St Mary’s Pulford Church Clock

For approaching 140 years our community has lived every day to the sound of the church clock striking gracefully each hour as a reminder that time waits for no one. Consider however, the intricacies of what we may take for granted and perhaps question how our old clock dating from 1883 goes about its days’ work in an old fashioned traditional and mechanical way. There are times when our clock gets ahead of itself and indeed behind in time, but seldom does it stop save for reasons which may be explained if you have a moment to spare.

As a clock from a forgotten age, we should appreciate its longevity and resilience over generations, wars, pestilence and of course a fire in 1991 which destroyed its spire. As such, there are occasions when its regular hourly striking from the tenor bell ( 1903 ) above stops, this thankfully infrequent and most likely due to the annual service by its manufacturer, J B Joyce of Whitchurch, in late February or early March and twice yearly in the Spring and Fall when adjusted by an hour to reflect Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). It is of course accepted once in a while that our devoted duo, who make the weekly precarious climb up the ringing tower and beyond become indisposed resulting in silence but fair to say this does not happen too often and not for long! You may enquire why in these modern digital times consideration has not been given to an electrically operated mechanism so as to dispense with manual labour, in the interests of health and safety, and not least lapses of human error. In the defence of our old clock, such measures would be costly and not necessarily as efficient as one may expect in light of power failure etc. In essence it may be argued that the old and trusted ways are still the best and what has served its community for so long is tried and tested i.e. if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

You may wish to know a little more of how the clock actual works but there again too much detail can be a bore so in a nutshell the following summary will explain. Our beloved clock, like us all requires the storage of energy to work and go about its daily chores. To achieve this quickly the winding mechanism, a large heavy handle reminiscent of a starting handle on old cars is turned to wind the ‘striking and going mechanisms’ usual a total of 65 turns for each per weekly visit to ensure continuity and peace of mind.

To be a tad more technical, the requirement of any mechanical clock is to store power quickly by either a weight on a spring for say 60 seconds or so and for that power to be released at a steady and consistent rate usually over an 8 day period. This release of power is governed by a pendulum which is part of the escapement. A long pendulum swings on beats at a slower rate than a short one. A pendulum which is 1 meter long will beat at a rate of 1 beat per second. Our clock has a pendulum which is longer than this and beats at 1 beat every 1.25 seconds. The pendulum weighs some 1.5 hundredweight or in ‘new money’ 75 kg, metric.

As a mechanical device made of countless moving metallic parts it will not come as a surprise that climatic conditions play an important part in the accuracy of the time on display and emitted to all on the hourly strike. The pendulum expands and contracts with temperature change (summer/winter). This is partly offset by the pendulum rod being compensated by the use of weights (washers) added or removed to effectively regulate the length of the pendulum adjusting the time to slow down or increase the speed of the clock and needed to achieve a consistently accurate time.

As a simple example of this, if a weight could be added to the CENTRE of the pendulum bob it would make no difference to the length of the pendulum. But any weight added ABOVE the centre has the effect of shortening the pendulum and making it swing faster and so speeding up the time! So adding more weights higher up the pendulum increases the swing and the opposite applies by removing weights to slow down the swing. Not rocket science but a simple method of gauging temperature and knowing your washers.

Time checks are taken from GMT usually Radio 4 hourly news ‘pips’ weekly or fortnightly though a sudden change in temperature may have a dramatic effect on the clocks accuracy. We are blessed in having not only a beautiful an historic church dating from the 1880’s, a distinctive local landmark in its own right designed by the renowned architect John Douglas of Chester but this complimented by our beautiful clock, the work of the aforementioned master Clockmakers. A joy to behold!

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