St Margaret's Tower Clock

by RW Standing

Until the first trains snorted their way into Angmering Station in the late 1840s, villagers had no need for London time, railway time, or the time of any other town but their own.  If they wanted to know, 'what about' the time was, to the nearest quarter, they could look out at the church clock or perhaps hear it strike.  Another half century and many ordinary villagers may have had cheap pocket watches, and half a century after that everyone could buy cheap watches, after which clocks on public buildings and in market places became little more than symbols of civic pride.

Church Clock.  Copyright: 2007, Neil Rogers-DavisThe turret clock that graced the tower was not the one presently heard to chime the quarters, but an earlier version the origins of which are now lost in its own time. That there was one is undoubted, since two drawings of the pre 1853 church clearly show a clock in the east side of the tower, the face in 1851 drawn much the same as that which can be seen today, but the earlier 1805 drawing by Petrie has an hexagonal face. This latter drawing is generally so well executed that the unusual face may perhaps be accepted.

We can be quite sure it did not arrive at the building of the tower in 1507, and it is probable that when it was installed it took up the square space of a bell louvre on that side, similar to the louvres or windows on the other sides. That is to say the carved stone panel that forms the present clock face, together with its black Roman numerals, is probably all that survives from the original clock.  Not enough reliance can be placed on the 1805 and 1851 drawings to say whether there were one or two hands. But if one hand, then it would have had at least the antiquity of the Rustington church clock which was made in 1769, but came to that village in 1905.  Otherwise it may have been quite a recent embellishment to the tower.  Unfortunately, so far, no faculties or other information have come to light to date it.

A survey of church bells in Sussex, first published in 1864, quotes the inscriptions on the six bells at Angmering, cast by Chapman and Mears in 1783. It also mentions the existence of a clock bell with no inscription. It may be wondered if the installation of a new peal in 1783 also included provision of a clock.

There are good drawings of the church as rebuilt in 1853, and these clearly indicate a conventional clock face with two hands, but there is at least a chance that Gratwicke improved it at this time, although nothing is said of this in his faculty. Otherwise there are a few 19th century photographs, the earliest of which is of about 1870 by Freeland, and shows the clock face fairly clearly. In this the hands and Roman numerals, backed by a carved stone panel, are all exactly as will be seen today.

The c1870 Freeland photo does show the clock face fairly clearly.  In this the hands and Roman numerals, backed by a carved stone panel, are all exactly as will be seen today.  It is a reasonable deduction that this is what survives from the old clock, which was over a hundred years old when replaced in 1911.

One feature that defies present explanation is the turret that stands proud of the tower above its spiral staircase. In about 1910 Harris spoke of this deprecatingly, "The Bell Tower, with the exception of the excrescence containing the clock bell, dates from 1507". 

In fact this turret was formerly much lower, at much the same height as the tower battlements. The earliest drawings of the church indicate that it had a pitched roof, presumably tiled like that of the main tower. It was not until after Petrie provided his illustration of it in 1805 that the top few feet were added, the interior of this part being built in brickwork. This addition provided space that may have been occupied by a clock bell, but how it would have been heard to strike in the absence of louvres or other openings is a mystery. However, it leads to the idea that an improved timepiece was installed soon after 1805, with the added advantage of a striking bell. The date 1805 might be significant for a celebration, if indeed an improved clock was installed soon afterwards.

Well documented history begins less than a hundred years ago in 1911, with a faculty for Cambridge Chimes in memory of Sir Henry Fletcher, the owner of Ham Manor after the Gratwicke estate was settled. By this faculty a new pulpit was also provided in his memory, at the expense of Lady Fletcher. This carved oak pulpit came into use in the middle of February, the Teulon pulpit having been removed to Rye Harbour church, with the consent of the Bishop. But the chimes were provided by the village:

"That the Parishioners and Friends ...  were also desirous of providing for the erection and adjustment of Cambridge Chimes to the Parish Church Clock and bells as a further memorial voluntary contribution ..." [Par 6/4/8] (The alternative name of Westminster Chimes is more familiar - from the clock and chimes at the Houses of Parliament.)

