Clockmaker

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The Gloverstone? - middle Ordovician speckled dolerite - about 460 million years old - twice the age of the local red sandstone. It may even have been used to tell the "time".

For centuries, the township of Gloverstone, while within the City Walls, was outside the jurisdiction of the city authorities and under the protection of the crown. This was because it was part of the Chester Castle enclave reserved for the Crown under the charter of Henry VII (1506). This gave those residing there the freedom to trade within its boundaries without the requirement to become Freemen of the city. It also provided a home for "foreigners" and, as time passed, it attracted inhabitants from many social classes. Among these, in the late 17th and throughout the 18th century, settled a group of skilled clockmakers. If the Gloverstone itself was a prehistoric standing stone then the location is particularly apt, as people had possibly been figuring out the date here for millenia. There were also clockmakers in the rest of the city some of whom were members of important business families. The Chester Directory of 1781-7 lists a whole series of clockmakers in Eastgate Street (Robert Fletcher, George Moile, Robery Cawley), at the High Cross (G. Boswell), in Foregate Street (John Smith, Robert Higginson, Joseph Lumber), Bridge Street (Gabriel Smith, Benjamin Peers), Castle Street (Joseph Thomas), St John Street (John Ratcliffe) and Northgate Street (John Stanyer, Thomas Brown).

The training of clock- and watch-makers followed the usual apprentice system: typically with an "indenture" of up to seven years. Even in 1802 training was strict. An advertisement in the press reminds us that apprentices two hundred years ago could not lightly leave their masters' employment. It reads as foliows:

  • "To clock and watch makers. Ran I away from his master's service about six weeks ago, John Challinor, indentured apprentice to Robert Fletcher, of this city; he is about 5 feet 6 niches high, has brown hair cut short, and a little stammering in his speech. It is hoped that no one will employ the above John Challinor after this pubiic notice, but give information to his said master, who will defray all reasonable charges,"

Robert Fletcher was a well-known Chester maker and is recorded working as a clock & watch maker at several Chester addresses in the late 18th century ~ Linenhall Street (1782), Foregate Street (1789-95), Upper (Higher) Bridge Street (1792). The family business was taken over by his son, also Robert, who was granted his freedom in 1800. Under Robert jr the business also occupied various premises. The business also sold umbrellas, presumably because of the fine work which need to go into them before mass-production.

Nothing is known about what happened to John Challinor thereafter.

Public Clocks

Beginning in 12th century Europe, towns and monasteries built clocks in high towers to strike bells to call the community to prayer. Public clocks played an important timekeeping role in daily life until the 20th century, when accurate watches became cheap enough for ordinary people to afford. Today the time-disseminating functions of these so-called "turret clocks" are not much needed, and they are mainly built and preserved for traditional, decorative, and artistic reasons. Chester has many public clocks, the best known probably being those on the Eastgate, the Town Hall, Chester Station and St Peter. Many of these clocks have interesting histories. This article looks at some of these clocks and the more general history of clock- and watch-making in Chester.

The Town Hall clock and that of St Peter. Both were centers of power and control and each adopted a clock, or at least tried to.

The public mechanical clock and the movable type printing press were two of the most important and complex "general purpose" technologies of the late medieval period. The argument has been made that public clocks helped regulate economic activity and therefore improve efficiency. For example parties could agree to meet at a specific time. Both time-keeping and the duplication of knowledge may well have been mainly the province of monks and friars prior to the Reformation, which moved these functions into secular hands. It may be no coincidence that that the Reformation was followed by growth in both the number of public clocks and printing presses. For more on the history of printing in Chester, see Bookseller.

Academic studies have shown that early adopters of public clocks (and printing presses) showed improved economic growth in the following centuries. An alternative explanation is that the adoption of a public clock is a symptom of economic prosperity rather than a cause. Clocks were a symbol of patronage and prestige. Those that chimed would publicise that patronage far and wide on a (hopefully) regular basis. They were also a means of control, making it clear when church or court attendance was expected, enabling a time to be set for a guild meeting to be convened, or a curfew to be imposed. In Chester the first public clock appears to have been at St Peter: at the very heart of the city, on the site of the Roman center of control and administration and next to what was effectively the mayors office. Clocks may have contributed to the spread of Reformation and Puritan thought - they served as a coordinating device which created a sense for time, punctuality, and discipline that was key to the ideas of the Calvinist movements and later forms of non-conformist activity.

Early clocks were "set" using a sundial to determine the time of noon, that is, when the sun was at it's highest point in the sky. "Clock" time and sundial time are not always the same. Apparent "clock" time, and the sundial, can be ahead (fast) by as much as 16 min 33 s (around 3 November), or behind (slow) by as much as 14 min 6 s (around 11 February). The so-called equation of time, when noon on a sundial and on a clock agree has zeros near 15 April, 13 June, 1 September, and 25 December. Ignoring very slow changes in the Earth's orbit and rotation, these events are repeated at the same times every year. However, due to the non-integral number of days in a year, these dates can vary by a day or so from year to year. A further complication arises from longitude: when the sun sets in Chester it is still above the horizon out in the Atlantic ocean. The difference is 4 minutes of time for each degree of longitude. The consequence of this meant that local time in the west of the country was significantly different from that at Dover. The difference across the country could be up to thirty minutes, but for years this was quite adequate for local use since no one could travel fast enough to suffer.

Catherall & Pritchard's "Pictorial Plan of Chester" shows the Workhouse (c1860) at the Portpool with its "clock tower".

At first clocks did not drive dials at all, but indicated the time by striking a bell. The very first dials only had a single hour hand, with the dial divided into twelve hours and each hour divided into quarters. It wasn’t until the early 1700’s that dials started to have both an hour and minute hand. The clock at St Nicholas at Burton-in-Wirral still has only one hand and is dated 1751.

In the 19th century there were strong parallels between the multiplication of public clocks and the rise of the railway together with other industrial development. Clocks were placed on many public buildings: town-halls, schools, hospitals and railway stations, as well as on industrial buildings such as factories. Here they were often an overt symbol of the need for regularity - workers were expected on time, especially where shiftwork was being used to run factories "round the clock". Even the workhouse ("House of industry") at the Portpool had a prominent clock, although records vary as to where exactly on the building it was located.

The coming of the railways in particular brought a need for uniform national time-keeping. In the early days of the railways timetables included tables to convert local "church clock" time to "railway time". The difference between the two times could lead people to miss trains and at least one privately-funded public clock was built (at Frodsham) to display railway time as opposed to church clock time. For safe-keeping the Frodsham clock was also set three minutes fast. Worse still, if the railway staff did not have the correct time there was an obvious possibility for accidents. As will be seen below, Chester played an important part in the development of "Railway Time", but only after an accident in which time-keeping played a significant part according to the inquiry which followed.

The public clocks of Chester were frequently a subject of letters written to the local newspapers. A typical example of a rant against "Lying Clocks" was published in the Chester Observer on the 11th January 1908:

  • "LYING CLOCKS. TO THE EDITOR. Happening to have an opportunity of reading "The Times," I found an excellent article upon this subject, consequent on a letter. It struck me that this was a point which affeots many towns, and that Chester is by no moans free from reflection. There are public clocks in Chester which are frequently misleading. Church clocks, I know to be seldom correct. The station clock was for some days under repair. No one covered the face, so that people frequently went wrong. The clock that starts the tramcars is seldom in time with Greenwich. As this article says, all public clocks should be "synchronized," and undoubtedly proceeding's taken against the owners of a "lying" clock. The post offioe should be reliable if it is properly corrected daily. Your obedient servant, X"

Many of the public clocks of Chester have fascinating background stories and have more to tell than just the time. In many cases the reasom for placing the clock may be more complex than simply an act of generousity for the public benefit and it is worth considering these motives in the case of several of the clocks. The clockmakers, including Sarah Moreland and her father Thomas are also characters from Chester past that have been largely overlooked outside of the specialist literature.

Below is a survey of some of the better-known clocks of Chester, especially those that have particularly interesting stories or are prominently placed.

Leadworks

The present whereabouts of this industrial clock are unknown. It used to be located on the wall of one of the factory buildings near the Leadworks Shot-Tower overlooking Canalside. Only the face of the clock was visible with the works being inside the building and not open to public access. It is hoped that in the future some sort of small exhibit might be installed in at the leadworks site. Perhaps the clock will even reappear.

Chester Leadworks clock dates from 1801 and is the oldest "existing" public clock in Chester. Other buildings had visible clocks which had been installed earlier but these had each been replaced with newer models. It was made by Whitehurst of Derby in 1803 and installed on the gable-end of one of the Leadworks buildings overlooking the canal. The leadworks ceased operation around 2000 amid environmental concerns: analysis showed that the lead levels in the blood of children living in the area was abnormally high.

The leadworks clock, painted with their own white paint, before it was stolen...

That the Whitehurst company should manufacture the clock for the leadworks provides an interesting geological link. John Whitehurst (10 April 1713 – 18 February 1788), born in Congleton, was the son of a watch- and clock-maker who encouraged his early interest in geology. From 1770 he made clocks for Matthew Boulton whose Soho works mounted Whitehurst's movements. One of his major works was a siderial clock which told the time but also showed the movement of the sun in relation to the fixed stars. Whitehurst was also ascientific instrument maker, producing a range of products. He was a member of the Lunar Society. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1779. Whitehurst was involved in several mineral extraction schemes and the planning of canal routes. It is not known whether there was any special reason why the leadworks should choose a Whitehurst clock, but the connection with canals and minerals is noted. It was also the case that the Walkers expanded their lead business to Chester from Derby, where Whitehurst was based. By all accounts it was remarkably well-preserved with even the original box still surrounding the mechanism. The mechanism was simple, with just four wheels in a metal frame, a 51 inch (2.28 second) pendulum and a heavy (lead of course) weight to provide motive power. In the 1950's maintaing the clock apparently was beyond the skills of the local clock repairer and the clock was adapted to an electrical drive. This failed and for some years the clock stood still. Eventually the clock was fixed by the Leadwords own laboratory and ran again "mechanically" until the leadworks closed.

Whitehurst was associated with the invention of the "tell tale" clock which was introduced around 1800 and made throughout the 19th century. As a timekeeping device, the dial rotates and movable pins on the dial's periphery move through the pointer position, underneath a lever. Once the watchman actuates the lever, the pin is depressed and latches into position to verify the watchman's visit to the clock at that time. A lazy watchman would soon be given away. Following his death, his nephews took over the business.

The clock at the Leadworks faced the canal across a fairly narrow yard at the end of the "paint shop". At the time that the leadworks was built the land across the canal, to the south, was according to Coles Map of 1804, mostly open fields. There was no bell associated with the clock and it would have been out of sight for most of the workers. This raises the question of who the expected audience of the clock were. The clock may have been intended as a symbol of accuracy as much as a convenience - advertising the fact that this was, for its day, a technically advanced manufacturing plant which produced military "precision" shot and paint of a uniform whiteness. There was no legal reason for a factory clock as only factory acts from 1802 gradually tackled hours and conditions, and in 1844 stated for the first time that working hours of "children and young persons" should be regulated by "a clock open to public view" - such that women and children under 18 did not work more than 12 hours a day. In 1847 this was reduced to 10 hours in textile mills, with a maximum of 58 hours per week.

In 2002 the three foot diameter clock face and it's works were stolen at about the time that the Laedworks was being handed over from the industrial owners to the property developer who hoped to build housing on the site. The theft was carried out by someone who evidently had access to the building as there were no signs of forced entry, but within weeks had apparently been returned (although it's current (2020) whereabouts are not clear).

St Peter

St Peter is in the very center of Chester where the main streets with The Rows cross. The clock is best viewed from Upper Bridge Street. There is nothing to see of the clock from the inside of the church but it does have some interesting features including an ancient bible in a diaplay case, a palindromic font and a medieval wall painting. Tea and cake are available in the cafe. While the clock is located on a church it had many important civic functions.

