These mechanical clocks were intended for two main purposes: for signalling and notification (e.g. the timing of services and public events), and for modeling the solar system. The former purpose is administrative, the latter arises naturally given the scholarly interests in astronomy, science, astrology, and how these subjects integrated with the religious philosophy of the time. The astrolabe was used both by astronomers and astrologers, and it was natural to apply a clockwork drive to the rotating plate to produce a working model of the solar system.
The pendulum is a reliable time measurer because, for small arcs, the time required for a complete swing (period) depends only on the length of the pendulum and is almost independent of the extent of the arc. The length of a pendulum with a period of one second is about 39 inches (990 mm), and an increase in length of 0.001 inch (0.025 mm) will make the clock lose about one second per day. Altering the length of a pendulum is therefore a sensitive means of regulation. The alteration is usually carried out by allowing the bob to rest upon a nut that can be screwed up or down the pendulum rod.
A clock mechanism may be used to control a device according to time, e.g. a central heating system, a VCR, or a time bomb (see: digital counter). Such mechanisms are usually called timers. Clock mechanisms are also used to drive devices such as solar trackers and astronomical telescopes, which have to turn at accurately controlled speeds to counteract the rotation of the Earth.
Besides the Chinese astronomical clock of Su Song in 1088 mentioned above, in Europe there were the clocks constructed by Richard of Wallingford in St Albans by 1336, and by Giovanni de Dondi in Padua from 1348 to 1364. They no longer exist, but detailed descriptions of their design and construction survive, and modern reproductions have been made. They illustrate how quickly the theory of the mechanical clock had been translated into practical constructions, and also that one of the many impulses to their development had been the desire of astronomers to investigate celestial phenomena.
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