Apart from the faculty, there is a full specification by the makers, and a report by the parish sub-committee, under the Chairmanship of Rev. Orme,  that considered various schemes for a village memorial [Par 6/7/5].  Interesting proposals included the provision of public seats in Station Road, near the Spotted Cow Inn, and in Dappers Lane, but it was "feared that the provision of such seats would tend to draw tramps, especially in the summer time".  The workhouse in East Preston had a casual or tramps ward.  Another vaguely termed 'Water Scheme' - mains water supply in fact - would have cost up to £800 but quite apart from the cost there were problems about the idea of Lady Aubrey-Fletcher for 'flushing the culvert' - presumably the culvert taking Ecclesden stream under the village green.  Finally, various alternatives were considered for the church clock, including provision of chimes to the existing time piece.  No doubt the best choice was made in replacing the whole works with a new clock and chimes.  The chimes being a mechanism that strikes the bells in the tower and which can be disengaged from them when they are being tolled by the bell ringers.

The final accounts show that this scheme cost over £160 in all, including £130 for the clock and chimes. A memorial tablet cost less than £3.  Funds were raised by subscription but a list for this has not yet been seen. For the old clock the princely sum of £5 was allowed, and it must have gone for scrap. If the memorial tablet survives its inscription has not been published.

William Potts and Sons were the well known makers of this turret clock, a company founded in 1833 at Leeds, and at its peak in the period from 1880 to 1910 when tower clocks were in great demand. Their specification was:

"The clock frame will be in one casting, horizontal pattern with top and bottom surfaces planed perfectly level, for the accurate adjustment of the various bushes and bearings. The striking and chiming main wheels will be 14 inches diameter and made of cast iron ...... The cams of the Cambridge Chime part, also bolted to the main wheel, and are so adjusted to give correct musical Cambridge or Westminster Chimes ...... The going main wheel to be of cast iron, 12 inches diameter ...... The clock will be fitted with the late Lord Grimthorpe's double legged Gravity Escapement which is the most accurate escapement for Turret Clocks ...... The pendulum will have a heavy cast iron bob and will be accurately compensated by means of iron and zinc tubes and steel rod and will vibrate in 1 ¼ seconds.  By this means the pendulum is compensated against the variations of atmosphere and the clock keeps time within a few seconds per month ...... The clock will be fitted with gun metal bevel wheels and universal joints, for connecting the movement to the present dial ...... Heavy cast iron hammers will be provided of a substantial weight to bring out the tone of the bells, for both the hour striking and Quarter Chimes ...... An arrangement will be fitted for pulling the hammers off when the bells are to be rung ...... The clock will be driven by cast iron weights ...... The clock will be complete with ....... all requisites necessary to a first rate clock."

Whether there have been alterations and improvements to the mechanism since 1911 is not presently on record.

A report in the Worthing Gazette in May 1911, appears to have got the estimates confused, with too high a figure for this scheme.  But it does report that £140 had been raised by February, almost the sum required. As hoped, the clock was installed before the anniversary of Sir Henry's decease on the 19th May, and it was dedicated on a Sunday in mid April. A report on the 19th providing the wording for an inscription to a brass plate to be placed in the tower, to which 'Easter 1911' has been added, as may be seen in the plate which is today on the north pier of the tower arch. Clock mechanism

To the glory of God
and in memory of
the Rt Hon Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher,
Baronet, CB MP
the clock, with chimes, was erected
by his friends and his relatives

JB Orme, Rector,
John Tompkins, SS Pyle, Churchwardens.
Easter 1911

Ray Whitehouse has taken a good set of photographs of the bells, clock mechanism, and bell ringers. From these it is evident that the bells occupy the whole of the upper chamber in the tower. The back of the stone clock face can be seen, in its five joined pieces, with a small box attached, no doubt housing gears driving the hands. But the bulk of the considerable machinery is in a large cabinet, occupying most of the east wall of the chamber below. A manufacturers nameplate has the words:

W. Potts and Sons Ltd.
Makers, 1911
Leeds, England

What momentous events did the first clock commemorate. Probably none.   As with the peal of six bells its installation may have ben owing to the enthusiasm of Rev. Kinleside in 1783.

RW Standing
August 2007

Tower Clock - © 2007 Neil Rogers-Davis
Clock Mechanism - © 2007 Ray Whitehouse

[August 2007]
An entry in the Parochial Church Council minutes for 1945, confirms the Harris note about the 'Clock Bell', which is today merely referred to as the 'spare bell'. A proposal was made to present this bell to Poling, to make up its set to the three it anciently had. Whether it was the right size is unknown.  In 1945 parishioners would have had firm memories of the old clock, and so there can be little doubt it did employ this small bell for striking the hours - and presumably at the top of the turret.