cross in Dorset will take part in a moving ceremony in France to mark the 80th anniversary of the worst ever massacre of SAS operatives. 10 hours ago Miracle as school pupil survives 60 foot fall from Old Harry 20 hours ago Burglar jailed after stealing from Swanage and Wareham businesses 1 day ago South Dorset election candidates to be quizzed in Swanage 2 days ago Man in Swanage has jaw broken in violent assault 3 days ago