by Jean Galloway
Those of us who live in West Didsbury or use Princess Parkway and like to check the time may feel a little unsettled at present. The clock on Christ Church Tower is missing.. It has been there every day for the last 131 years and suddenly in July it disappeared. Fortunately there is no need for concern. It has not been stolen. It is in Cumbria being restored by the Cumbria Clock Company. Thanks to grants from The Heritage Lottery Fund , Church Care and The Greater Manchester Churches’ Preservation Fund it is having its dials , hands and workings renovated. It was made by a famous Victorian Clock Company James W. Benson of Ludgate Hill and has been on the tower since Christ Church was built in 1882. The Cumbria Clock Company are a well established firm of clock experts, and came to remove it on 17.7.2013. This was quite a task requiring an Horological Engineer, avid McVicar and a Steeple Jack, Jonathan Simpson who could be seen suspended from the Tower for most of the day. I thought it would be interesting to see the clock being restored so arranged to go up to Cumbria on 5.8.2013 . The workshop overlooks a farm yard adjacent to Dacre Castle in the beautiful village of Dacre. It feels very remote although is only 2 miles from the A66 near Penrith. I arrived to find David engrossed in “marking up” one of the 3 Christ Church tower clock dials which are now painted blue. He had traced the outline of the numerals and minute markers ready for the application of the gold paint. Hanging on a rail nearby were six clock hands which had also been painted black on one side and ready for gilding on the other. David explained to me with enthusiasm that he had made some interesting discoveries about the clock during the last 3 weeks. He is certain that this is the first time the dials have been removed from the tower since 1882 . The stone behind the dials is clean and several shades lighter than the rest of the stonework. The dials had been firmly fixed to the Tower with fitments which he thought were original. They consisted of brass screws inserted into wooden blocks. They had been difficult to shift. The South facing dial was loose however and had fallen forward pressing on the hour hand. There was evidence that the clock had been repainted on several occasions. This would have been done in situ with the engineer sitting in a seat suspended by pulleys from the tower. David commented that this method has its limitations and makes it more difficult to perform such a “neat” job. The shape of the numerals and their position has gradually changed with each repainting over the years. David described this as a visual form of Chinese Whispers. The shaped ends of the numerals known as serifs have become thinner. Conversely, the minute markers round the edge of the dials have become thicker. At some stage the numeral 1111 has been replaced by a 1V. This is probably because it was easier to paint but David observed that this damaged the symmetry of the clock face and that having 1111 opposite V111 was more balanced than having IV opposite V111. The Hands also tell a story. The back of the South hour hand is worn away by the pressure of the displaced dial leaving a circular groove. With time this would have eventually come adrift and fallen to the ground.
The discovery that excited David the most was finding the clock maker’s name “Benson London” etched on the copper and hidden under all the previous layers of paint. It is relatively unusual to find such an inscription and it would have enhanced the appearance of the clock . David’s intention is to restore the original markings so they are identical to those of 1882 without the “slippage” of the last century. The fitments will also be renewed. The screws will be stainless steel Instead of brass and there will be 6 points of fixture rather than four for each dial into hard wood blocks to ensure secure attachment. He predicts that once completed the current restoration will last for about 30 years. The gold paint will outlast the blue paint and he south dial will weather first due to the prevailing wind. The workings have been cleaned and the clock is almost ready to timekeep for the next few decades.
Having distracted David from his work for the best part of an hour I took some photographs and then set off intending to drive straight back to Manchester. I did not get far however. After a few hundred yards I noticed Dacres’ eighteenth century Inn called the Horse and Farrier and found myself inside