Coddenham Village History: The Old Church Clock Mechanism

It remains in the church, behind the font, after it was replaced in 1945.

I kept time for you

“I sit here in the corner of the church passed by many who would have no understanding of such an object. “Treasures of the church”. Like the church door that continually swings on its hinges, the pendulum beats the clock wheels turn to witness many an event.

The many brides get dressed as the bell strikes the important hour. The groom stands there as the minutes pass by wondering what am I doing here! The Reverend Balthazaar Gardemau checked his creaking pocket watch an hour before the service. He knows the church clock is the village time and he must abide by it. The post coach arrives, the clock strikes mid day, the coachman glances, he has heard this twice today, once as he passed the previous tower. Who cares, our clock keeps this village in order. William the winder checks his scratch dial when the sun is at it’s highest point and Robert Longe hears his request that new ropes are required. The publican complains “That damn thing kept me awake”. Ethelred Offord’s hammer rang out with the chimes of eight a.m. his sixth smoking horseshoe  hanging on a nail.

When Alan Semmence stretched his legs at 4.30 the bell would sound out a near 100 times before he could hang his butcher’s tools and close his working day. On and on I turn. The sun comes up, the sun goes down. I get no rest. Bill lays in his bed unable to move. Who will wind the clock now? The passing bell sounds and the village remains silent for just two days.

Clip clop clip clop new steps up to tend the clock and I am off again”

Michael J Lee

Illustration of St Marys Church Coddenham by Bernard BAker

Illustration: Bernard Baker

A letter from Michael Lee 

A letter was received in October 2000 from a Mr Michael Lee from Wansford enquiring about the old church clock mechanisism that stands behind the font in our church.
“I understand that on the church floor at St Mary Coddenham there is an ancient wooden frame clock marked with IW.

I have for many years researched a Stamford clockmaker who marked his clocks, for example at St Mary and All Saints Nassington Northamptonshire IW. 1695.

IW, John Watts, made many church clocks between the years 1686 and 1707. Mr Tony Hartridge from Cambridge who for many years was the Diocesan adviser on church clocks has told me about the clock at Coddenham and says that I should have a look at it. I have found clocks made by John Watts as far as 40 miles from Stamford, but not twice the distance. One of his turret clocks was made for Burghley House in Stamford in 1707 costing £26. 13s.

If your clock is by this maker it could cause great interest to your parishioners and to us in the horological world. The village of Coddenham is some way from my home at Wansford in Northamptonshire and I wondered if you had a person who may be interested enough to send me a photograph of the clock in question. Please find enclosed a copy of page 23 of my book “John Watts Stamford Clockmaker” dealing with the Apethorpe church clock marked IW 1704.”

Michael went on to write the following article about the clock mechanisation in Coddenham church, which was to be included in his book about John Watts.

St. Mary’s Church Coddenham Suffolk

How many more?

“A fellow horologist continually pressed me to make a visit to the church. He said that an unused wooden frame clock marked IW stood on the floor. One hundred miles away from Stamford, was this clock made by my John Watts?

The day came when my curiosity got the better of me and on a foggy morning we were on our way. When you have looked at many clocks you know that when the latch of the door is lifted it is going to be a few seconds to joy or disappointment. In this case it was a little of both. In one corner of the church amongst all the bits and pieces that no longer have much use stands a 5 foot high wooden frame with diagonal cross members a little like a miniature electricity pylon. On the top of this is a four post wooden framed clock making a total height of 7 feet. Just below the clock mechanism and on the top front member of the tower were the initials IW. Although the clock looked very much like the work of Watts of Stamford the wooden frame seemed to hide a metal frame, one inside the other. All of the metal parts that could be seen are wrought iron made between 1690 and 1750. The only parts that are made of brass are a small gear wheel, a 30 tooth escape wheel and a pendulum support clock that looks as if it is cast iron.

On all of the Watts of Stamford clocks the pivot bars are fitted onto the front edge of the upper and lower horizontal wood cross members for easy removal. Here the iron pivot bars are in some way let into the wooden frame. I feel that the original maker would have allowed for easy removal of both bars but now they are trapped. To strip this clock of its components today would be a problem, but what has been fitted together must come apart. The chance of doing this very thing would cause much interest to a turret clock boffin. What is inside this wooden frame? A restoration may have taken place during the 19thcentury when the brass escape wheel was fitted.  The original movement was made for a dial with one hand but standing in the same corner of the church is a long take off rod with gears for two hands. The hand setting device consists of a brass wheel that can be pulled forwards disengaging the clock from the hands.

All the substantial iron gear wheels are in good order. The winding click on both barrels is sprung onto the four spokes of the great wheels (I call this a horseshoe click). The clock generally is in good order and I suspect that it is a good goer. It is a pity that it was removed, but as we all know a clock is only as good as its keeper. It is easy for me to say this when keeping an ancient clock wound usually entails a slog up some difficult ladder or stairway to where, at some great height, the winding takes place. All this can be pleasant on a summer evening when one can hear the hubbub of the village below and the sound of voices in the pub garden, the next port of call for every diligent clock winder. On winter evenings the trip takes on a different dimension, especially when the clock requires winding every day and it is likely that this one at Coddenham did.

For the technical person

The going train gear count –

  • Escapement 30 teeth 7 inches dia to pinion of 10
  • This pinion of 10 to large wheel of 60 with arbor to pinion of 10
  • This pinion of 10 to great wheel of 80 turning once very hour.
  • Anchor loops 7 escapement teeth.
  • Pendulum 6 feet long beats 1.25 to the second.
Harfitt’s Bakery

The final drive out to the dial take off consists of two equal gears made to offset the pendulum. One of these can be seen in the left hand photo mounted on the outside of the pivot bar. It could be disengaged if pulled forward enabling the hand of the dial to be reset. The clock dial was originally marked for a single hand.

