The Church Clock

Church clock A church existed in Milton long before the Domesday Book recorded the existence of a priest in the village in 1086. The actual building of the present church of Holy Cross began in 1160 and its architecture and contents record the changes and travails of the centuries ever since.

In was deemed a great innovation to have a clock added to the church tower in 1863, and there was much debate about it. Originally, two clock faces were envisaged, one facing south as it does today, and the other facing west so that it could be visible to the whole of the village as it was then. One problem, however, came in the intransigence of the occupier of the nearby field known as “the Orchard”. The field contained two large trees which would obscure the sight of the west-facing dial. The Vestry minutes record that “the consent of the owner of the orchard in Mr Fisher’s occupation be obtained as to the removal of two trees growing therein”. In spite of appealing to him Mr Fisher would not budge and refused to have the trees removed. It was decided, therefore, to go ahead with only the south facing dial.

The clock itself was installed in the church tower by a Mr Joyce of Whitchurch at a cost of £137, eighty seven pounds being the purchase price of the clock and fifty pounds for its installation. The clock face was made from one piece of thick slate measuring four feet six inches in diameter and clamped tightly into the stonework by large iron fixings. The minute hand of the clock is two feet three inches in length.

It appears that whilst the clock was being installed a young boy by the name of Will White managed to climb the tower, presumably whilst the scaffolding was still in place. He slipped and fell and was fortunate to have only broken a leg, although for the rest of his life his shortened leg meant that he had to walk with a built-up orthopaedic shoe [patten].

Maintenance of the clock was carried out in 1891 along with major improvements to the church. A new organ, the present one, was installed in that year as was the restoration of the great east window. The clock face and hands were re-gilded. As far as is known no other work has been carried out on the clock until the present time.

The clock is a flat bed, hour strike mechanism that until now has been hand wound and driven by a weight of 250lbs. It has an eight-day cycle so that since 1863 someone has had to climb the church tower to physically wind it up once a week. This has been no task for the faint-hearted as entry to the clock chamber is accessed through a narrow trapdoor at the height of a long ladder.

Thus in 2012 it was decided to convert the clock to a self-winding mechanism. The same firm that installed the clock, Smith of Derby (incorporating J. B. Joyce & Co of Whitchurch) came to assess the possibility of the changeover. The necessary faculty (permission) was obtained from the Diocese, and the Parochial Church Council undertook to modernise the electrical facilities of the church with cabling into the tower. A generous donor in the village promised to fund the work which was carried out during the present summer. At the same time the slate clock face was repaired as it had developed a large split. The hands and numerals were re-gilded and the face repainted. A donation of £2000 from the bequest by the late Jean Wormald left to the village was granted via the Parish Council. In total the work on the clock has amounted to £11,480, a far cry from the £137 spent originally in 1863.

For the mechanically minded the operation of the clock is now worked on an independent winding unit for each train of the clock, linked by sprocket and chain to the main barrel. It has an integral epicyclic gearing arrangement for continuous operation during the winding action. The gearing of the unit allows for a much reduced need for such heavy weights to work the system. The equipment operates on a low voltage DC which means that it is inherently safer than mains driven systems. A battery pack is installed to keep the clock going through any power failures. It will still be necessary to adjust the clock twice a year when the times change, and as the clock chamber is so small an arrester unit could not be fitted so that any accumulative errors of timing will have to be occasionally manually tweaked.

Although little change seems apparent, apart from the smart re-gilded dial, the clock continues to serve as a valuable public timepiece and a major feature of our village environment. May it tick away and mark the passing hours well into the 21st century and beyond.

Malcolm Deacon