Just in time for the weekend open church programme, from April to September, the clock face at St James’ church, Taxal, has had a golden face lift.
The photograph shows the newly gilded clock, showing 2.50pm and reminding visitors on Saturdays and Sundays of some of the most famous lines in English poetry:
Stands the church clock at ten to three
And is there honey still for tea?
They are from the Old Vicarage, Grantchester, written by Rupert Brooke in 1912.
Golden ‘makeup’ has done wonders for the clock face that has braved the elements for about 125 years. The makeup is actually very expensive gold leaf, placed laboriously strip by narrow strip on the figures and hands of the clock, with the enamel surface in contrasting new black paint. It was the work of antiquarian horologist Symon Boyd of Disley, almost his last job in this specialist but declining profession before he moved to Somerset.
To complete his job, Symon, who is thin and agile, climbed the narrow, steep stairs of the clock tower. He squeezed himself into a sill behind the clock face, and fitted the new electric clock motor. With Brian Bristol, a member of the Parochial Church Council, standing at the top of the tower, looking down on the face and shouting instructions, Symon moved the clock fingers forward to the correct time.
Those faces above the clock are thought to be Norman, salvaged from an older building on the same site. Part of the tower was built in the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).
The company that made the clock has some history, too. J B Joyce and Co of Whitchurch, Shropshire, was founded in 1690, and was handed from father to son over generations. Joyce made the famous Eastgate clock on Chester’s city walls and clocks for the Royal Exchange in Manchester, Worcester Cathedral, Sydney post office and Cape Town city hall. The Taxal clock is thought to have been installed at the same time as the nave of St James’ was reconstructed and enlarged in 1889.
The original clock mechanism had a system of rods and levers that chimed the bells every quarter of an hour – night and day. It was only removed in the era of Beatles, Harold Wilson and the mini skirt, when the clock mechanism went to F Bamford and Co in Stockport to be restored.
The St James’ churchwarden William Harvey, who also worked at Bamford’s, got fed up with winding up the old clock, and decided on a modern motor. William retired from Bamford’s in 1978, and died at home on Macclesfield Road in 1985. He is buried in St James’ churchyard.
Years later, when present churchwarden John Swift was visiting Bamfords’ in 2001, he realised the mechanism was still in their workshop. It is believed that it was going to be installed in a church at Nefyn on the Llyn peninsula in north Wales.
An era of the St James’ clock history ended in 1964, when the last family member of Joyce and Co retired. The company was sold to Smith of Derby, another famous clockmaker, who made the clock at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Open Church starts on the weekend of Saturday 5 April and Sunday 6 April, from 1-4pm.