The church of St Peter stands by the High Cross on the site of part of the Roman Praetorium and some of its fabric possibly dates from that time - it was sometimes the case that Roman buildings provided the site, or maybe just the materials for church buildings and it is known that the church was active in Chester as early as the year AD 600, although perhaps not on this site. A church is said to have been built on this site by Æthelflæd in 907 when the Roman city was refortified by the Mercians. The church clock was at one time provided with "Jacks", animated wooden figures who rang the bell. These were paid for (1612) by Robert Amerye, a Chester ironmonger who is otherwise noted for putting on the play "Chester's Prince" in 1610.

"Chester in 1700. From a drawing in the possession of the Revd. M. Prescott" - This is an aquatint engraving by F. Ross (c1800). It shows Upper Bridge Street and St Peter in the distance, still with its spire and the "jacks" just visible either side of the clock. The illustration may give some clues as to the development of "The Rows".
John Wilkins (1614–1672) - bishop of Chester. His broader involvement with Robert Hooke and clocks is discussed below.

Clock "jacks" or "quarter boys" would ring a bell every quarter hour. In many cases this was not the main chiming bell but a separate one. The main belfrey at St Peter has a ring of 6 bells, but they are in such a state of disrepair, they are considered unringable. St Peter's have not been rung "full circle" since before the second world war at least. All 6 bells are still in the tower, and all swing freely, but the support structure or "tree" is in a precarious state. Some clappers are missing, and the wheels that remain are also apparently rotting away. The "jacks" can be seen in an illustration of St Peter by Randle Holme dating from just after the Civil War. The term "Jack" was also applied to the clockwork mechanism used to operate a roasting spit. Such a "jack" mechanism was described by Chester Bishop and writer John Wilkins in his book "Mathematical Magick" (1648). As textual and graphic sources show, the St Peter clock was actually provided with these "animatronic" jacks on either side of the dial and they appear to have survived until around 1700 at least.

The maintenance of the church clock was a frequent charge on the city's finances and as such often mentioned in the city records. Harl. 2150 f.290 is an indenture of 2 Ed VI (c.1539) between the mayor and James Watmogh of Prescot, Lancashire for the clock and chimes to be kept in order for ten shillings per annum. The same "Watmougth" appears in the Presscot churchwardens account providing a similar service in 1531. There appears to have been a clock at an even earlier date. In the 1420s and 30s cooper John Carrock gained extra income by "keeping" the clock at St Peter. The fact that he was a cooper (barrel maker) may have meant that the clock was a water-clock, or it may have just been a sideline for him. One of the mayors books of the time of Edward IV (28 April 1442 – 9 April 1483) notes an item of expenditure on the "orlogium Ecclesie Sancti Petri". Again, it is not known whether this was a mechanical clock or some kind of water-clock. There were certainly water-clock makers in Chester John Holloway and Raymonde being two examples.

A new (perhaps the first) mechanical clock was made in about 1585 by William Sampson, who appears to have also been a blacksmith and was awarded the freedom of the ciry in recompence. The burial record of St Oswald for the year 1585 notes:

  • "Ales Sampson daughter to Sampson the clockmaker, 17th September"

The actual agreement for the provision of clock is recorded in Chester "Assembley Order 492" of 1585:

  • "Whereas William Sampsoune clockmaker exhibiteth his bill to be free of this citie in consideracon to make a clock and orderly and substantial chymes in the Parish Church of St. Peter th'appostle within the said Cittie with a dyall streetwards there to dicerne the houres and tymes of the day upon his own charges (having found to him all carpenters' work, ropes, piece and iron) which being waied and considered it is news fully agreed upon by the said Maior etc. That the saide Sampson After that he shall have fully made the saide clock, chymes and dyall in sorte as before shall be enfranchised and made free gratis in consideracon thereof."
The "Pentice" was a wooden structure on the south wall of St Peter as shown here by Randle Holme (Harl Man 2073) shortly after the end of the Civil War. The Pentice was taken down in 1803. The remains of the High Cross, destroyed in the Civil War, can be seen in front of the door. The two figures either side of the clock are the "jacks".

The very fact that the mayor is familiar with such terms as "chymes" (chimes) and "dyall" (dial) shows that the mayor was fairly familiar with the appearance of clocks. Sampson is an otherwise unknown charcater in the city records. He may have been an "incommer" to the city as although he was sufficiently skilled and experienced to manufacture a clock, and he was not a Freeman. Curiously, there was a William Sampson clockmaker of Stratford-on-Avon, who got into some kind of legal trouble at St Brides, London and needed surety for bail before the Queens Bench. The bail (£19) was apparently provided, in 1597, by one Gilbert Shakespeare (haberdasher), who is believed to have been the brother of the somewhat better-known William Shakespeare.

In 1579 we read:

  • "And further it is ordered by the said Maior Sheriffs and Common Counsaille that the levelookers for the time being shall yearlie give and paie for the reparinge of the chimes of St. Peter's in good tune and for all charges thereof, XXs to him who hath or shall take the keepings of the same."

"Leave-lookers" were officers of the corporation who, amongst other things, ensured that non-guild tradesmen did not conduct busimess in the city except during the annual fairs. It appears that having been a Leave-looker was at times a pre-condition for being sheriff unless a "fine" was paid. Two leave-lookers were presented to the Mayor's court in 1598 for not maintaining the clock at St Peter:

  • "The Levelookers Christopher Conway and John Ratcliffe are presented for not maintaining "Ie chimes St. Petre" in sufficient repair and permitting them to be very ruinous to the nuisance cf all the Inhabitants."

The Leavelookers were in trouble again in 1610 as the minute-books record:

  • "The Mayor stated that the chimes of St. Peter's had been in great decay for want of repair and that a large sum of money had been promised to one who had since repaired them, but it had never been paid. It was therefore ordered that, in accordance with an ancient order, all who had been leavelookers should pay 13s. 4d. a year each for this work, if they had not paid it before, and that all succeeding leavelookers should pay the same sum to him who was responsible for keeping the chimes in repair."

The churchwarden's accounts at St Peter also tell of payments for repairs made to Thomas Locker (1628) and Thomas Malbon (1643). During all this time the clock of St Peter would not have had a pendulum - the pendulum clock was not invented until 1656. As the power of a spring varies with the tightness of winding early spring clocks were not particularly accurate and so the clock would have been powered by weights hund from a cable that was would around a drum. These could be hazardous - in 1755/6 Edward Moore, the vicar of St Chad's at Over in Cheshire, was killed after a wedding service when one of the clock weights detached itself and, plunging through the roof, struck him on the head.

The present clock may be that of 1813 installed when the church was re-cased externally by Thomas Harrison, and is not particularly reliable (it is often stopped and therefore only right twice a day). In 1825 the clock face was adapted to be lit by gaslight: the gasworks having opened in Cuppin Street in 1817, although Hemingway gives a date of 1835 at a cost of £91 raised by subscription. This illumination was commented on when the Chester antiquarians were debating the line of the Roman road south of the city towards Heronbridge:

  • "Mr. Massie concluded his argument by saying if any person should ohance to be walking in the Eaton-road towards Chester after dark, he will see right before him the lights on each side of the higher end of Bridge-street, with the illuminated clock of St. Peter's in the centre. This then was the straight Roman road in all its integrity" (Courant, 15th June 1904);

This illumination had been the subject of some debate and the Corporation had taken over the costs of lighting in 1900, after two years of delay. The clock was repaired and modified in 1865, and again in 1902. According to the Chester Courant of 25th June of that year:

The church of St Peter is nowadays still visible on the skyline along the line of the Eaton Road (which follows the Roman road leading south out of Chester), but only from a very few spots along that road. The more prominent tower in the middle distance is St Mary in Handbridge. Like the Town Hall, St Mary also only has a clock face on three sides. The clock of St Mary is another "Jubilee" clock.
  • "The shopkeepers and residents in Bridge- street have this week been quite in a fog as to the time, the reason being that St. Peter's clock has been undergoing repair. The clocks of St. Peter's Church are of historic interest. We gather from the "Parish Magazine" that "The repairs of St. Peter's, as the principal city church, were in the Tudor period undertaken by the civic authorities. Reference is made more than once to the maintenance of the chimes, and in 27 Elizabeth a certain clockmaker, William Sampson, obtained his freedom in return for providing a suitable clock and chimes. In 1598, however, the leavelookers, Christopher Conway and John Ratcliffe, were presented for not maintaining "le chimes S. Petre" in sufficient repair and permitting them to be very ruinous ("valde ruinos ad nocumentum tot inhabitant") to the nuisance of all the inhabitants." In 1612, through, the generosity of a parisioner (Mr. Robert Amery) St. Peter's clock was made to stnke every quarter of an hour. The present clock has the following inscriptions upon it: Bowers, Fecit, 1813. Rector, Rev. John Baldwin. Churchwardens, Charles Colton, Joseph Johnson. "This clock was illuminated 1835. Rev. J. Halton. Churchwardens, J. E. Podmore, J. Oakes. T. Moreland, contractor."This clock was altered and repaired A.D. 1865 Rector, Frederick Forde, M.A. Churchwardens, John Higgms, Thomas Miller Wilcock."

Amery, who paid for the "jacks", seems to have a minor obsession with bells, as he also replaced the bells (returnable each year) used as a prize in the eponymous horse-race - "The Chester Bells". Rev Robert Rogers (Archdeacon at Chester) recorded:

  • "In AD 1609, Mr William Lester, mercer, beinge mayor of Chester, one Mr Robert Amerye, ironmonger, sometime sherife of Chester (ad 1608) he, with the assente of the mayor and cittie, at his own coste chiefly as I conceive caused three silver cupps or bells of good value to be made the whiche saide silver cuppes were upon St George's daye for ever to be thus disposed: - all gentlemen that woulde bringe their horses to the Rood dee that daye and there rune that horse which with spede did over rune the reste shoulde have the beste cuppe..."

It is not known whether there was a clock at St Peter in 1533 when proto-Puritan Mayor Henry Gee banned the sale of ale, beer and wine after 9pm, but such an ordinance would presumably require a clock to be enforcible in practise. Gee also banned "mummers" and attempted to tone down the celebrations of Christmas. It was Gee who started the tradition of racing for bells in Chester as an alternative to a riotous "crowd football" game where one of the "goalposts" was St Peter.

In summary the clock at St Peter can be seen as the first civic clock in Chester. It was paid for and maintained by the Corporation and located at the administrative and commercial heart of the city. It is not simply a "church" clock.

Chester Station

The clock is on the front of Chester Station. Only the face is visible and the story of how it fits into time-keeping can be found in more detail on the Hilbre Island page.

The clock at Chester Station is offset from its original position above the main entrance. This was done when City Road was laid out as the slight angle of that road concealed the clock from those approaching the station. Many people, when asked what is above the doorway of Chester Station will refer to the clock, and get it wrong. The matter actually once confused Judge Samuel Moss of the Chester Country Court, who interrupted proceedings in 1907 to explain:

It is possible to see the station clock down City Road.
  • "I was once in a case in which a man swore be could see the railway station clock from the little tobacconist's shop on City-road. I was so astonished that I made a point of seeing the place, and I find you can see, at any rate, a long way." (Courant, 12th November 1907)

So far as is known the station was provided with a clock when it first opened in 1848: it certainly appears in illustrations in the guide to Chester produced by Hughes in 1858.

Chester Station played a little-known part in the development of time-keeping. Before embarking on any voyage, it was important that a ship’s chronometer should be set accurately to GMT and that any daily drift in its time keeping be known. This could be done by reference to time obtained at a local astronomical observatory equipped with a "transit" telescope to determine when the sun crossed the meridian and hence the precise time of noon: a significant improvement on the use of a sundial. The setting procedure would entail either taking the ship’s chronometer to the observatory, or checking with the port authority’s display of a chronometer synchronised to an observatory’s master clock. Many ports provided a time signal each day, either by raising or lowering a visible time ball at the quayside or by firing a cannon.

