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Church History
The Church Clock and Bell

by Tony Horton
edited by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons
July 2015

Having fallen into a state of disrepair, the clock at St Peter's Church, Stonnall, was fully renovated in 2008. It now keeps good time and strikes the hours accurately.

Two of us who were involved in its restoration, myself and Chris Hollingsworth, became curious as to the age of the clock. There is a maker's name inscribed on a brass dial, but there is no date. We wanted to answer these questions: does the clock date from when the church was built in 1823 or shortly thereafter, or did it replace an earlier mechanism?

St Peter's Chapel of Ease, Stonnall
St Peter's Chapel of Ease in about 1830. It did not have a clock.

In order to satisfy our curiosity, Chris and I visited the public records office in Stafford to look at the early St Peter's Church accounts archive.

We found that a clock, characterised as a replacement, had been purchased from W F Evans & Son of Birmingham in 1895, for the sum of £46 (probably several thousand pounds in today's values). The supplier's name matches that inscribed on the church clock which, according to information obtained from the Antiquarian Horological Society, is of a type typical for this period for turret clocks. These were so-named because they were mounted in towers of monasteries, churches, country houses, etc and were sufficiently powerful to strike a bell.

St Peters Church in about 1890
St Peters Church in about 1890 with its original clock. The clock face did not have a background

They became adopted as public clocks (the most famous one being at the Palace of Westminster) and were initially set locally from a sun dial telling local time, which varied across the country. This method of setting the time dates back to the 12th century. For most people, this was the only way to tell the time until the late 17th century when pocket watches and wrist watches became available. With the introduction of the railway system and associated timetables, in the mid-1800s a common time was needed. This led to Greenwich Mean Time becoming the national standard in 1880.

The church in about 1965
The church in about 1965, with its familiar clock face and white background.

Looking further back into the archives, we found that the first record of anything associated with an earlier clock was that of a payment made in 1854 of £1/1s/0d (1 guinea) to a Mr Langley for attending the clock. Subsequent payments were made to him and others over the following years, but no details of this earlier clock were found. Fortunately, we have a photo of this clock's face and it is clearly different from that of the 1895 replacement.

The single bell mounted in our church tower is served by the clock's bell hammer to strike the hours, although in the past it was also used as a toll bell, actuated by a bell rope that drops down as far as the church porch. The church archives show that a replacement bell rope was purchased almost every year. The reason for this became apparent when reading an early account of the Sexton's duties. One such duty required him to toll the bell for a full half hour before the start of every church service!

Whitechapel Bell Foundry
The bell was cast in this foundry in Whitechapel, London, in 1823.
Source: Whitechapelbellfoundry" by Grim23 at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

There is a legend cast into the bell which reads T MEARS LONDON 1823 FECIT, showing that it was manufactured in 1823 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The company was founded in 1570 and operates to the present day. The Mears family was involved in it between about 1780 and 1870. The foundry was the maker of several famous bells, including Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.

Tony with the clock and bell mechanisms
Tony attending to the church bell and the clock mechanism.
The clock and the striker are actuated by gravity.
Winding consists of raising two sets of weights manually.

Our curiosity satisfied, we were perhaps equally rewarded by the insight we had into the life and times of some of the people who were involved with St Peter's Church in the past.



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© Tony Horton 2015

Design, image editing and programming are the work of the editor.

If you have any information, suggestions and/or photographs relating to the subject matter, no matter how trivial, please contact the author by one of the methods shown below.

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