Tuesday 29 October 2019

A Greenwich Turret Clock

A Greenwich Turret Clock

The church of Christ Church, now the centre of the Christchurch Forum, until the mid nineties had in the tower a mechanical clock operating on two faces.  It having stood idle for decades before the birth of the Forum, the guiding lights of that organisation decided on restoration.  A campaign resulted in enough money for the work to be undertaken. 

The result was a new clock driving two new faces by the well known firm of John Smith and Sons of Derby. Perhaps disappointingly the new clock proved to be electrically driven accompanied by striking stimulated by electronics.

However the Forum having some feeling for antiquary wished to have the old mechanism on display and during a chance meeting on a bus between Mick Hayes, councilor, and driving spirit of the Forum and myself, Mick asked me casually if I knew anything about clocks.  Having reparsed some half dozen tower clocks I said ‘yes’ and volunteered to help.  My first visit to the turret – somewhat ankle deep in pigeon droppings – convinced me that repairs were possible to the movement but arranging for the weights and wire ropes to be replaced would be very difficult.  A further difficulty would be to arrange for access for the weekly winding required.  There latter producing people to undertake this task which involves scaling ladders to reach the turret would always be a problem. 

The consequence was, as already stated, an electric version

There then shortly after appeared on my doorstep the two train movement and a massive wooden pedestal on which it sits.  A closer inspection showed the movement to have been made famous makers Thwaites and Reid of Clerkenwell in 1858.  There was of course some wear in parts.  The gear teeth (brass) were in good order.  One of the two pinions (steel) had been moved axially to present the unworn portion to their mating wheels. The only repair needed was to replace two teeth on the string rack.

The current position is that the movement is in good working order and the wooden pedestal has been tightened up in the joints and well cleaned up. A simple superstructure has been made to support the original pulleys and new wire lines fitted. Reamai ing task apart from the act of installing the whole thing are the design and making of the necessary weights and some painting.  Sadly the original bell could not be removed from the turret - not yet anyway

After installation the Forum wishes but some suitable form of striking and time indication could be assessed, using as much of the original mechanism as possible

Jack Vaughan

The original version of this article appeared in the April 1998 issue of the Greenwich Industrial History Newsletter

A few years later a new regime of the forum threw the clock out. It is understood that it was picked up by enthusiast – does anyone know where it is now?

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