Before the advent of the telegraph, station-masters adjusted their clocks using tables supplied by the railway company to convert local time to "London Time". In turn, train guards set their chronometers against those clocks. The introduction of railway time was in the end swift despite not being straightforward. The Great Western Railway was the first to standardise its timetable on "Greenwich Mean Time", in November 1840. One of the most vociferous proponents of standardising time on the railways was Henry Booth, Secretary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, who by January 1846 had ordered the adjustment of clocks to Greenwich Mean Time at both Liverpool and Manchester stations. One obvious reason for public railway clocks was that early "Railway Time" would not always agree with local "church clock" time, and as noted above could be as much as almost a quarter hour out due to sundial variance and more so due to longitude.

In 1857 the Magnetic Telegraph Company (based in Liverpool and associated with the telegraph line which ran from Liverpool to Holyhead through Hilbre Island) acquired the patent of Robert Lewis Jones of Chester for regulating electric clocks. Jones was once a chemical supplier to the Tanning industry in Chester and then, after selling his works at "Chemistry Lock", the manager at Chester Station. Jones apparently first applied his invention to the "Turrest" clock at Chester Station. This development in horology is described in "ELECTRIC CLOCKS" as follows:

The exterior of the Chester railway station between the wars. In this photograph the "Turret" clock has moved to its present position so as to be visible down City Road. Just when this was done is unclear, but Judge Moss' comment suggests it was prior to 1907.
  • "Mr. R. L. Jones, the station master (sic) of Chester, evolved the idea of sympathetic pendulums by simply applying Bain’s electro-magnetic pendulum bob to existing key-wound clocks. His Patent, No. 702, of 1857, claims the obvious advantages of perfect synchronisation, of independent life in case of electrical failure, and small current consumption. He applied it with success to his own turret clock at Chester and to a turret clock in the Victoria Tower in Liverpool. Then Mr. F. James Ritchie, of Edinburgh, took hold of it and supplied many observatories with pairs and triplets of sympathetic pendulums. In 1873, Ritchie carried it a step further. Realising what a very small expenditure of electrical energy was required to keep two tuned pendulums in phase, he was tempted to dispense with the spring or weight-driven maintenance with its merit of independent life, and drove the hands from the pendulum as Bain had done in his earliest earth-driven clocks, but by an improved method which may be described as a reversed gravity escapement."

Jones was most likely driven to develop his clock following the Sutton Tunnel railway accident. He was one of those responsible for filling trains at Chester on a very busy "race day" - one of the first after the Chester-Manchester line opened. Unfortunately the trains were overloaded and one of them stalled at the entrance to the tunnel. A second train shunted it into the tunnel, but a third entered the tunnel at speed and there was a collision. The subsequent enquiry raised issues about time-keeping at Chester, noting that the station staff could not see the station clock from the platforms and were not provided with watches.

Jones may have been a versatile fellow but he was no clockmaker and it is likely that he was assisted by someone in developing his electrical clock system. One possible candidate is Thomas Moreland, a Chester clockmaker who also appears to have been involved with the early development of the railway in Chester (see: Railway Times: Volume 2). Moreland (who is described as "a character" in the Cheshire Sheaf) had a workshop near the station in Brook Street (according to Hemingway's "Poll Book") and is known to have made at least two clocks for the booking office at Chester Station. Moreland later moved to Northgate Street and there is more on him below.

In summary, the station clock is the first expression in Chester of the need for a national time standard by a business which was absolutely dependent on accurate time-keeping. The prominently placed clock would have also served an advertising function, but less so than other clocks. It is a seldom made observation that railway clocks mostly do not chime, possibly because they are concerned with events happening over the whole hour rather than simply on the quarters.

St John's Hospital

St John's Hospital is just outside of the Northgate of Chester. The clock is best seen from the front gates of the building. The building is not open to public access

The Corporation rebuilt the St John's Hospital (otherwise known as the Bluecoat) complex in 1715–17 with a rear courtyard which included six one-storeyed almshouses for women. The almswomen shared £30 a year under the will of Alderman Joseph Crewe, proved 1801. Mismanagement (see Owen Jones for further examples of this) greatly reduced the value of the hospital's rents; by 1836 they were worth £600 a year (approaching £50,000 in 2015 money), of which only £85 was spent on the almspeople, the rest being carried to the corporation's general account as it had been since c. 1762. An action at law to establish what estates belonged to the hospital and to vest them in the Municipal Charities Trustees was begun in 1838 but not completed until a Chancery Scheme, evidently of 1852, ordered the almshouses to be rebuilt to house 13 paupers who received 10s. a week each. As rebuilt in 1854 by Morris and Hobson for the Trustees of Hospital of St John Baptist, the almshouses each included a sitting room, bedroom, and scullery. A Charity Commission Scheme of 1892 assigned the substantial surplus to pay pensions to other townspeople. Under a Scheme of 1976 the hospital, still supporting 13 almshouses, was absorbed by the Chester Municipal Almshouse Charity, and the almshouses remain in use, the most recent having opened in April 2006. The rebuilt Hospital included a school.

The bigger belltower at St John's Hospital does not house the bell from the Galeka - it is in the smaller structure on the corner near the Northgate. However this coupola does house the bell which can be heard to chime every hour.

The Bluecoat has two bells on its roof: the conspicuous "Galeka Bell", plus a second bell largely hidden inside the bell tower. The bell inside the bell tower was cast in 1716 and has been in situ – and chiming on the hour – since 1717. Many people believe that the bell they hear ringing at St John's Hospital is the one on the corner of the building. That is in fact the "Galeka Bell" which was salvaged from a WWI hospital ship, SS Galeka. The name of the ship is derived from the Galeka (Gcaleka Xhosa), a people crowded into a narrow drought-stricken coastal strip of South Africa near East London and involved in the "Ninth Frontier War" (1877–79) when "Galekaland was turned into a desolation of burnt-out kraals and empty grain-pits". In other words the ship took its name from the massacre of almost unarmed locals by colonial troops.

She was a 6772 ton steam ship built in 1899 for the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company by Harland and Wolff and had a top speed of 12.5 knots. The ship was launched on 21 October 1899 and completed on 23 December 1899. She was the last vessel to enter service before the merger between the Union and Castle shipping lines in 1900 and transferred to the UC Line while fitting-out. She served on the South Africa route until the First World War. Later she was requisitioned for use as a British troop transport: the 2nd Bn King's Royal Rifle Corps left Southampton on the SS Galeka and arrived at Le Havre on 13th August 1914. Galeka carried troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to the Gallipoli Campaign, landing the 6th and 7th Bns., Australian Imperial Force, at Anzac Cove on the morning of 25th April 1915. She was then refitted as a hospital ship with accommodation for 366 wounded passengers. When entering Le Havre on 28th October 1916, SS Galeka hit a mine laid by the German U-boat UC-26. Nineteen Royal Army Medical Corps were killed - she was not carrying any patients at the time. The Galeka was beached at Cap Le Hogue, but was a total loss (and Union-Castle's first war casualty).

The Galeka had been owned by Sir Owen Phillips – a major shipowner and MP for Chester (1916-1922). At Phillips request, the bell was eventually brought to Chester and placed atop the Bluecoat building (canal-side corner) in commemoration to those who had fought in WW1. Over one hundred Bluecoat alumni signed up in WW1 and twelve were killed. In 1930 it was revealed that Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (which had adsorbed the Union Castle Line) had previously undisclosed liabilities in excess of £10,000,000. This was enough for the banks to act, and much of Philipps' powers were removed to trustees, although Philipps remained chairman until November 1930. In February 1931 he went to South Africa on holiday, and in his absence it was revealed that for several years the Royal Mail Steam Packet group had been paying dividends to stockholders despite trading at a loss since 1925. On his return from South Africa Philipps was arrested and charged with making false statements with regard to company accounts for 1926 and 1927, contrary to section 84 of the Larceny Act 1861. He was found guilty and subsequently served ten months in Wormwood Scrubs prison before being released in August 1932.

The "spooky" part of this story is that the origins of the bell at St John's had been completely forgotten by modern times. On Friday 28th October 2016 the Building manager decided to inspect the roof of St John's on a whim, and, after reading the name on the bell looked the ship up. It was 100 years to the day since she was sunk.

The fist clock at the Bluecoat was made by John Wrench in 1720. A replacement clock for the Bluecoat was made by Thomas Moreland (of business premises then in Brook Street, died 1872) in 1843, but it is not clear whether that is the current clock or whether it has been replaced. Moreland seems to have started making "Turret" clocks around 1820. He also made the Christleton church clock and in 1847/48 and at least the two long-case clocks for the booking office at Chester Station. Moreland's daughter Sarah (1826-1906) carried on her father's business at 72 Northgate Street. She is buried, together with Thomas Moreland and his wife (Mary) in Overleigh Cemetery (plot P4959). Sarah Moreland never married and spent her social time at the Matthew Henry Chapel in Trinity Street, where her legacy paid for the heating system. The Morelands may have been making clocks in Chester since 1736 when a watchmaker of that name was active. All of the Morelands were apparently members of the congregation and had both a family pew and a memorial brass (since lost). Miss Moreland's death was recorded in the Courant on the 29th February 1906:

Sarah Morelands mid 18th Century house (with bricked up windows) in Northgate Street has a long "cat slide" roof to the attic. These were often used by weavers, but would also give excellent light for a watch- and clock-makers workshop.
  • "DEATH OF MISS MORELAND. — We regret to announcs the death, which occurred on Friday morning, of Miss Sarah Moreland, a well-known Chester iady, who carried un the business of clock and watch maker in Northgate-street. Miss Moreland, who was in he! eighty-first year, was one of the oldest traders in the Ctty, having carried on the busings in Northgate-street since the death, about thirty years ago, of her father, Mr. Thomas Morcland, who was a. noted practical ciock-mnker. In spite of her advanced age, deceased was wonderfuliy active and strong until a few weeks ago, when she contracted bronchitis, from which death eveatualiy supervened."

Perhaps rather sadly, Sarah's goods went up for sale a few weeks later:

  • "PRELIMINARY Notice of SALE of the whole of the WATCH and CLOCK MAKER'S and JEWELLER'S STOCK, at the GROSVENOR SALE ROOMS, NEWGATE. STREET, CHESTER, removed for convenience of sale from No. 72, Northgate-street, by order of the Exora. of the late Miss Moreiand."

Her house was also put up for sale:

  • "MESSRS. CUNNAH & ROBERTS will OFFER ?JL for SALE BY PUBLIC.AUCTION, at the Blossoms Hotel, Chester, on SATURDAY, the 31st day of March, 1906, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, subject to conditions of sale to be then produced- All that very Valuable Freehold DWELLING- HOUSE, SHOP. and PREMISES, Nos. 70 and 72, Northga.te-street, Chester, for many years past in the occupation of the late Miss Moreland. The Dwelling House contains dining room, three bedrooms, three attics, kitchen and scullery. The Premises can be inspected on application, and for further particulars apply to the Auctioneers, Newgate-street, Chester or to MESSRS. SHARPE & DAVISON, Solicitors, 12, Abbey-square,"

Miss Morlands probable shop-front can still be seen today, and has been recently (2020) refreshed to a high standard with a blue and gold paint scheme. In order to see the possible workshop attack one needs to stand back somewhat.

The function of a school clock is fairly obvious (the Bluecoat had day-pupils as well as boarders), but there are also here elements of ornamentation and an expression of civic pride. The later co-location of the Galeka bell on the roof of the building introduces the element of commemoration as a further reason for the deployment of civic clocks.

St Michael

St Michael is located at the lower end of Upper Bridge Street on the corner of Pepper Street. It now houses a historical attraction which charges an entry fee. The clock face can be seen from outside of the building.

