Page:Hopkinson Smith--In Dickens's London.djvu/37

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turn to the coffee-room she caught my scrutinising glance. "Only a few of them left in the Borough or anywhere else. You see in the old days the government put a wicked tax on clocks, so high that the people refused to pay, and these old timepieces were put up in the publics so that you got your time with your mug of beer. Here is an old book will tell you about it."

I opened at the page and read that:

"In 1797 a tax was imposed upon all persons in respect of the possession and use of clocks as well as watches.…

"Although the imposition of the obnoxious tax paralyzed the Horological trades it had the effect of creating one new kind of time keeper for tavern keepers anticipating a scarcity of time keepers among individuals, who with one mind seem to have adapted a bold mural time piece for the benefit of those who visited their public rooms.

"These 'Act of Parliament' clocks as they were called, had a large dial of wood painted black with gilt figures, not covered by a glass and a trunk long enough to allow for a second pendulum."

"And it's a fine old clock, I want you to know," she continued, taking the volume from my hand; "never loses a minute. Bad thing for me if it did my first breakfast is at four o'clock in the morning for the market-men, and they'd swear awful if it was ten seconds behind time."

My own glances were not the only ones directed toward the old timepiece. Luncheon was at twelve, and the boiled mutton, boiled cabbage, and boiled potatoes—all excellent dishes—were hottest and therefore more palatable at this precise hour; a fact well known to each habitué, whose first