The Town Clock at St Mary’s Church, Totnes

article by Robert Seymour, current Clock Keeper, May 1st 2015

THE TOWN CLOCK was installed in the tower of St Mary’s Church to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887, and was and is housed in the bell ringing chamber.
clockcabinet2This clock replaced the original clock by Phillip Brockendon.
[photo: the clock cabinet]

The Phillip Brockendon clock was ordered by the Town Corporation in 1798 and fitted in the church tower in 1802. Phillip’s son William Brockendon a painter, author & inventor, whose paintings rested in Totnes Guildhall, wrote in a letter to friend that – as a13 year old – he had enjoyed working on the clock, including fettling the fly pinion.
This clock was purchased for £10 by Messrs. Sainsbury who had intended to fit it in the Mill at Tuckenhay upon the fitting of the Jubilee Clock.

The Jubilee clock was purchased with money raised by public subscription and obtained on behalf of the Totnes Town Council by local clockmaker Mr S.C. Burrow, from the clockmakers Messrs. Sainsbury Bros., Walthamstow, London at a price of £110. Mr Burrow did not ask for his commission on the purchase and made no charge for assisting Sainsbury Bros. with the installation of the clock in the tower.

Clock details
[photos: the cabinet and views of the chiming train including the identification plate]

clockcabinet1The clock, which does not have an external dial on the tower of the church, chimes at each quarter hour in the Westminster manner on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th bells. The hour is struck on the Tenor, No. 8 Bell, that is notes C#, B, A, E, and the Tenor D.
clockflatbeddetailsThe clock is of the ‘flat bed’ type 9’ 6’’ wide (2.9 m) 3’ deep (0.9m) and 5‘ high (1.5m) including the pendulum of approximately 3’3’’ (1 m) in length (39.14), the length for a 1 second beat and the pendulum weighs 1cwt (51kg).
clockchimingtraindetails1The clock has 3 ‘trains’ side by side, each with its own weight.
When viewed from the front of the cabinet enclosing the clock, which is positioned high up in the bell ringing chamber, the lefthand train operates the quarter chimes.
clockchimingtraindetails2The centre train operates the going train regulating the time by means of the escape wheel and the pendulum. The righthand train operates the hour strike.

Chambers and access
[photos: The cables entering the ceiling of the ringing chamber passing through to the chimes operating mechanism]
clockcables1The clock chiming train has 4 cams and 4 levers working on these cams, one for each chime note. These levers emerge from the casing enclosing the clock and at the outside end of each lever is a cable which goes up through the ceiling of the ringing chamber into a separate room (chamber) which is located between the bell ringing chamber and the Belfry, the floor of this room being the ceiling of the bell ringing chamber.
In this separate chamber, accessible for maintenance via a trap door and ladder in the floor of the Belfry under the bells, are a series of cranks arranged to take the motion of five cables to a position where each can operate the hammer on the 4 chiming bells, e.g. Nos. 2, 3, 4 & 7.
There is a similar mechanism for the hour strike with a lever and cam and cable; the 5th ; from the right hand; hour strike; train; the hour strike hammer operates on the tenor no. 8 bell.
The hammers striking the quarter chime bells each weigh 2 stones or 28lbs (12.7 kg). The hammer for striking the hour No. 8 (tenor) bell weighs 74 lbs. (33.6 kg).

Comments by the Vicar and the Clockmaker
[photo: the commemoration plate]clockcommemorationplateThe clock was originally set going by the ex-Mayor, Mr H. Symons in the presence of the Vicar, the Reverend J.W. Burrough, and assembled dignitaries at 9pm on 24 December 1887. The Reverend Burrough after examining the workings of the clock, said that he didn’t profess to be a competent judge of such things, but from what he could see it appeared to be very well executed.
Mr S.E. Burrow, the local clockmaker, acknowledged the compliments paid to him for the work that he had carried out without charge; assisting with the installation by the makers, Sainsbury Bros., he said that he was pleased to have been able to do it for the town.

Winding the clock
[photo: the original clock weights, since removed for the electric motors for automatic winding]

clockoriginalweightsThe clock originally operated with 3 large and heavy weights, housed in boxes in the bell ringing chamber, which, when fully wound up would operate the clock for 12 days. Winding the clock with a large crank handle took quite a time and had to be carried out from a ladder as the winding arbour (squares on the end of the shaft) is over 6 feet from the floor on the clock movement. Each weight had to be wound separately.
An electric automatic winding mechanism was installed in December 1999 at a cost of £3,900. Each train has a separate winding motor, therefore it is no longer necessary to wind the clock manually.
The chamber where the clock is housed has a fairly constant temperature. The clock is an excellent time keeper, still accurate to well within 10 seconds in 7 days.

Clock Keepers
robertseymourRobert Seymour [pictured above] – current Clock Keeper
Prebendary John Scott

• click the photos to enlarge them


1 thought on “The Town Clock at St Mary’s Church, Totnes

  1. Pingback: news, music & new pages | St Mary's & St John's Churches, Totnes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.