The clock at the redundant church of St Michael is an electrical replacement of the original. It has gold hands and roman numerals and a light blue face. The earlier church also had a clock but problems arose in the 1840s as the interior of St Michael's had become inconvenient, unsightly and dilapidated with the tower being declared unsafe. By the 1840s the south and east walls of the church were also revealed to be in poor condition and whole church was unsafe. Between 1849 and 1851 it was virtually rebuilt in a late Decorated style by James Harrison, only the north arcade, part of the north wall, and the roofs (but not the ceilings) being retained. The west doorway and parts of the porch are said to have been moved to Grosvenor Park - and are still there. Apart from the north aisle and chancel roof, which date from the 15th century, most of what can be seen today is James Harrison's work. The tower is in three stages. The south end of Bridge Street Row passes through the open first stage of the tower, with stone steps up to the row to the north and down to the pavement to the south. The second stage has two-light windows with a clock face on the west side and a blank clock-face panel to the south. The third stage has bell openings, above which is a string course with gargoyles. On the top is a crenellated parapet with eight crocketed pinnacles and a wind vane. The south wall is also crenellated. There is no mention of a clock in the inventory taken in 1553 at the time of the Reformation, although bells are mentioned and in other churches clockx are listed. In 1602, which was a plague year, the bell ringers were paid to ring at 8 in the evening and at four in the morning, and in 1607, when troops were being shipped through Chester to Ireland, for ringing the day-bell and curfew. There is again no mention of a clock. An 1849 illustration, just before restoration, shows the church by that time had obtained a clock on the south face of the tower. St Bridget, which once stood opposite, never had a clock.

Despite the bells possibly having been rung manually for a curfew during years of plague and war, the clock at St Michael is largely ornamental in character and hardly figures in the Corporation records. The switch of the clock face from being viewed down Lower Bridge Street to being viewed along Grosvenor Street says something of the changing fortunes of these streets over the years.

This part of the east side of Upper Bridge Street in 2015 - the curvature is an artifact of the panoramic photography process used. St Peter can be seen on the left and St Michael on the right.

Steam Mill Street

The clock here is just down the cobbled side-street leading away from Canalside next to the prominent "Steam Mill". There is nothing to see except the face of the clock, but the site is important in terms of steam-operated machinery.

The prominently marked "Steam Mill" beside the Canal dates from 1834 and was built partly over and partly alongside the original mill, which was the first steam-driven commercial flour mill using Boulton and Watt’s rotative engine in 1786 and predates the often-quoted Albion Flour Mills in London by three months - while work at the Albion Mill had started earlier, the Chester engine was the first to be completed. The Albion Mill in London was later gutted by fire, but the shell of the building was the inspiration for William Blake‘s "dark satanic mills". The interior of the Chester mill was notable for a blown-air seed-transport system upward, and a gravity system downward, which were removed on conversion of the warehouse to offices.

The clock in Steam Mill Street.

Often missed are the Mill Offices in cobbled Steam Mill Street, a very short distance from the canal. This baroque 1897 building has a central clock in an ornate stone surround (dated 1897). It was built by Brown's of Chester as "Browns Depository" for their removals and storage services. Not only did this include a workshop of making packing cases but also a cabinet-makers.

The third part of the mill complex is the surviving part of the original Steam Mill from c1785 whose boiler-house and engine house have since been demolished. The middle wing facing Steam Mill Street stands in the position of the Steam Mill shown on Weston's map of Chester dated 1789 (engraved by Hunter) and incorporates what may be original cast-iron columns and beams; the 4-storey north wing facing the Chester Canal is probably early C19; the external features of the middle and south wings are probably 1840s. The square internal chimney below roof level survives at the junction of the middle and south wings. One owner of the mill was the Wrench family who also counted among their number noted clockmakers. The Wrenches decided to move their business here after a 1819 fire at the Dee Mills at the Old Dee Bridge and so converted a disused cotton mill by the canal. Then they used the newly discovered steam engine for milling. The Wrenches prospered in Steam Mill Street, and expanded the mills until they became one of the largest milling firms in the country.

Writing in the 1830's, Hemingway listed the area around Steam Mill Street with his usual snobbishness:

  • "the environs of Frodsham Street, Love Street, Steam Mill Street, Watergate Street, Northgate Street, Commonhall Street, Cuppin Street, Pepper Street, and Lower Bridge Street were all of inferior grade"

He is a little more specific about Steam Mill Street being "not of the most reputable description":

  • "..an opening leading to the canal in the olden time designated Horn lane but now called Steam Mill Street. It is said to have received the former appellation from one or both of its boundary banks having been formed of the hoofs and horns of cattle brought there from the various tanneries with which the neighbourhood abounded; its latter cognomen is derived from a corn mill at the top of the street occupied by the Messrs Frost's who have built on the opposite side of the way an extensive warehouse with which the mill is connected by a stage thrown across from the respective upper stories in each building. In the description of the city in the fourteenth century this was called Chester lane and by Webb somewhat more than two hundred years ago we have it named Starre lane. The houses in this street are in general small and paltry and the neighbourhood not of the most reputable description. A small chapel has lately been erected here used as a place of worship by the Primitive Methodists more generally known by the appellation of Ranters."

Hughes also notes how this was a poor part of town:

  • "Returning to the main street we soon arrive through poverty hunger and dirt at Hoole Lane the corner of which is now embellished with a neat little structure known as the Chester Ragged Schools for the use of those tattered little specimens of humanity ever found about the streets of all populous towns."

In summary, the Steam Mill Street clock is foremost an example of corporate pride (perhaps even vanity). There was no reason for Brown's to provide a clock for the down-trodden inhabitants of the area and it is hardly visible from any distance. The elaborate carving around the clock serves no function other than ornament as this is actually the back of the building.

St Paul's in Boughton sits high on the slope above the River Dee.

St Paul's Boughton

The redundant church of St Paul's Boughton is a much overlooked Chester building. It is best seen from the Earls Eye meadows. The interesting thing about the clock is its mechanism, devised in part by Lord Kelvin a noted Victorian scientist.

It ceased to be a church in 2016, when it was closed by the Diocese, as it was found to be in very bad repair, and indeed in danger of sliding down the hill into the River Dee. St Paul's was named by the Victorian Society as one of the "Top Ten Heritage Buildings at Risk" for 2016. It was virtually rebuilt in 1876 to a design by John Douglas, who added the south aisle in 1902, and the spire in 1905. The original church was by William Cole. Described in Nikolaus Pevsner as "the boldest of Douglas' church designs" the stunning "Arts and Crafts" interior retains wall paintings and wonderful stained glass windows by Kempe, Frampton, William Morris, and Burne-Jones.

The new clock that was installed in the spire in 1905 was paid for by the legacy of Nessie Brown (she also paid for the nearby monument to George Marsh). The clock is of the "Lord Kelvin Compensating Balance" type and was believed to be accurate, averaged over a year, to three seconds a week (Chester Courant 3rd May 1905). Miss Brown's motive in installing such an accurate clock may have been been pronpted by the frequent complaints from the inhabitants of Chester about the trams that:

  • "the Corporation should add a little more to the expenditure by providing, wheie necessary, watches for the drivers, and see that they are at correct time each morning before turning out, that the men could rely upon them, and not have to trust to any clock they may see en route."

No sooner was the clock installed than a long debate with the Corporation started as to who should carry the cost of lighting it. The Brown family history of clockmaking may have led them to fund other church clocks in Chester. Charles Brown left money for the clock at Hoole parish church as recorded in the Courant (6th July 1904):

  • "The vestry of All Saints', Hoole, discharged the agreeable duty on Wednesday of accepting with hearty thanks the generous offer of a clock from the executors of'the late Mr. Charles Brown, and granting permission for the erection. This is, of course, subject to the decree of the Consistory Court, where at the end of the month a faculty will be applied for. The clock is to be erected in the belfry, and will be constructed with a view to illumination at some future date. There will be three dials or faces of white opal, and the clock will strike the hours and chime the quarters. Tho gift will, to use a familiar and expressive phrase, supply a long-felt want in the parish. It is satisfactory to learn that the vestry decided to also apply for permission to put a brass tablet in the church recording the gift."

Lord Kelvin was no stranger to disputes about time. In a letter published in Scientific American Supplement 1895 Kelvin criticized geologists’ estimates of the age of rocks and the age of the earth, including the views published by Charles Darwin, as "vaguely vast age". Curiously, he has an indirect connection with the Leadworks clock, as it was scientists (partuculatly Clair Cameron Patterson) trying to prove the age of the earth by looking at the decay of natural uranium into lead that discovered the massive extent to which lead in petrol was polluting the environment.

A panoramic view of the sunset over the "Earl's Eye" at Boughton where the River Dee turns into the first curve of the great S-bend at the "Chester Gorge". St Paul's can be seen on the extreme left, although the clock is not visible in this image. The clock tower at Eaton is visible from this location.

The clock had not been installed when Nessie Brown's funeral took place in 1905. According to the Cheshire Observer (1st April 1905) it was her wish that the service should take part at sunset, i.e. at "twilight's last gleaming". She was born in 1814 in the same month that "The Star Spangled Banner" was penned.

The clocktower at Eaton Hall as seen from Aldford.

Eaton Chapel Clock

Eaton Chapel is the private chapel of the Grosvenors to the north of Eaton Hall in Eaton Park, near the village of Eccleston. The clock can only be examined close up on the relatively rare open days at Eaton Hall, but it can be seen from afar, particularly if one visits Boughton to examine the clock at St Pauls. One good way to see this and St Pauls is to walk along the south side of the River Dee towards the meadows at the Earls Eye

Building of the chapel commenced in 1869, soon after the estate was inherited by Hugh Grosvenor, the 3rd Marquess of Westminster, in conjunction with a major rebuilding of the hall. Grosvenor became the 1st Duke of Westminster in 1874. He appointed Alfred Waterhouse as architect and the building was completed in 1884. When the Waterhouse hall was demolished in 1963, the chapel was retained.

Many people only see the tower from a distance and assume that it is completely free-standing. However it is still associated with the chapel. A common myth is that it is a copy for the Duke of Westminster of the Elizabeth Tower at Westminster, completed in 1859. Close comparison of Pugin's Elizabeth Tower and the Eaton Tower shows that this is not true.

The clock-tower is free-standing, but joined to the chapel at the lower two storeys, and by a bridge above. The tower has six stages and contains tall lancet bell-openings. Above these is the clock stage, corbelled out from the shaft of the tower and surmounted by pinnacles at each corner. On each side is a clock face made from vitreous enamel; each clock face is 9 feet 8 inches (2.95 m) in diameter. Over this is a spire decorated with gables and pinnacles. The clock was manufactured by Gillett and Bland of Croydon.

Henry Twells Clock

Henry Twells' clock never belonged to Henry Twells.

The clock is in the Cathedral but never belonged to Henry Twells.

Henry Twells was born in Ashted, Birmingham on March 13th, 1823. Twells at­tend­ed Pe­ter­house Coll­ege, Cam­bridge, and be­came Cur­ate at Berk­ham­sted and Sub-Vic­ar at Strat­ford-on-Avon. In 1856, he be­came head­mas­ter of Go­dolph­in School, Ham­mer­smith, Lon­don. He be­came Vi­car of Walt­ham-on-the-Wolds, Lei­ces­ter­shire, in 1871, and Can­on of Peter­bor­ough in 1884. After re­tir­ing to Bourne­mouth, he helped at St Ste­phen’s, and built and part­ly en­dowed St Au­gus­tine’s Church. He wrote many poems and several hymns. The text of the poem under his clock at the Cathedral is that of his "Times Paces" and reads:

  • "When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept. When as a youth I waxed more bold, time strolled. When I became a full-grown man, time RAN. When older still I daily grew, time FLEW. Soon I shall find, in passing on, time gone. O Christ! wilt Thou have saved me then? Amen."

