The history of the church clock
The following was written by the late Brian Roberts. Brian and the late Maurice Darlington were founder members of the IGca and spent many hours working on the parish registers and created the database which the group now use.
Maurice & Brian working on the parish registers
& recording memorial inscriptions
Can you spare a second? – the history of the church clock
I first saw the light of day in the workshops of Joyce’s in Whitchurch. I arrived with three faces, all perfectly round. I do not know the exact date of my arrival, but sometime in 1853 I was taken to Coalbrookdale where they were building a new church way up on the hill. The foundation stone had already been laid on 11th December 1851. Lo and behold they placed me in the tower of the church, one face looking up the Dale, one looking over the works, and one looking down the Dale, there being apparently no need for a face to look into the trees above Church Road.
So, I settled down to what I hoped would be a long and happy working life, but, as I looked up the Dale, horror of horrors, I saw another clock, standing very proud above the upper works. It was obviously older than me, by about ten years I think, and I wondered why they needed two clocks in the narrow valley. Modesty prevents me from suggesting that the other clock wasn’t reliable, but just think, I am, with a few hiccups in the past 148 years, still working, whereas the older clock seems to have taken retirement some years ago.
I watched with interest the continuing work on the building of the Church, then, one day, on 25th July 1854 there was great excitement all around; the church was consecrated and was now ready for use under the new Vicar, the Rev. J Hayes, (the previous Vicar, it was hinted, having left under somewhat of a cloud).
Anyone would think that it is boring up here in the tower, but there has always been something going on, if only watching the workmen, residents and the school children walking back and fro.
What I did not like, particularly in the early days, was the smoke and fumes from the works blowing into my faces, and I looked forward to a good old shower of rain.
What then are the changes that I’ve seen over the Dale? Well, in 1859 they built a large building, using blue bricks, which they later called the Institute.
The year 1863 brought a great change and I watched with awe the building of the railway viaduct, then the railway itself creeping its way down towards Buildwas.
If it is true that the railways were built to standardize the time in the country, then I will have to look to my laurels, and when I think of how busy that line has been over the years with passenger and mineral traffic, there’s no wonder that Mr Beeching couldn’t get his hands on it.
One evening in 1875 there was a great commotion – flags flying, people cheering, bells ringing; someone called Matthew Webb had come home. Apparently, he had gone in for a dip somewhere on the South coast and kept on swimming until he reached France, wherever that is. They said he was the first to do that, but do you know Queen Victoria did not even acknowledge it. Nowadays they would have given him his own game show or something.
Shortly after that saw the sad day in 1878 when Abraham Darby was buried, if it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t be here now.
In 1885 there was a great deal of activity at the bottom of Church Road. This turned out to be the building of a new Wesleyan Chapel, and a magnificent building it turned out to be.
A personal disaster, I suppose, struck me in 1895 – it was decided that I needed a “make over”, and they gave me three new faces, the smoke and fumes had finally defeated the rain.
1901 was a busy year – they started building the large red building just above the church, and a Hall, named after The Trinity, below the church in Dale Road
Mrs Matilda Frances Darby was buried in 1902, alongside Abraham in a large marble tomb, which, in those days, had bronze railings on it
Looking down the Dale one day in 1922, I saw some more building work – that of the new Grammar School, which now stands on its plateau proudly portraying promising programmes of purity and perspicacity (I heard one of the bellringers saying that). It has now become the Church of England Infant/Junior School – I wonder how many pupils have passed through those doors.
The Great War came and went, and in 1921 there was a great parade up the Dale to the Institute where a large crowd saw the dedication of the War Memorial
During 1925 two new bells were added to the peal in the tower (getting a bit crowded in there). Sadly, I watched several of the “Rows” such as Chapel Row disappear. These were some of the changes seen by my front and rear faces, my side face saw many changes in the works, too numerous to mention. As for me, I have been wound manually twice a week, approximately 15,445 times in 148 years, although in 1952, 1972, 1995 and 1998 suggestions were made that I should be wound electrically, but nothing happened, hopefully now though, this may come about. My faces were given an overhaul in 1993 – not bad for 98 years since they were replaced with new ones.
It’s very quiet in the tower except for bell ringing night, Sundays and when parties of excited children come to have a look at my impressive mechanism. Because my chimes are Westminster, I can doze for only a quarter of an hour at a time, being awoken by the whirring of the striking mechanism. This made me think, and I worked out on my six hands (no fingers) that if I had kept going for 148 years the Tenor bell would have been struck 8,432,892 times, the chimes 51,894,720 times – a total which you will already have calculated, of 60,432,892 times. Some headache eh!
Over the years I have seen 11 Vicars come (10 of them go), the first one held services in a schoolroom, and I have seen 1,028 weddings, 3,339 baptisms and 2,648 burials.
The one burial which really saddened me was that of William Dempster, the Stonemason when the church was built. He died in 1855 at the age of 41.
I have seen all that has gone on in the Dale, being helped by the lighting of my faces in 1954, but I have not seen all that has gone on in the trees above Church Road – shame! My greatest delight has been in watching the changing colours of the trees throughout the seasons, a truly magnificent sight.
Good Heavens, look at the time – I really must go.