St Lawrence Church Clock

David James produced an article about the church clock for the Friends of St Lawrence Church Autumn 2017 Newsletter. 

This shorter 'website' version appears with the kind permission of the Friends of St Lawrence Committee. *

Clock History

The clock is of particular interest because it is one of a small group of one handed church tower clocks still in use in this country. The design of the movement, situated inside the tower (image below), is typical of the second half of the 18th C. The single hour hand on the dial is secured to a shaft that runs through the tower wall and into the tower, where it joins the mechanism.

The original purpose of tower, or turret clocks as they are often called, was to strike the hours on a bell in the tower. That was their most important function in spite of the later idea of supplying them with outside dials. A good example of this is the oldest working medieval clock in this country, nearby in Salisbury Cathedral which dates from 1386 or possibly even earlier. 

Officially described as a four-post Birdcage single dial hour striking clock, the St Lawrence church clock could possibly be the work of George Hewitt of Marlborough who was a resourceful and talented clock maker of that period. [2] 

Unfortunately there is no record of either the clock's purchase or date of installation and neither does it have a maker's mark on the mechanism. What historians and horologists have done over the past 100 years or so is to look for similar clocks to provide some idea of dating and who might possibly have been the benefactor [Ref 1]. The dial is not necessarily a true indicator of the clock's age because it is subject to the elements and therefore requires fairly frequent re-paintings which can also include renewal of the face materials.  

In his article [Ref 1] Nixseaman includes a photograph of St Lawrence Church clock dial taken in 1955 (image right). He points out that the dial was placed there in 1907. Being made of teak wood 3ft square it was probably a replacement of an earlier dial of wood. It had been regilded as a Coronation effort in 1953 when also the face of the clock was covered in a sheet of aluminium before it was painted black and the figures, hand and 4 signs of the zodiac gilded. The zodiac signs were the Ram, the Crab, the Balance and the Goat meant to represent the 4 seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter.

So with the dial rarely giving an indication of the clock's age, where does that put St Lawrence clock? Until 1998 the clock mechanism was used to strike the hours on a bell dating from 1767 made by a Robert Wells, Senior, at a Foundry in Aldbourne near Ramsey in Wiltshire, with the names of two Churchwardens Blake and Randell, inscribed on it. This was one of two bells in the tower at that time, the other dating from 1594. When a peel of 6 bells was installed in 1998, to commemorate the millennium, the 1767 bell was removed and is now hanging in St Peter's Church tower, Langley Burrell, Wiltshire.

On the evidence of the 1767 bell and the fact that George Hewitt made a similar clock for Great Bedwyn in 1769 [Ref 1] it is possible that there was a link to the great 18thC Prime Minister, the Earl of Chatham, who was the grandson of Thomas Pitt, a big benefactor of St Lawrence Church, who lived opposite in Mawarden Court. The Earl happened to resign as Prime Minister in 1767 and Nixseaman believed the clock may have been installed to mark that occasion.

The black and gold dial (image leftwas last renewed in 1992 using a 152cm (5ft) diameter convex circle of fibreglass mounted on a plywood backboard within a softwood frame [Ref 3].
In place of the 4 signs of the zodiac is the date AD I767, inserted to represent what was believed at that time to be the clock's installation date.

There is however one other piece of evidence that suggests there was a clock at St Lawrence before that date. The St Lawrence Church records of 1750 contain a bill from a Robert Wentworth for mending and cleaning the Church Clock at Stratford at a cost of 12 shillings. The records also have an entry for 1776 showing that 15 shillings had been spent for work on a dial.

References:

[1] Nixseaman, Rev A J., 'A Church Clock with one hand'. The Salisbury Times 28th October 1955.

{2] Parker, Cmdr M., 'The Tower Clock of St Lawrence Church'. The Friends of St Lawrence Newsletter No 3, Spring 2005.

[3] NADFAS 'Record of St Lawrence Church Furnishings'. Compiled by the Sarum Group 1992-3.

David James

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* From the website Editorial Team:

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