The striking train has a similar gear count. A pinion on the winding barrel drives a large wheel mounted on the side of the count wheel.

The clock was removed in 1945 when a new movement made by Gillet and Johnston was supplied.*

This gives some idea of the working of the Coddenham clock. If the weights could be found they could be rehung on new ropes on the winding barrels. Slots could be cut into the wood at the base of the mechanism and the ropes and weights would hang inside the tower structure. With a little cleaning and some adjustments the clock could become a working model for educational use.

Ropes and weights would have been attached to the wooden winding barrels giving power to each train of gears. When the pendulum is swung with the power applied it would continue to beat. The anchor that loops the escape wheel (the first and top gear) would allow one tooth to pass every two beats of the pendulum. The reduction gears under would allow the bottom brass wheel to turn once every 12 hours. This wheel would be connected to the dial on what was once a single-handed clock.

The hour wheel on the same train of gears has one pin. This would lift a lever each hour to allow the striking train of gears to turn.

The count wheel in this train has differing slots counting the number of strikes required.

Behind the count wheel and on a gear wheel there are six pins. These are the lifting pins for the striking lever. Each time a pin passes it lifts then drops the lever. The lever pulls a rod or wire attached to the bell hammer.”

Copyright: M J Lee. Chapel House, Elton Road, Wansford, Peterborough, PE86JD

The Song of the Old Clock Bell

From Coddenham Church Tower November, 1878

Good people, all, both great and small,
Attend to what I say.
I am the bell that strikes the hours,
And tells the time of day.

For nearly all my life I’ve hung
Above this Church alone.
I’m more than seventy years of age
And weigh some 14 stone.

Old Time, whom I have served so well
Upon me often smiles,
And though I’m but a little bell
My voice is heard for miles.

Although each hour I’ve had a blow
I’ve felt but little pain,
And though I now am old and grey
I feel quite young again.

My health, longevity, and strength,
And intellectual powers
I most attribute to this fact,
I’ve always kept good hours.

Like some of you I can’t forget
The days when I was young,
When underneath me a few feet
Eight elder sisters hung.

It gave me pleasure then to hear
Those bells so sweetly ring,
When they by skilful ringers were
In true time made to swing.

The people stood with well-pleased ears
To listen to their chimes,
But not for long – a few short years
Brought with them harder times.

On Mr Pritty’s wedding – day –
I can’t forget it now –
A drunken fellow broke a bell
And caused a “Pritty” row.

Then some time after – but how long
It matters not a bit –
I can’t exactly tell you how –
Another bell was split.

Some fifty years then passed away
And they were not recast,
Though Lummis tried to have them done
Still all those years were past.

The other bells then got unsafe
For which I felt some pain
And then ’twas found the steeple-roof
Would not keep out the rain.

And so there was a meeting held,
At least I’ve heard it said
And ’twas agreed the roof should be
Well covered with new lead.

And then – but when I thought how long
And well I’d served this town,
I hardly could believe the news –
They said I must come down.

And like the Hebrew children be
Unto the furnace cast –
So I expected every day
Would surely be my last.

I thought that everything was o’er
Between me and the world,
When by Stearn hands I was pulled down
And in a dark hole hurled.

But I am happy to relate
I did not lie there long,
For me there was a better fate
My fears all turned out wrong.

My smallest sister did my work,
But did not do it well,
And so the people said they must
Restore the Old Clock Bell.

With joy I hailed the happy day
That saw me up again
And hope for many a happy year
In peace I shall remain.

But I’ve some more good news to tell,
The good news that at last
The broken bells of which I sung
Have lately been recast.

And in a short time all the eight
Will be in good repair
And pleased I am to hear that they
Will my good fortune share.

Their gladsome sound on all around
On rich and poor alike
Will be a charm, and when they ring
I’ll be upon the strike.

And while they on each festal day
Peal gaily from the tower
I’ll at my loftier station stay
And mark each fleeting hour.

I’ll do my duty merrily
And try to do it well,
A faithful servant I will be
Though but an Old Clock Bell.

Geo. M. Lummis


It is appropriate that I should be typing these verses from my father’s old manuscripts to the sound of the peal of the eight Church Bells of Coddenham on this Sunday evening. I remember how regularly they used to be rung when I was a small boy, and then for many years they were silent, or only rung at fitful periods of short duration. Since the Great War, however, the younger generation have come along as Bell-ringers and it is nice again to hear their merry sound after nearly seven years sojurn in India. The old Church Clock, however, is in a more sorry state and in need of repair. Although the hands do go round occasionally they cannot be relied upon to point to the correct time.

W.M.Lummis, 20thDecember 1925

Pre 1929 Post office Coddenham

Notes from the “Lummis Book”:

A fine toned clock bell is fixed outside the steeple. It weighs 200lbs and was cast in 1808.
September 1908, the clock face was repaired and re-lettered by Stearn & Son.

*Extract of a letter from Mary Jarvis to Anne Stallibrass September 2001 – Clifford Jarvis was Vicar from 1946 – 1958

“I am interested to hear about the Church clock. When we arrived in Coddenham in 1944 it was silent and hadn’t been working for some time. Clifford was keen to put it in order and at his induction service announced that the collection at that service would be used to start a fund for the clock. After that and many meetings and consultations, it was decided to remove the whole works, (which you have now on show) and replace it with electric movement.

I can’t remember who would have been the last man to wind the old machine – it will be lovely for the village when it is replaced….

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