This is the original version of the poem, but not the best known. A modified version of the poem was used in a 1952 sermon by Guy Pentreath (1902–1985) in an amended version. Pentreath had probably reconstructed the poem from memory after seeing the clock in the Cathedral. While he made no attempt himself to publicise his version, it somehow was published and was often quoted.

The clock was made in about 1820 and was orignally mounted on a solid wall which ran across the middle of the church. However, the stone wall was replaced with the present wooden screen in the nineteenth century; the clock was kept and a new case built to house the movement. Whoever made the case was certainly no craftsman since it is actually made out of old floorboards, roughly nailed together. It was recently "restored" to the extent that it would remain intact while maintaining its shambolic appearance.

Old TSB Bank

The old TSB (Chester Savings) bank is located near Chester Castle. The clock can only be viewed from outside of the building and is on the prominent yet slender tower. The Grosvenor Museum is next-door. and St Michael is at the other end of Grosvenor Street. While the building is elegant the real interest in this clock is the mechanism and its history.

This 1851-3 building is the most happily composed and detailed of James Harrison's office-building designs in Chester. On a corner site, the construction is of tooled sandstone with smooth flush quoins and a grey slate roof. The north-west front to Grosvenor Street has a recessed entrance bay, east, with double carved panelled doors of oak in an arched opening with label-mould and a janitor's window of one cusped light. A well-handled corner clock-turret is faced with blank tracery and crowned with a Tudor octagonal stone belfry cupola.

Chester Savings Bank was one of the first trustee banks to be established in England and Wales. It was set up in 1817, in response to local demand. The Bank’s first home was in the Exchange, in Northgate Street. By the middle of the 19th century, business had grown to the extent that the Bank needed its own self-contained offices. It moved to these purpose-built premises in Grosvenor Street, in 1853. The plans were the result of an 1847 competition which Harrison won. The Bank continued to expand over the next few decades. By the end of the century, it had attracted more than 4,000 depositors. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1904 that allowed savings banks to merge with one another. Chester Savings Bank seized this opportunity, amalgamating with Wrexham Savings Bank in 1906. At that point, Wrexham had been on the brink of collapse. The newly-formed Chester & Wrexham Savings Bank went on to absorb five others before the outbreak of the First World War. The Bank established more branches during the interwar period. Then, after the Second World War, it changed its name to the Chester, Wrexham & North Wales Savings Bank. With the passing of the TSB Act of 1976, and the resultant restructure, Chester became part of TSB of Wales & Border Counties: this paved the way for TSB to be floated on the Stock Exchange ten years later, when it became a fully-fledged plc. The building housed TSB bank until the 1980s and was briefly known as a Viking Restaurant before being taken over by Chester restaurateur Stephen Wundke in 1992 when he re-opened it as Paparazzi, later known as Pastarazzi Ristorante. Since then it has continued to house a restaurant.

The Old TSB Bank in the days when Chester still had trams. The question is, which came first this clock on "Big Ben"?

The clock (said to be 1849, although that is prior to the construction date of the building) is by Joyce of Whitchurch. The importance of public clocks is underlined that when this and other clocks in Chester were stopped for repair the matter was of sufficient importance to be noted in the newspapers. The Courant for the 1st November 1905 carried the following notice:

  • "SAVINGS BANK CLOCK. — We are officially informed that owing to the requirement of extensive repairs this clock, which is of such great service to the public, will be stopped for several days from last Monday "

The clock is said to be notable because it was one of the earliest "turret" clocks to have a "Denison" gravity escapement. In fact the Rhyl Advertiser of 23rd August 1879 claimed that the Chester Savings Bank clock was the very first clock to have this form of escapement. This form of escapement mechanism is preferred for turret clocks because their wheel trains are subjected to large variations in drive force caused by the large exterior hands, with their varying wind, snow, and ice loads. The clock at "Big Ben" which also uses such a form of escapement and that clock was completed in 1854 and installed in 1859. It is often said that Joyce and Co. copied the mechanism from "Big Ben", so the dates are a little confusing. If fact, much ink has been spilt over the argument as to priority. Joyce themselves claim that the clock installed in 1853 which would make it a year earlier than "Big Ben", but others have claimed that the clock was altered later.

Grosvenor Museum

The Grosvenor Museum is located near Chester Castle, and is next door to The Old Savings Bank building. The clocks to be seen at the Museum are all inside the building - entry is free but donations are welcome. The Chester Military Museum (entry fee) and the spectacular Grosvenor Bridge are nearby.

The Grosvenor Museum contains an a plurality of clocks, but few of them can be seen up-close and personal. The clock in the entrance hall is by Francis Butt of Chester, around 1852-70. Francis Butt was a clock and watchmaker who was working in Chester with his famlly from about 1865 to 1892. He was born in St Oswalds parish, and was later recorded at Eastgate Street Row. From 1880 the address is recorded as 32 Eastgate. There may have been some re-mubering as we know that 26 Eastgate Street was rebuilt in 1858 by T. M. Penson for Butt's Jewelers in proto Vernacular Revival style - one of the earliest of the forerunners of the Vernacular Revival in Chester.

The "King's Arms Kitchen" has a completely untrue legend associated with it that in its original location King Charles hid (for a month) in a cottage which could be accessed via a hatch under the clock. The clock is by S. Moreton of Boughton. and both the building and the clock are far too recent for this to be true. In fact Charles I stayed in Chester for two days to watch his army defeated and then promptly left.

The "period house" exhibit features the following clocks:

  • A long-case walnut veneered clock which originally had a square 11″ face and was probably made about 1695. Around 1740 the hood of the clock was considerably modified and the height was increased to 8′ 4″ from 6′ 10″. This was achieved by re-building the hood to take an arch dial and a "Caddy Top" with finials was added to the top. The re-building of the top was undertaken by one of the Cawley family and on the arch dial he placed a silver disc with Arms of the City of Chester and his name and added Robert Cawley to the earlier chapter ring. There is no indication who was the original maker of the clock but it seems likely that it may have been signed below the chapter ring along the bottom of the face and that this has been erased. The clock has an extremely fine five pillar movement, which it would be nice to think was by a Chester maker, but it may well have been made by a good London maker.
  • A housekeepers cupboard signed and dated "Jos Butler, 1814" in marquetry on a secret door inside the left-hand cupboard. The centre panel is inset with an eight-day movement clock by Thomas Joyce (1793-1861) of Whitchurch. The Joyce family are well known and documented clockmakers of Whitchurch. Thomas is recorded in Elloit's "Shropshire Clockmakers" as working from 1822-1861. Thomas Joyce also made large clocks for local churches and public buildings, including the saving bank clock discussed above.
  • A Travelling Clock by Robert Fletcher II of Chester, made in the 1830s and displayed in the Victorian Bedroom. Robert Fletcher II was born 1755, granted Freedom in 1841 and died in 1841. The Chester Courant of 7 July 1789 records a move to Foregate Street and the same paper on 16 October 1810 records the hanging of two young men at the New Gaol at the Northgate for a burglary in the shop of MR FLETCHER, watchmaker in Chester. The robbery at the shop was on 19th May and one of the culprits (Smith) attempted to escape the City Gaol on the 1st July but was "prevented by a woman 56 years of age and a large dog". The trial was on September 20th. Mr Fletcher apparently did all he could to get the sentences reduced. The list of Executions for Chester provided by Hanshall (p651) has only one burglary execution for that year: "1810: Oct 1st Executions of Smith & Clark for burglary & felony in the shop of Mr. Fletcher, a watchmaker. East Gate. The conduct of Smith on the drop was exceedingly unbending and audacious, and the night before his execution he played at cards with some of his companions. They were buried in St. Martin’s churchyard.". A third accused, named Baxter, was acquitted. Some further information on the clock can be found here.
  • A Lantern Clock by Joseph Billington of Chester, from around 1670. Billington was a Freeman of Chester but had a shop in Wrexham. Lantern clocks were the clocks found in people’s homes in the 17th and early 18th centuries before they went out of fashion following the invention of the long case or grandfather clock. While only the wealthier middle class, gentry and aristocracy could afford a lantern clock, the number of clockmakers in Chester and Wrexham during this period is proof that there were enough wealthy people in the area to support a thriving clock industry in the century following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

(needs visit to museum to complete)

Eastgate

After "Big Ben" (the clock not the bell) the Eastgate clock is believed to be the most photographed clock in England. It is located where the City Walls cut across Eastgate Street and sits on top of the Eastgate. It can be seen easily from St Peter. For a closer look at the clock it is possible to get up onto the Walls at either side of the street. It is one of the traditional starting points for a walk around the Walls.

There is something very odd about this illustration from "The Builder" dated June 9, 1882: the Eastgate clock, as shown on the right was only put in place in 1899!

The clock was designed by John Douglas and commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1897). An illustration from "The Builder" of June, 1882 may indicate that Douglas had the idea that a clock should be placed here when he was building the bank and Grosvenor Club at that time, as a clock, with stone supports, is shown standing atop the Eastgate.

The ironwork was made by Handbridge master-blacksmith James Swindley, Douglas' cousin. The clock was unveiled on the 24th May 1899 (being started by the mayor at a quarter to one). J B Joyce & Co, the same company that built it, still exists after a fashion. In 1964, Norman Joyce, the last member of the Joyce family, retired and sold the company to Smith of Derby. Until 1974 a technician from Smith of Derby had to travel to Chester each week (by Crosfield bus) to wind it - and some of the other public clocks. After souvenir hunters stole the hands of the clock, the city council glazed the clock faces in 1988. Only in 1992 was an electrical mechanism fitted to replace the original wind-up mechanism. The original clockwork is in storage at the Grosvenor Museum. In 1996 the clock faces were restored with their original colours. The clock tower has four, 4ft 6 inch dials that were originally gas lit, but are now powered by electricity with battery back-up and a computer chip which keeps the clock to precise time. The clock has a flatbed frame, a pinwheel escapement (48 pins), and was originally designed, after some difficulty, with an additional wheel in the train to shorten the weight drop and enable a weight powered clock to be used instead of sprung clockwork. As the newspaper records of the time show, the clock was almost not built at all, and it may even have looked entirely different.

The initial design proposed looks nothing like the present Eastgate Clock. The initial conception was described in the Courant of 13th October 1897:

  • "The structure was intended to be of Mansfield red sandstone, and it would have spanned the present footway over the existing arch, the lower arcaded story having a vaulted ceiling, and the clock tower itself being covered with a copper roof and vane."

"Mansfield Red" sandstone (which is technically a Lower Magnesian Limestone) was from Nottinghamshire and among the few stones from that shire which achieved a national reputation, being popular in the 19th Century with architects for durability and suitability for delicate work. The source-quarries are now long worked-out. Local occupants immediately complained that this would cast a shadow on their premises and plans were rapidly revised to propose taking down the archway completely and replacing it with latticed girder bridge. This plan was also abandonned as reported in the newspapers of the time: "in the meantime the Jubilee enthusiasm of the citizens has evaporated".

Edward Evans-Lloyd on the Eastgate clock. The signage is a little misleading as the clock was only errected in 1899.

Eventually something like the John Douglas design was settled on as the leading proposal. The cost of the clock dials and mechanism was to a large part met by Edward Evans-Lloyd who contributed £600. Indeed, his name appears on the south face of the clock, which states (on an iron plaque made at Coalbrookdale):

  • “This clock was presented to the City by Edward Evans-Lloyd Citizen & Freeman, 1897.”

Prior to the erection of the clock there was considerable debate as to whether the funds raised would be better spent on the Maternety Hospital in Grosvenor Street, or indeed on a clock for the Town Hall. Others proposed that the entire gate should be knocked down and re-built as it was too narrow. One writer noted when a canvas model of the clock was erected to demonstrate the concept:

  • "I hope it may be more artistic than the canvas erection, at which even my horse was so terrified that he declined to pass under!"

