Clock damaged by a German shell

Teaching ideas

Show the image of the Hartlepool clock from For the classroom, but with the right hand side obscured. Tell students that this is in a museum and ask why it may have been preserved there. Discuss the historical value of keeping what may seem to be everyday objects, before saying that there is something special about this clock: reveal the full image. What seems to have happened to it? Tell them that the rusty area on the right is not just a hole: something is stuck into the clock face. What would it take to embed metal in the clock in that way? Does the damage make it easier or harder to explain why it has been preserved in a museum? Finally tell the story of the clock and of the German bombardment of the north east coast.

Once the students know about the bombardment, you could return to the image of the clock and tell them that some websites say the bombardment started at 8.10am. What do they think of this claim? Are the websites wrong? Is there any other possible explanation? While the clock could have been slow, there are newspaper accounts from the time that state clearly that the bombardment started at 8.05am. Complicate matters further by showing the Jeremy Paxman BBC video clip about the bombardment in which he shows the clock hands pointing at 8.03am. Then tell them that the Museum of Hartlepool has a note that the hands were originally at 08.24! Ask what a historian is to do in these circumstances.

As a way of getting students to think about a long chronological sweep of history, you could show the clock and reveal its story. Make the point that this was, for Britain, a sign that being an island was not enough to protect them from a new sort of long range warfare. This was a turning point in Britain’s history of warfare. Invite the class to think back through what they know of human history from earliest times and to come up with a shortlist of other such turning points in warfare. With prompting and some time for web-based research they may suggest the use of wheeled vehicles, bows and arrows for long range killing, gunpowder, stirrups for cavalry, the Gatling gun, as well as nuclear weapons and recent projects that propose to put weapons in space.

After students know about the bombardment and the story of the clock discuss with them why it has such power as an image. Select two or three of the photos of the bombardment in For the classroom and discuss them with the students. Then challenge them to select just three more images from the fifty that they think have a special power. What can they conclude about the power of images to capture moments in history?

The Hartlepool clock could play a useful role in any of the following three enquiries.

How much did the First World War change the lives of women in Britain?

After starting with the first activity above, show the Jeremy Paxman BBC clip about Hartlepool and his interview with Violet Muers who lived through it. At the end, pick up on the suggestion that civilians knew they could be in mortal danger in this war. They were to become participants and although Violet Muers was too young to be directly involved, women in particular found themselves playing an active part. Some say their contribution in the war years changed the lives of women such as Violet who lived until 2013. From this starting point the enquiry can follow the structure provided in the materials below. The two BBC video clips about Chilwell shell factory and about women’s working lives that can be found in For the classroom will support the second section of the enquiry which asks ‘How far did the war change the lives of women?’

Structured enquiry and supporting resources for teaching about women and the First World War; it is necessary to register online before accessing the resources.


How did the experience of war affect civilians in Britain, 1914-18?

Start the enquiry with the first activity above. Then tell the students that the impact of the shell on the clock face can be used as a symbol of the impact of the World War I on life in Britain between 1914 and 1918. Place a picture of the clock at the centre of a large display board and tell them that their first challenge is to use a range of pictures and extracts from documents to create an overview of ways in which the war had an impact on civilians’ lives. They must work in pairs to produce A4 sheets with an image or an extract from a document together with some explanatory text about at least one example of the impact of the war. To support this activity, download a suitable range of images from A bigger picture and For the classroom as well as extracts from documents available from links in For the classroom. Divide the class into pairs and issue each one with an image or extract. They must infer from their source how the war was changing life in Britain and write a brief summary of their ideas and then pin both to the display board, surrounding the clock. Having created this overview, the rest of the enquiry can look in depth at each of the four aspects set out in the National Archives web page below. The videos and web links in For the classroom will enhance the resources provided on the National Archives site.

National Archives education home page that provides a useful structure and some resources for a study of the impact of the war on British society


How did First World War Zeppelin raids affect British civilians?

The bombardment from the sea was not the only attack on Hartlepool in the First World War. In a sign of the rapid development of technology, between August 1916 and March 1918 the town was attacked three times by airships. This could be the focus of a short enquiry. It would start with the first activity above about the clock to establish the fact that civilians could come under attack from the sea but then move quickly to use images from the Hartlepool Borough Council website below to show how that threat developed with the Zeppelin attacks. The rest of the enquiry can follow the structure and use the resources available on the National Archives web page below.

Web page from Hartlepool Borough Council exploring the Zeppelin attacks on Hartlepool later in the war.


National Archives resources and structure for an enquiry on the impact of Zeppelin air raids on Britain.


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Clock damaged by a German shell