Turret Clock Group

Welcome to the home page of the Turret Clock Group, a specialist group within the AHS.

The Turret Clock Group (TCG) has been in existence since 1973 and has over 220 members worldwide. The group was formed by Cyril Beeson, Tom Robinson, David Nettell and Beresford Hutchinson who were four of the most knowledgeable people in the field of turret clocks.

TCG members share an interest in all turret clocks and public timekeeping, from the early beginnings in the 14th century, through flatbed industrial clocks and right up to relatively modern synchronous and master clock driven dials. The group functions to promote knowledge and interest in turret clocks and to ensure their future preservation.

Three to four meetings are held each year, and take a variety of formats in different venues. Lectures, visits to turret clocks and seminar-type meetings are held. The summer tour has always been very popular, giving members the chance to visit turret clocks in churches, towers or in private estates rarely accessible to the public.

Many enquiries are answered each year, quite a number of these coming from overseas.

Membership covers a wide spectrum, from those just starting to experienced experts. Some members are turret clock advisers in their local diocese, others are historians, restorers or professional makers and restorers.

If you are not a member but are interested in joining, or if you have a technical enquiry, please contact the AHS Office. Visitors and new members are always most welcome.

For details of future meetings, please contact the group secretary Steve Dutfield. Our meetings are friendly, relaxed, inclusive and give the opportunity to meet new friends with similar interests, exchange views, ideas, and getting help with information about a turret clock.

Membership of the Turret Clock Group is only open to members of the AHS, and you can indicate to the AHS when joining that you would also like to join this group.

The Turret Clock Group holds the premier database of turret clocks, recording all UK-made turret clocks whether located in the UK or abroad. The database was started in 1999 and currently holds records on over 6000 clocks. We are constantly adding records and seeking information on clocks that exist or used to exist in buildings, museums, or private collections. Access to the database is granted with a user name and password by application to our database manager, stating if the access is for research into clocks or to enter information on new or existing clocks.

The database can be accessed directly using this link.

Meeting report

Walking tour of the City of London, 12 October 2019

Arranged jointly with the South Eastern Section, this event attracted a wide range of people and fifty-three members and guests assembled at ‘Wren’s Lantern’, the beautiful church of St James, Garlickhythe where the two groups went their separate ways. Umbrellas were up all day, but enthusiasm was undampened.

The cage frame clock at St James’ dates from the late seventeenth century, and it has been suggested that it could be by Thomas Tompion. It has a later dead-beat escapement and other modifications. The dial, extending out from the tower, was replaced in the 1950s after bomb damage. The church itself was fortunate to escape when a 500lb bomb crashed though the roof into the floor without exploding!

The cage frame clock at St James Garlickhythe, possibly by Thomas Tompion. Photo Ian Coote.
The cage frame clock at St James Garlickhythe, possibly by Thomas Tompion. Photo Ian Coote.

A short walk brought us to St Andrew by the Wardrobe, another one of Wren’s post-conflagration churches. (The wardrobe belonged originally to Edward III in 1361 and was destroyed in the great fire.) It was severely damaged by wartime bombing and rebuilt in 1961. The clock, by John Smith of Clerkenwell, was installed in 1850. It is a plate-and-spacer design with the ornately cast plates favoured by that company. It has dead-beat escapement and is autowound. The dial is on the south side of the tower.

The highlight of the tour was St Paul’s Cathedral, Wren’s magnificent replacement. The wonderful cantilevered spiral staircase in the south-west tower led us to the triforium level, way above the heads of the general public, but still a long way below the dome. There we divided into smaller groups to climb the stairs to the clock room where Big Tom measures the time with its two-second compensated pendulum. Built by John Smith & Son of Derby in 1893, it is a descendent of the great clock at Westminster, with double 3-legged gravity escapement, but with many modifications and improvements. It drives three dials and strikes the quarters on two bells, known to our guide as ‘Ding’ and ‘Dong’. The hours are struck on a larger bell.

‘Big Tom’ in St Paul’s Cathedral, built by John Smith & Son of Derby in 1893. Photo Ian Coote.
‘Big Tom’ in St Paul’s Cathedral, built by John Smith & Son of Derby in 1893. Photo Ian Coote.

It was a privilege and a delight to be allowed access to areas normally out of bounds to the public and to explore some of the wonders of this great building.

A bit further north is a church that escaped both the fire and the bombing. St Bartholomew the Great has a glorious Norman interior, but the tower dates from the sixteenth century. It houses a posted frame clock made by John Thwaites in 1814. The space in the case, and the collection of spare pieces underneath indicate that it was originally a 3-train clock which has been cut down at some point in its history.

The posted frame clock by John Thwaites in St Bartholomew the Great. Photo Ian Coote.
The posted frame clock by John Thwaites in St Bartholomew the Great. Photo Ian Coote.

St Mary Woolnoth, close to the Bank of England, was built by Nicholas Hawksmoor after Wren’s patching up of fire damage proved inadequate. It was completed in 1727, which could be contemporary with the cage-frame clock, now displayed in the nave. The dial, now electrically driven, extends over Lombard Street.

St Margaret’s, Lothbury was our final visit, where we were generously entertained to tea and biscuits and given the freedom of the church to hold our AGM. This is another Christopher Wren building, its interior augmented by fine woodwork from other, now demolished, Wren churches. The clock is a posted frame Thwaites and Reed from 1845.

Before the AGM, James Nye gave us a short talk on the research he has been doing on the first clock to be installed at St Margaret’s, before the fire.

Along the way, we were entertained by Stewart Whillis’s organ playing at a couple of churches, and a guest, Dr Hugh Hunt, showed the modifications made to the Millennium Bridge to overcome the ‘waddle frequency’ that had turned it into the ‘wobbly bridge’.

At the group AGM, the existing committee was re-elected, with the addition of Andy Burdon as Vice-Chairman. All three current members expressed their intention to stand down next year, so a new committee will be needed in 2020. Finances are healthy, and the database has gathered many more entries during the year.

A very satisfying day was completed by an excellent meal together. Our thanks are due to Sue and Tim Hines for their hard work in organising this complex event.