The clock in St Peter’s tower is believed to date to the 19th century. It is a flat bed, three train clock which is weight driven with a pendulum along with a six foot cast-iron skeleton dial backed with copper. The left section refers to a gravity drop hammer that strikes the hours on the tenor bell and the right section links to various treble bells chiming the Westminster chimes.
In 1974 the clock was converted to automatic winding, leaving the clock still driven by weights, but the weights were wound by motors rather than by hand. This required the installation of bulky chains and frames to harness the winding mechanism, which was powered by electricity.
Because the mains had no back up, there have been problems during power cuts and the yearly seasonal clock changes.
Ian Goldsmith, the Chairman of St Peter’s Tower Group said the clock had become unreliable, with health and safety issues with the old winding unit. Damage had also been caused to the hammers during bell ringing activities.
Clockmakers and restorers, Smith of Derby were enlisted to assess and carry out the work. Their solution was to replace the automatic winding system with a modern version, resulting in the return of the clock to its original operating method. This new system operates at a lower voltage, resolving safety issues. The support of a rechargeable battery back allows continuous operation during all normal power failures. The bell hammers were also repaired with a new controller installed to pull off hammers for bell ringing, with lights which indicate when these are operational.
It was also found that the clock dial was suffering from some corrosion and the paint was in a poor condition, which means taking the dial down to be shot-blast, repainted and gilded. Although it would have been more cost effective to link this work in at the same time as the internal works, restoration of the clock dial was delayed due to the pair of peregrine falcons on the church spire.
If the falcons start to nest, workmen will not be permitted to disturb them, and the restoration will need to be postponed until August.
The cost of the repair and restoration is £12,250 plus VAT. The work started in February, with costs underwritten by the Friends of St Peter’s Church, allowing internal repair work on the clock to go ahead promptly.
St Peter’s is one of the few churches in the area with eight bells. Some work was previously carried out to treat death watch beetle in part of the bell chamber, but other repairs were also required to the wheels, frames and clappers. Short and longer term works required were more than £6,700.
Now that the repairs have been carried out, Mr Goldsmith said: “We therefore need to undertake substantial fundraising to re-pay back the monies that were advanced for the clock work.”
It is hoped that the Vintage Fair in May will go some way to meeting the costs. Mr Goldsmith said: “I am indebted to the Oundle Business Association for their help with this project.”