Historian Tracy Borman on her grandmother’s antique mantel clock

The historian and chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces discusses her treasured antiques

A portrait of Tracy Borman beside her grandmother's antique mantel clock

This clock was presented to my maternal grandmother on the occasion of her wedding in 1938. My family is from Lincoln and my grandparents met working at a local engineering firm called Robey’s. The company presented my grandmother with the clock, which was made by Lincoln jeweller William Mansell.


It’s a lovely, romantic piece with a desperately sad tale. My grandmother died suddenly aged 37. No one knows what she died of. It’s partly why the clock is so special to me. When I think how close my mother is to my daughter, it feels strange that I never knew my grandmother.

It was made during a turbulent time. 1938 was the eve of the second world war. It must have been a time of hope for my grandparents in terms of their marriage, while the rest of the world was unsettled. I’m about to get married, so the clock has a particular relevance at the moment.

When the clock chimes, it takes me back. My grandfather married again and lived to a ripe old age. When I hear the clock, I feel like I could be back in the home he shared with his second wife. I don’t have the chimes set, though. They would drive everybody in my house crazy.

The face of the clock. A metal tag reads 'Presented to Miss Newton, on the occasion of her marriage, Oct. 1st 1938'

We’ve recently moved to an old house in New Malden, Surrey, which the clock totally suits. The house was built in 1865, when New Malden became an important railway junction. I Googled the history of the house, and Arts and Crafts artists and authors have lived here. As a writer myself, it’s lovely to feel a part of that.

I’m getting married in the Tower of London. It’s because I’m chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces and since writing my book about Thomas Cromwell, I’ve become a bit obsessed by him. He is buried in the Tower chapel. It’s a bit ghoulish but for someone who loves history, you can’t get much more historic than that.

I like to buy things with meaning. If I’ve been somewhere that’s special and I can buy something connected with it, that’s brilliant. I have a piece of stained glass from Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, which had a nearby monastery probably dissolved by Cromwell himself.

Our house is a very eclectic mix. I love antique prints, especially of old castles, and views of Venice, a city I adore. Meanwhile, my fiancé Tom likes modern things, so my old pictures hang alongside his Tracey Emin and Gilbert & George prints. It’s a bit bizarre but I think it works.

I’m a very good timekeeper. My Room 101 would be people who are late all the time. Even if I try to be fashionably late to a party, I always end up being 15 minutes early. It must be the influence of my grandmother’s clock.


Portrait: Niall McDiarmid