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Rescuing a Turret Clock

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Before getting into watches in the late 1990s, I was into clocks, and generally, the bigger the better.  So when my neighbour forwarded me an email back in July from the Turret Clock Group of the Antiquarian Horological Society (AHS), I took note.  The email was offering AHS members the chance to buy a turret clock from the estate of deceased member's family.  But there were a few "issues", firstly it was in Kent, secondly, it had to be collected quickly from a house that was about to be demolished and thirdly, the house was totally overgrown and you'd have to fight your way through brambles etc.

Having seen a few photos of the clock in-situ, I got first dibs, so hired a van, found a friend to help me and off we went from Dorset to Kent for a busy day.  The previous owner, who died 15 years ago, was an expert carpenter and had built a wonderful mahogany frame for the clock that was housed in a conservatory on the side of the house.  But after 15 years of no maintenance, the glass roof had partially collapsed and nature was beginning to reclaim the whole property.  The first photo is my mate Pete coiling up the old steel rope:


You get the picture!  There were rats everywhere and the stink was awful, but to his right, you can see the mahogany frame and the dial with no face or hands.


We were warned that it might be impossible to get this frame out of the conservatory / house without resorting to cutting it.  In fact, once we examined it, it was clear that the previous owner was not only a kean horologist but also master carpenter and it had been made with mortise and tenon joints, etc, all of which could be dismantled.  A few photos of the clock as found:



Having removed the clock from the frame, dismantled the frame and load up the van, we headed back to Dorset.  It had taken us a good three hours to get to Kent (Orpington), at least three hours to fight our way through to the clock, dismantle it and its frame and load up the van, and another three house back to Dorset, so it was long day.  But here it is in Dorset:


The smaller of the weights weighs 35Kgms and is for the timekeeping side, while the larger one weighs 48Kgms and is for the striking side.  The bell is probably not original to this clock and, of course, nor is the bespoke mahogany frame.  As turret clocks go, this is quite a small one and probably originated in a country house that had a clock tower in an outbuilding etc.  The clock would have sat on an oak frame, possibly half way up the tower, and a series of bevel gears would be connected to the hands on the outside.

In the next photo, you'll see that the great wheel, it's barrel and arbor are missing from the left hand side of the clock; these are for the strike mechanism.  However, the previous owner had got as far as having these parts made and I was lucky enough to receive these with the clock:



I started first on the wooden frame.  The elements had resulted in black staining of the mahogany and pigeons had left their mark on it.  All the parts were sanded back to smooth wood and a couple of coats of Briwax polish rubbed into it. For the clock, it was totally dismantled, and everything except the bed put through my ultrasonic cleaner.  This brightened up the brass parts but still left a lot of surface rust on the steel parts; these were cleaned up with oil and wet'n'dry paper.  The bed surface was also rubbed down with oil and wet'n'dry paper.  I had to finish off machining the arbor in the photo above and fit it to the barrel and great wheel,  The latter also needed its click and spring fitted.

Most of my time was spent working the best route for the new steel rope and pulleys.  This was an area that the previous owner had not sorted.  The frame height determines how long the clock will run on a single wind but finding a path for the rope, pulleys and weights that didn't foul the frame, clock or winding handle was tricky.  The very bottom pulley I found on eBay and I've now sorted the timing side, but as you can see, I still have the striking side to do.

Once the clock was re-assembled and lubricated after cleaning, and the steel ropes and weights installed, it started immediately --- I kid you not.  I didn't have to make any adjustments to the pendulum or its crutch.  Of course, I have no idea about it's time keeping abilities as I've not yet installed any dial or hands :laugh:; an update for the future maybe.  






Edited by Silver Hawk
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What a wonderful story, & excellent work restoring it, Sir!

Have always had a fascination for turret clocks, in particular how the funding for many of these timepieces was raised within communities.

The degree of accuracy that can be achieved with these clocks, some almost 700 years old, is really quite remarkable.

Thanks for posting.



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2 minutes ago, Roger the Dodger said:

Great thread, Paul and what a great restoration.  :thumbsup: Is the clock going to remain on its frame, or do you have somewhere for it to go? I guess that on its frame with a fairly short drop for the weights, it won't run for very long..?

Hi Roger.  It has to stay on this frame as I don't have anywhere else to put it, although in theory, I could put the top pulley in the roof of my oak framed out building to give a much longer drop.  But frankly, these weights frighten the life out of me, they are heavy....the thought of the wire rope or a crimp breaking doesn't bear thinking about.  To date, I've wound the weight up to the level of the movement and it will run for about 3 days, so if I wound it to the top of the frame, maybe a week.

The bigger question is where to install the dial and hands.  Next summer, I'll probably have the dial mounted on the feather edge board of this current building, at head height.  The clock came with the universal joints for positioning dial and hands anywhere.

Here is a slightly more amusing video take by another friend who calls it "the clock with no hands".


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