This prolonged debate so delayed the construction of the clock that it was not errected until some years after the jubilee - one wag wrote to the Courant (23rd November 1898) asking:

  • "The clock on the Eastgate? Will this be ever seen before the next Jubilee? Who is to blame for its non-erection? ".

A typical example of the debate was reported on the Courant for the 6th October 1897. It appears that the hospital proposal was supported by the Duke of Westminster, who would eventually snub the opening ceremony of the clock by not turning up, something which caused some pointed comments during the ceremony.

Chester's Eastgate, a traditional starting point for a walk around the City Walls. Look for a set of steps on the right hand side of the gate as you approach it.

The unveiling ceremony was documented in The Chronicle, 24th May 1899. The writer of the article claimed the ceremony was "singularly dull and uninteresting". After the ceremony there was a subscription lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel for the Mayor, Councillors and other civic dignitaries. Not many people attended this and the writer also notes that half the Councillors failed to make an appearance at the ceremony. As the Courant reported (31st May), one anonymous clergyman wrote:

  • "I must confess that the ceremony attending the event was, in my opinion, greatly marred for want of management or through somebody's blundering. Where were the clergy to-day, and where were all the ministers ? Why were they snuffed out and not invited as of yore to take part in such an important public event ? For it was such, and I say shame upon the councillors who stayed away. A public gift of this kind is usually dedicated by prayer to the Giver of All, and I should have liked to have seen this old usage performed on this occasion; and the omission will cause me, at least, ever to look upon it as the undedicated clock."

The plinth of the clock is inscribed: "THIS CLOCK TOWER WAS ERECTED IN COMMEMORATION OF THE 60TH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF VICTORIA, QUEEN AND EMPRESS (east); ANTIQUI COLANT ANTIQUUM DIERUM: B.C. ROBERTS, MAYOR 1897; J.C. HOLMES, MAYOR 1898 (west - it is actually J. G. Holmes); THIS CLOCK WAS ERECTED BY EDWARD EVANS-LLOYD CITIZEN AND FREEMAN 1897 (south) and ERECTED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION & COMPLETED A.D. 1899 H. STOLTEFORTH MAYOR (north)"

Not everyone was in favour of the clock. Artist Charles Marston (of Mold) wrote to the Courant:

  • "THE EASTGATE CLOCK. A PROTEST. Sir,— Will you allow me space in your valuable paper to express my regret at the erection of the clock on Eastgate Bridge. Anybody with a sense of order and harmony in his nature will see at once that the tower or clock, or whatever it may be called, which stands at present on Eastgate Bridge, never ought to have been put there, as it is entirely out of keeping with its surroundings. Of course, everybody appreciates the good nature of Colonel Evans-Lloyd in giving the clock. But it is most annoying to any lover of art that so abnormal an over-growth should be erected in the midst of that which is picturesque and lovely. The pity is that the architectural features of Chester should be sullied by the close proximity of a giant toy, a plaything in the nursery; a petite ornament in a lady's drawing-room, to fill up some little corner, becomes an object of contempt when viewed as a street decoration, and that in one of the most beautiful cities in the world"

Another correspondent of the Courant, known only by initials "T.H." suggested that the clock be coated with sand so that it did not stand out:

  • "THE EASTGATE CLOCK. Sir, Your Mold correspondent deals rather hardly with the new time-keeper. But, he overlooks the fact that both clock and gate- way were erected for their usefulness, before anything. And I question whether the clock and appurtenances are not quite in keeping with its neighbour, the Grosvenor Hotel P As to the character of the ironwork, surely there has been no muddle over it P But, I begin to fear they have given too lofty a mount to the clock. The ironwork should, if possible, be coated with sand the colour of the arch-or it will look like a fish out of water. As to the gateway, the abominable thing supplanted an ancient massive one over a hundred years ago- the greatest Cestrian mistake of the last three centuries. T. H."

"T.H." may have been motivated by the fact that his own much cheaper design had been rejected. Yet another corresponent of the Courant (22nd March 1899) bemoaned the delay in erecting the clock:

The clock in the council chamber at the Town Hall.
  • "Cherster'a Jubilee Memorial Clock on the Eastgate has in all conscience occupied a sufficiently long time in erection; but there was no need, we should have thought, to commemorate that fact so pointedly for the benefit of posterity. The ironwork of the structure bears the names of no fewer than three Mayors of the city—1897-'98-'99—thus making a historical record of the period which tbe citizens of Chester required to complete the monument. It would have surely been a happier and more appropriate plan to have adhered to the committee's original decision, to inscribe on the memorial only the names of the MAYOR and SHERIFF of the Jubilee year, which, after all, will be the only interesting fact for future generations."

Even a year later newspaper correspondents were still taking every opportunity to bring up the matter of the clock. A letter to the Courant (27th April 1898) dragged it up again when discussing the proposed monument to George Marsh by Nessie Brown:

  • "..The ingenuity of the citizens was recently sufficiently taxed in agreeing upon a memorial of the Jubilee, and that protracted controversy does not indicate that Cestrians possess a positive genius for discovering monuments likely to command unanimous approval."

In 2015 the Eastgate clock was renovated and for that purpose a protective cover was installed. The ingenious cover hiding the scaffolding depicted a photographic image of the bridge and clock and even has working hands to tell the time. The idea was so that "tourists and visitors could still have a snap taken with Chester’s world-famous landmark". It is supposed the cover was not cheap and the local council carefully supervised the works. Unfortunately, the imitation clock face was printed as a mirror image of what it should have been and therefore put on backwards. CW&C Council leader Mike Jones, commented: "That took some time to spot.." A subsequent survey of ornamental detail found a significant number of "iron" flowers to be replacements. Repairs had been made in wood and the "VR" motifs above the clock faces were plastic replicas! Several coats of unsuitable paint had been applied over the years forming a crust that had pulled away from metal surfaces trapping water. Non-original flowers and other features were replicated in authentic material, referencing the original architect’s drawings where possible.

In 2018 the Eastgate clock and the Town Hall clock were illuminated in purple as part of a national campaign recognising "Purple Flag" towns and cities in the UK. Purple Flag status recognises areas that offer an "entertaining, diverse, safe and enjoyable night out" and Chester is one of only 70 towns and cities in the UK to have achieved it. Since then the clock has been illuminated in various colours for charitable causes. The Eastgate Clock is lit with LED technology, so it’s quite easy for the street lighting engineers to alter the colour.

In summary, the Eastgate Clock came close to not being built on several occasions, the opening ceremony was poorly attended and much delayed. Nowadays, any suggestion that it should be taken down would meet with an outcry.

Details of the Town Hall spire as seen from the roof of the Cathedral tower. Unfortunately it is not possible for the public to access the belvedere at the summit. Judging by the photographs of Urban Explorers there is not even an internal ladder.

Town Hall

One often-mentioned feature of the Town Hall is that the clock tower only has a clock on three of the four sides, and that the clock face facing Wales is missing because the inhabitants of Chester "would not give the welsh the time of day" (see "Shoot the Welsh"). The Cloth Hall in Ypres (built in 1260, destroyed in WW1 and rebuilt in 1934), upon which the Town Hall is based, also only has a clock face on three sides of the tower - however it houses an impressive carillon with 49 bells. Chester's Town hall clock can be seen from many places in Chester as there are few buildings of a similar size.

The Town Hall came close to not having a tower at all. Work began in 1865 and lasted some four years, prolonged by the increasingly strained relations between Corporation and Architect, and a strike. The principal difficulty was that architect Lynn's scheme cost more than the £16,000 specified by the Corporation, and although the Committee grudgingly accepted a tender of £21,610, it continued to consider various modifications, including leaving out the tower. Eventually, following strident protest by the architect the tower was included.

The actual clock is recent (having only been installed in 1980), as plans for the inital purchase of a clock (originally commisssioned by the War Office and intended for Woolwich Arsenal) were cut for cost reasons, and, upon the discovery that the clock would require an hour of winding each day. The "War-Office" clock was said to be a huge affair, with nine foot dials and "more powerful than Big Ben", and would also cost more to alter to fit the tower than the cost of a new one.

The council chamber was rebuilt to designs by Thomas Meakin Lockwood after a major fire of 1897 completely gutted it. It is panelled and contains wooden and stone carvings. The council chamber clock was presented to the city by then major, silk-mercer J. G. Holmes (whose wife had the surname Watson) during the restoration work. Holmes is the same mayor whose name appears on the Eastgate Clock, but the initials vary with "J.C." being often recorded as what is written on the Eastgate Clock and "J.G." in the Town Hall council chamber. He was in fact "John Goodie Holmes" accord to his obituary in the Courant (10th April 1907), and, careful inspection of the Eastgate Clock reveals that the letter is a "G" and not a "C"

The dedecation of the clock in the council chamber attracted almost as much ceremony as that of the Eastgate Clock:

The skeletal horse and clock at the Dutton warehouse.
  • "The MAYOR said before proceeding to the ordinary business of the Council, he might be permitted to congratulate them on being able to hold their meetings in the Council Chamber as formerly. They had suffered considerable inconvenience and discomfort during the restoration, but now it was completed and very much improved and adorned, in fact, he believed it was one of the most beautiful council chambers in the kingdom. (Hear, haar.) He sure they should all appreciate and highly cherish it. If they would kindly allow him, he would have great pleasure in presenting to them, and through them to the citizens, the clock which had been placed in the screen at the other end of the room (below the gallery), and which had been specially made to harmonise with its surroundings, and was of the best English workmanship. (Applause.) During their debates it would remind them of the lapse of time, and every half-hour it would gently warn them that time still rolled its ceaseless course. He hoped they would do him the honour of accepting the clock. (Applause.) Sir THOMAS FROST said it was with the greatest pleasure that he rose to propose that the best thanks of the Council be given to the Mayor for the very handsome gift he had just presented to them, and which he was sure would be highly appreciated by all of them. Alderman CHARLES BROWN heartily seconded the proposition, and said the clock was a very handsome present. The motion having been carried with ap- plause, the MAYOR briefly expressed his acknowledgments."

On display in the Mayor's Parlour at the Town Hall is a clock, carved to resemble the west front of Chester Cathedral, it is one of six similar clocks presented to HMS Chester by the citizens of Chester in May 1916.

In summary, the fact that the Town Hall did not need an external clock for over a century says somehing about the changes in attitudes to time which had occurred since the first civic clock was installed at St Peter. By the time that the Town Hall clock was actually installed (1979) most people would own a watch, and if the two did not agree they would probably assume that it was the Town Hall clock which was not correct. The installation of the Town hall clock is unmentioned in the Civic Trust's booklet "Preservation and Progress" but roughly marks the time at which there was something of a shift in attitudes towards conservation in Chester.

The "Skelly 'Orse"

This warehouse clock has now gone, but a grocer's yard in Princess Street was once home to a curious clock decorated with the skeleton of a horse. This was something of an attraction to race-goers who would visit the yard prior to going down to the racecourse in the expectation that it would bring them luck. The bones of the horse are believed to be buried somewhere near where it once stood. There is a connection between George Dutton and the Morelands, which makes it possible that the clock associated with the horse was by Moreland.

The 1851 census gives the members of Morelands household in Northgate street, St. Oswalds, Chester as Thomas Moreland (head, 51, Clock Maker employing 2 men and 1 apprentice, born Chester), Marey Moreland (wife, 51, born Duddlestone, Ellesmere, Salop), Sarah Moreland ( daughter, 24, Dressmaker, born Chester), Joseph Finchett (lodger, 32, Grocer, born Kelsall, Cheshire) and George Dutton, (lodger, 21, Grocer, born Clotton Hoofield, Tarvin). The 1871 census gives George Dutton as living at 100 Eastgate Row (head, 41, Grocer employing 9 men and 5 boys, born Clotton Hoofield, Cheshire) - although the number must be a mistake as Eastgate Row is too short to go up to 100. Clearly George Dutton of the Eastgate Street grocery, whose warehouse held the horse skeleton, is the same George Dutton who was living with the Morelands back when he was an apprentice. By 1891 the Duttons were doing very well and living at 13 Curzon Park.

