An appreciation by John Carpenter.
My wife and I moved to Hepworth from Duxford near Cambridge just before Christmas in 2012. We love it here and really enjoy the quiet rural setting. I’ve now reached that age where I have to admit my best years are probably behind me and my wife tells me I’m beginning to get a bit deaf (she’s wrong, I am not!!). Despite what she says I’m very happy to report that I can clearly hear the village church clock when it chimes, and we live on The Street opposite the bottom of Wood Lane, so a fair distance from the church.
I have noticed and been impressed by how very accurate the clock is as it always seems to be spot on every time I hear it. It set me wondering about it, like how often does it need winding and who does the winding, and how old is it? So I set out to find out more about it.
It turns out that it is looked after by Chris Anderson who lives, very handily, in Church Close. He tells me that it has a seven day movement and therefore needs winding once a week and he has been doing this for the past thirty three years, since 1987. That’s more than one thousand seven hundred times!! If he was going away on holiday he never went for more than a week and would make sure he wound it just before he left, and it was the first thing he did again on his return. Now that’s dedication.
Now clearly the church predates the clock and church records show that it was installed in 1864 at a cost of £62 which was paid for out of the Parish Charity Fund. That was a great deal of money in 1864 as the average yearly wage at that time was only £20 to £25, so almost the equivalent of three years wages. It was made by a very prestigious clockmakers, Bensons of Ludgate Hill London. They were founded in London in 1847 and were official clock and watchmakers to The Admiralty and also held many Royal Warrants including Queen Victoria, The Prince of Wales, and the Tsar of Russia. J W Benson, one of the two founders of the company wrote in 1875,
A church tower without a clock seems an unfinished edifice “.J W Benson
I’m guessing that once installed it gave many years of good service. In 1898 there was a major fire at the church when the thatched roof was destroyed but luckily the clock was undamaged and survived, but sadly by 1987 it had apparently not been working for some years and had fallen into a state of disrepair. At around that time someone had died and left a legacy to the church (I haven’t discovered who that was) and it was decided to use that money to have the clock repaired.
Hepworth’s village tree warden, Perry Penn, had an uncle, Gerald Penn, who used to have a clock repair business in Saffron Walden but had by then retired and moved to Lincolnshire. He was asked to come and make an assessment and before long he was abseiling down the tower and dismantling all that was necessary and took the broken parts back to Lincolnshire to make the repairs. I’m sure modern health and safety rules would not have allowed that today!!
Since those repairs were done it has only ever needed one further minor repair to one of the teeth on the winding ratchet and has continued to keep very accurate time. Chris Anderson tells me that he occasionally has to make minor time keeping adjustments as heat and cold and damp can all affect its accuracy. Indeed if there is a lot of rain and then a big freeze ice can form on the rod that the hands are mounted on and can stop the hands from turning. He also says he always keeps a can of WD40 handy!!
So in future I hope those of you who see and hear St Peter’s Church clock will appreciate all the efforts that have gone into it over the years and let’s hope that it continues to give us good time for many years to come.
I’m very grateful to Chris Anderson for inviting me to witness his weekly winding and for the opportunity to take photos, and also to Perry Penn for information and photos of his uncle Gerald.