Back in 1861 one or other of the George Duttons (father and son both ran the grocery store at various times) decided he was going to improve his premises at 25 Eastgate Street. During excavations for new cellars a Roman altar was found under 13 feet of earth and George decided to use this as the basis of his registered trademark, with 'Sigarro' being a word devised from abbreviated Latin - Sig (short for signum - a sign), Ar (abbreviation of arae - an altar) and Ro (Romani - Roman). Sig-Ar-Ro - The Sign of the Roman Altar. It was used on tins of Meths. The altar is today in the Grosvenor Museum.

The Hall of Chester Market (with the clock) used to stand on the site of the Forum Shopping Center. This picture must date from after 1886, when the new vegetable market was built, but be prior to 1895 when the coachworks was built. Just past the "Coach and Horses" the "Elephant and Castle" still stands.

Market Hall

From 1863 to 1967 Chester had a large public clock on the front of the Market Hall next to which the Town Hall was later built. This beautiful baroque building was demolished to make way for one of the ugliest architectural horrors ever conceived, destroying some unique Roman remains in the process.

The clock on the front of the building was again made by Thomas Moreland, the noted Chester clock-maker (CCF/19/5/24) as mentioned several times in this article. However it was not up to the standard of his other works, and became something of a local joke due to its tendency to slow down. The reason for this may well have simply been the size of the clock and the fact that it had very large hands that would would have been subjected to variations of effective weight due to snow, wind and rain. The fate of the Market Hall clock after the building was demolished remains a mystery, and it would be interesting to know what became of it.

Eastmans' Clock

This clock is in the Town Hall square. Only the face is visible.

All that remains of Eastman's shop premises today is its clock. This was of some use to the inhabitants of Chester after the Market Hall clock was removed and before the Town hall was provided with a clock, given that there were a number of bus stops in the Market Square.

The importation of meat from North America to Britain started in the 1860s and accelerated in the 1870s as refrigeration improved. One of the leading shippers was Timothy C. Eastman (1821-93) who owned a huge abattoir, or ‘killing yard’, in New York. From around 1875 he exported large quantities of ‘dead’ (that is, frozen) American beef to England. Spearheading the sale of imported dead meat within Britain, the brothers Henry and James Bell set up a chain of butcher’s shops in 1879. Ten years later they controlled 330 shops which traded as The American Fresh Meat Co. or Hill & Dale Ltd. The Bells’ target clientele was the working class, which benefited from the availability of cheap foreign meat. In June 1889 they set up Eastmans Ltd., with Lord Greville as Chairman. This new venture incorporated Timothy and Joseph Eastmans’ company, and appropriated their name. In 1900, however, with interest in other markets – primarily Argentina and Australia for beef and New Zealand for lamb – growing (and America becoming correspondingly less competitive), Eastmans Ltd. liquidated the American company.

Eastmans's and Will R. Rose - all that remains today is the clock on the corner of St Werburgh Street. It may date from when the Chester Courant newspaper had its offices here (or nearby)

In 1903 Eastmans Ltd. had 205 retail shops and cold stores capable of holding 310,000 carcasses of mutton; by 1912 the number of shops had risen to 1,400. The five years preceding the Great War, however, were lean years for the imported meat trade, due to rising prices and slack demand. For Eastmans Ltd., the war proved disastrous. Between 1914 and 1917, 495 shops closed. Most of the employees joined the forces, supplies were disrupted, and turnover was greatly reduced. In August 1920, while Eastmans was recovering from this setback, the Vestey Brothers, owners of the Union Cold Storage Co., stepped in and bought the company. The Union Cold Storage Co. had been founded in 1897 and established the Blue Star Line in 1911. By 1923 it had 51 cold stores and freezing works abroad and at home, and a large fleet of refrigerated vessels. Beef was imported from Argentina and lamb from New Zealand; Australia was another important market. In 1923 the firm acquired the British & Argentine Meat Co. Ltd. (which had been formed in March 1914 through an amalgamation of two other chains of butchers’ shops: James Nelson & Sons Ltd. [with 1,000 shops] and George Drabble’s River Plate Meat Co. [with 440 shops]). The Vesteys now controlled 2,400 ‘retail shops, depots and market stalls in this country’, as well as factories and wholesalers. Other chains acquired by the Vesteys in 1923 included W. & R. Fletcher Ltd., the Argenta Meat Co. Ltd., and J. H. Dewhurst. Ultimately, it was the Dewhurst brand (and its equivalent Alex Munro in Scotland) that came to dominate British shopping streets into the 21st century. Dewhurst’s had been founded in Southport, Lancashire, by John Henry Dewhurst. In 1977 there were 1,400 Dewhurst shops in the UK, and in 1980 they were rebranded as ‘Dewhurst The Master Butcher’. There were just 360 branches, however, by March 1995, when the company went into receivership along with its holding company, Union International. A management buy-out allowed the company to limp on for a few more years. In 2005 Dewhurst was bought by West Country butcher Lloyd Maunder. A year later Dewhurst closed 60 shops and called in the administrators to help sell the remaining 35.

By 1959 the premises had been taken over by "George Oliver" and there have been frequent changes of occupancy since. For a while the workshops behind the clock were occupied by "Will R. Rose" a famous Chester photographic company and pioneer of "through the post" development services. The company was founded in 1933 and finally dissolved in 1996. However, despite all these changes, the clock has now remained for well over a century.

Racecourse

The county stand and the weighing room both have modern "stable" type turret clocks, although the county stand also has a clock overlooking the racecourse itself. There is no particular history associated wit any of these clocks. There is a public clock on the 2013 stables building by the River Dee at the Portpool. Again, there is nothing particularly special about the clock. The clocks are maintained by Smith of Derby. John Smith (21 December 1813 - 1886) became an apprentice to John Whitehurst (whose firm provided the Leadworks clock) in 1827. He went on to be the founder of a new clockmaking company in 1856, first establishing his business in premises at 27 Queen Street in Derby. The clock on the front of the county stand is relatively recent, having been installed when the stand was rebuilt after it burned to the ground in September 1985. It may be no co-incidence that there are a whole trail of clocks leading from the racecourse to the railway station. Taking the route from the Grosvenor Bridge end of the racecourse, one is reminded to hurry by the clocks at the old TSB bank, St Michael, St Peter, the Eastgate, the free-standing clock at The Bars and finaly the railway clock as seen down City Road. Perhaps unintentionally the clocks provide a series of navigational markers for punters who have spent their money, may be a little worse for drink and are best ushered off to their train.

The Cathedral "clock" operated the bells before they were removed. The "going train" is in the middle and the striking chains for the hour bell and the quarter bells are to the sides. The shadows on the walls include those of the rotary "air brakes" - paddles which control the speed of the striking mechanism. A short time prior to striking a traditional church clockworks will "warn" with a sharp click - it is then time to get out of the bell-house to avoid hearing damage.

Cathedral

It is possible to ascend the Cathedral tower by taking the "Cathedral At Hight" (paid) Tour. Choose a clear day as the views are specatular, but on the way up don't miss the clockwork.

Some kind of water-clock was available to early monks as the Cistercian Rule of the 12th Century states:

  • "CXIV. The sacrist shall set the clock and cause it to sound in winter before lauds on week days unless it shall be daylight."

While the Cathedral tower does not have a clock face it does contain a clock. This was used to operate the bells before all but one were removed to the external bell-tower. The inventory of the cathedral goods taken at the time of the Reformation mentions a clock, but gives no information on it other than the fact that it existed. It may have operated bells as it mentioned next to bells in the listing.

The clockwork is one of the many interesting things which can be seen on the "Cathedral at hight" tour. It is perhaps the only place in Chester where a turret clock mechanism can be examined without taking your life in your hands. This clock was manufactured by Joyce of Whitchurch and is dated 1873. The clock was removed when the bells were taken down and for many years sat unused in the Cathedral's detatched bell tower. It was restored to the belfry of the cathedral in 2013.

A turret clock can have one, two, or three trains of gears; the whole set of gears is contained in a frame of iron. The first is called the "going train" and this drives the hands to tell the time. The "striking train" strikes the hour and the chiming train sounds the quarter hours. Each train is driven by a weight on the end of a steel line which is wound up round a wooden or metal barrel. On the end of each barrel is a "square" on to which the winding handle fits. Since some clock weights can be more than half a ton, winding a turret clock manually can be very hard work. One reason for the separate gear systems is to ensure that the clockwork which moves the hands is independent from that which operates the chimes, so that accurate time is maintained.

Starting with the going train, the barrel has on it a large wheel called the great wheel, this drives a train of gears which could number two, three or four, depending on the design of the clock or how long it runs for. Each wheel is mounted on an arbor, the term for an axle, the pivots rotate in brass bushes, and the small gears are known as pinions. In most going trains there is one wheel called the centre wheel which rotates once per hour. The last wheel in the going train, and the smallest, is called the escapement wheel or the escape wheel for short. This wheel rotates a lot faster than the others, usually about once or twice a minute, and is linked to the pendulum through the escapement, a device which allows one tooth of the wheel to escape for every swing of the pendulum. It is this mechanism which makes a clock tick. Without the escapement the trains of gears would run unchecked. So, as the pendulum beats time it controls the speed at which the escape wheel rotates, and hence through the train of gears with the appropriate numbers of teeth, it allows the centre wheel to turn once in an hour.

A pendulum swings with a regular number of beats per minute, the number depending only on the length of the pendulum and not on the weight. A pendulum about 39 inches long makes one swing in one second, but a pendulum about 14 feet long takes two seconds to make a single swing. In turret clocks most pendulums are somewhere between these two lengths. To reduce variations in timekeeping due to changes in length, caused by changes in temperature, some clocks have compensation pendulums. These are constructed using several different types of metal so that the pendulum remains the same length at different temperatures. Pendulums which have rods made of wood perform very well in different temperatures, but ones just of steel are not so good. Some clocks, such as the one in the Cathedral, have a third weight and train of gears enabling the clock to sound every quarter of an hour; this is called the quarter or chiming train. As this has even more work to do, its driving weight is typically the largest of the three clock weights. Popular chimes are those used in Big Ben or "ting-tangs" can be sounded on two bells which is called quarter striking. The quarter train is almost identical to a striking train, here the main difference is the number of bell-hammers it operates.

Other Clocks

St Johns has a clock tower at the north-east corner which replaced the clock on the west tower which collapsed on Good Friday 1881. The new clock tower was designed by John Douglas in 1887. There are a few other public clocks in Chester, such as at Holy Trinity and even the odd clock tower dotted around the suburbs. The pedestal clock by J. B. Joyce in Foregate Street is another on the route between the city center and Chester Station: the clock has moved around a bit and the shape of the head has changed over the years.

Saughall has a war memorial which comprises a clock tower. St Lawrence's Church, Stoak has a one-handed clock and the churchyard still contains the sundial used to set it (the church also has the oldest bells in Wirral). The clock in the tower at Upton was the gift of Elizabeth A. Thomson in memory of her husband Thomas Walton who died at Torquay on Ascension Day, 1896, and who is burled in the churchyard. Delving into their history will no doubt lead to many other interesting tales.

Clockmaking in Chester

Clockwork by Thomas Moreland, Chester. Why is there a name on clocks? - the Acy of Parliament of William III inflicted a penalty of £20 for every clock or watch, and forfeiture of the same, if the name and place of abode of the person who made it was not engraved or put upon it.

The beginning of English domestic clock making in volume dates from the late 16th century, and was possibly stimulated by the emigration of Huguenot clock and watchmakers to London. The first English domestic clock was the lantern clock, made in London from c.1600 onwards. Some Hugenot's are known to have moved to Chester. No 72 Northgate Street has a raking full-width dormer with horizontally-sliding sashes. These may be "weavers' windows" - large horizontal windows on the top floor of a dwelling that allowed the residents light to weave. Weavers' windows are associated with the Hugenot migration to Britain and Ireland, and it is known that while many Hugenot's migrated through Chester to Ireland, some settled here, in the only Hugenot settlement in the north of England. Curiously 72 Northgate street may be close to, or on the site of where clockmaker Sarah Moreland would later live and work. The Hugenots also seen to have been associated with the non-conformists of which Sarah was a member and who also had links to the Vambrugh's of Weaver Street.

Chester and nearby Wrexham became important centers for clockmaking by the late 17 century. Wrexham had a long tradition of metalworking and its blacksmiths, gunsmiths, bucklers and needlemakers possessed the metal working skills and the necessary understanding of mathematics and science required to manufacture clocks. Chester was perhaps as important for the working of certain base metals as it was for the working of gold and silver. Certainly Chester was a centre for pewterers and brassfounders, and it had its own Company of Smiths, Cutlers and Plumbers (which would have included the brass-workers).

The raw materials were easily available: brass for the dials from the foundries of Chester and Warrington and lead for the weights from Minera. Castings for the works could be sourced from the many local foundries. Wrexham and Chester were each a bustling market town, home to a prosperous gentry and a regular haunt of dealers and businessmen from across North Wales. These were the kind of people who wanted the 18th century’s ultimate middle class status symbol - a "long case" clock of their own.

In October 1666 the minute book of the Goldsmiths mentions "the Companye of Goldsmyths and Watchmakers", and that in 1664 a watchmaker (John Buck) had been elected steward with Thomas Wright, also a watchmaker as a witness. From the distribution of monies from the Owen Jones charity in 1701 we know that there were eleven goldsmiths and watchmakers in the company. Undoubtedly, there were other clockmakers who chose not to join the Company/Guild.

10½” square brass dial with cast brass spandrels and a finely matted dial centre, engraved birds and foliage around the crescent shaped date and subsidiary seconds dial. The silvered chapter ring has “tethered” half hour markers and an inner track for quarters. It is signed to the lower chapter ring Gab.l (Gabriel) Smith, Chester. Blued, cut-steel hands, rack striking 8 day movement.

All manner of clocks were made in Chester. The church clock at Little Budworth was made by Joseph Smith of Chester under an agreement which specified:

  • "It is agreed this 18th day of April 1727, between John Egerton Esqre, and Mr Joseph Smith, Clockmaker, of Gloverstone in Chester. The said Mr Smith for and in consideration of Ten Pounds, sha "ll make a large substantial church clock to go a week, for Little Budworth, and to have strong Brass wheels, and all the other work to be firm and substantial, and to strike as loud as any week clock shall doe"

The current clock face at Little Budworth bears the date 1785, so it is not certain whether the just face was replaced or the whole clockwork in that year. However the church at Shotwick still has an original clock from 1726 by Smith and until its electrification in 2000 was worked by winding up the massive stones remaining in the tower. In 1730 Smith was:

  • "Paid for shiftinge ye Clock-hammer after ye Great bell fell".

In 2017 the Shotwick clock was repaired and restored by Smith of Derby. Joseph Smith was followed in business by his son Gabriel Smith (1727-1810) who was granted his freedom in 1752 and was elected Sheriff in 1767, warden of the Company of Goldsmiths in 1772, then Mayor of Chester in 1779. He placed an advert in the Chester Courant in 1747, advising that he was working in Gloverstones, Chester, at his father's shop. He worked from Bridge Street in 1781-92. While mayor, Smith provided a silver punch bowl as a prize for the Chester races. He would have also had a bit of a shock as in 1779 when King George III introduced a government tax on all clocks (5 shillings) and watches (10s on gold, 2/6 on silver). This made timepieces very expensive, so people relied more and more on clocks in public places. There were large clocks on churches and public buildings, but a smaller design of clock was needed for smaller buildings such as taverns. These became known as "Act of Parliament Clocks". The law was very unpopular and was repealed after nine months. Gabriel Smith died in 1810 aged 83.

One noted family of chockmakers were the Wrenches. John Wrench was admitted to the Freedom of the city in 1690 (ZA/F/45b/56). This family also had considerable interest in the Dee Mills. In 1743 Edward Wrench bought a three-fifths share, acquired a fourth share in 1753 and bought out the reserved rent due to the Cottons in 1776. The mills burned down in 1789, but were rebuilt and extended soon afterwards by E. O. Wrench. They were advertised for sale in 1807, but evidently remained unsold, for in 1808 Wrench purchased the fifth and final share. The property was again advertised for sale in 1811, when it comprised "18 pair of stones, suitable warehouses, drying kilns, [and] complete machinery". It was burned down again in 1819 and rebuilt, and in 1830 contained 22 pairs of stones, let to several tenants by E. O. Wrench the younger. In 1885 Alderman William Johnson acquired a share in the mills from the Wrench family, and, after yet another fire in 1895, the whole property was purchased by the corporation. The buildings were used for storage until they were finally demolished in 1910.

WrenchclockDetail.jpg

Illustrated on the right is a rather clever bedroom clock from Wrench. This has bells, but does not chime unless a string is pulled, at which point it will repeat the last chime to the nearest quarter hour. Hence, the clock would not disturb sleep but still allows the time to be told, even in the dark. Bishop of Chester John Wilkins describes such clever devices in his book including one which "though it were but two or three inches big, yet would both wake a man and of itself light a candle for him at any set hour of the night", and another in the form of an ear-ring "where the striking of the minutes may constantly whisper unto us, how our lives do slide away". Wilkins is also notable for having been presented, in about 1661, with one of the first pocket watches to which the balance spring had been applied, after its invention by Robert Hooke. Hooke was notable for flying into a rage when he believed that others had stolen his ideas, and he did this when Christiaan Huygens claimed (1673) to have made the same invention as Hooke. Controversy over the priority persisted for centuries. In February 2006, a long-lost copy of Hooke's handwritten notes from several decades of Royal Society meetings was discovered in a cupboard in Hampshire, England. The balance-spring priority controversy appears, by the evidence contained in those notes, to be settled in favour of Hooke's claim.

Thomas Brown is listed as a clock and watchmaker working in Northgate Street Chester 1766 - 1784 and in Stockport from 1795 - 1801. He is listed in another source as also working in Chester until 1812 which means he was operating in two locations. He was granted the Freedom of Chester in 1766. Brown evidently went bankrupt as in 1780 three notices appeared in the Courant:

Clock No 272 from Thomas Brown of Chester. This has an arched dial with Brown's name at the top and a moon phase indicator.
  • "11th April 1780: Notice to Creditors - Whereas THOMAS BROWN of the City of Chester, clock and watchmaker, hath lately assigned over his effects to his brother, Mr William Brown, and Mr John Cooke, of the same city, cabinet maker, in trust for the equal benefit of all his creditors who shall accent their respective proportions of the said effects, in discharge of the debts due to them from the said THOMAS BROWN. Notice is hereby given that such of the creditors as have not already signed the deed, may sign the same at Mr Cross's office in Chester and at the same time deliver in an account of the debts due on them. And all persons indebted to the said Thomas Brown at the time of making the assignment, are desired to pay their debts immediately to the said William Brown or Mr Cooke."
  • "13th June 1780: To be sold by auction - Mr Thomas Brown at his house in Northgate Street. The stock in trade, consisting of several clocks in mahogany and oak cases, silver and metal watches, with a variety of articles of the above trade."
  • "4th July 1780: THOMAS BROWN, Watch and Clockmaker most respectfully informs his friends and the public that he continues to carry on the above business at his shop in Northgate Street Row in this city where he humbly submits their encouragement and favours which he will endeavour to merit by a strict and faithful attention to their commands and by executing every order with neatness, punctuality and on the most reasonable terms. NB: During the fair will be sold at prime cost a large assortments of clocks, silver and pinchbeck watches, watch glasses ,seals and chains, watch hands, pendants etc. "

Half-way from Brown's department store to the High Cross is a shop doorway marked (on the step at Row level) as "Brown's Jewelers". The firm of G.J.H. Brown and Son Ltd., originally known as Brown Brothers, was established in 1859. It is not know whether it had anything to do with the department store Brown's but Thomas Brown, the once bankrupt watchmaker did. He was the brother of shoemaker William Brown (Alderman 1733) whose son was John Brown, formerly a Chester druggist and founder of "Brown's of Chester".

George Lowe, who founded a firm of jewelers which still exists was a clockmaker and his shop, also known as a silversmith and jeweler, was located outside of St Peter in the base of the Pentice, conveniently close to the St Peter clock. No-doubt he promoted his business with reference to the "glove" ("G.LOWE") which was suspended above his shop during the City fair. In 1804, when the Pentice was demolished he moved to premises in Bridge Street, and the firm is still there today. Lowe became a Freeman in 1791, making items for sale but also importing goods from London, repairing goods and buying old items for cash or part exchange. In 1804 he expressed his with in that year's catalog that his stock was comparable to any found in London. Lowe's customers included other Chester watchmakers, local gentry and professional men.

The truly magnificent interior of Lowe's, which features a small exhibition about the history of the family. Harold Lowe, a grandson of George Lowe, was fifth officer on the Titanic and one of the heroes of its sinking in 1912. Harold Lowe grew up in Barmouth where his father ran a branch of Lowe and Sons and was a regular visitor to the Chester store, then owned by his uncle. Harold did have the opportunity to join the family business but instead chose to run away to sea. Lowe is not the only connection between Chester and the doomed ship: Walter Wynn, a surviving deckhand, was born in Chester; Lilian, daughter of Thomas Hughes perished in the sinking; and, the ship which accompanied the Carpathia to New York was USS Chester.

"Clocking-on" was a familiar practise in industry and a fairly primitive machine for this was invented in Chester. Mr Nathan Crosley Firth of Foregate Street is reported in the "Flintshire Observer Mining Journal and General Advertiser" (25th September 1884) as having invented "Firth's patent automatic check clock". This collected tokens from workers as they arrived at an oatmeal mill in Alford, Aberdeenshire and every five minutes added a token of its own to the stack collected, thus showing when workers had arrived late. Others had actually invented similar devices at around the same time and many of these were more advanced than Firth's device. Unfortunately Firth went bankrupt as reported in the Chester Courant (7th August 1901): claiming that he had had to borrow money to finance his patent.

Conclusions

Academic reaserch has linked the development of public clocks and printing to social change. Chester was perhaps a little "behind the curve" of major cities when it came to the deployment of public clocks, but also shows signs of the social changes associated with the development of printing (see: Cholmondeley for the effect of "fake news"), but the linkage can be argued. The clocks of Chester illustrate the different ways in which timepieces can be viewed as more than just a convenient way of knowing the time. In the extreme clocks can be seen as a statement about control and regimentation as famously depicted by Fritz Lang's "Metropolis".

The presnce of a clock on a building is often a good clue that the building has an interesting history or that the building is associated with someone who is themselves of historical interst. The clock from the Leadworks leads us to John Whitehurst amongst others. The station clock played a part in the development of time signalling. St Johns Hospital clock leads to the Galeka and is perhaps part of one of Chester's forgotten war memorials. The Eastgate Clock and the Town Hall clock were both some time in coming. Sarah Moreland, the rest of her family and the other Chester clockmakers are unknown to most modern day inhabitants and visitors to Chester. Last but not least few if any guidebooks mention William Sampson who bought his Freedom by putting St Peter's clock into motion and was also bailed-out by Shakespeare's brother. Clocks often tell more than just the time.

Related Pages

Firth sold clocks, and went bankrupt.

Sources and Links

Online

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Print Books

  • “Compendium of Chester Gold & Silver Marks 1570-1962”, Maurice H. Ridgway & Philip T. Priestley (Antique Collectors Club Ltd, England, 2004)
  • Chester Clock and Clockmakers, Nicholas Moore (Chester Museum, 1976)
  • The Gloverstone Clockmakers of Chester, S. & D. Thomas (2012)