Restoring the clock tower with an 19th century mechanism

Canons Ashby Clock Tower 1 Intro

As you come through the arch and cross the Pebble Court you can see the clock tower on the Long Gallery roof. The original mechanism had disappeared by the time of the National Trust’s acquisition and only its oak casing now remains. The clock's blue dial displays two dates. On one side 1984, when the National Trust opened Canons Ashby to visitors and on the other side 2012 when the dial was restored. Unfortunately the gold painted single hand, powered by a simple 20th century electric motor, stopped working a few years ago.

In 2017, thanks to a generous bequest to fund a replacement clock mechanism, the National Trust’s horological adviser and the Midlands curator went on the trail of an amazing mechanism ticking away on its stand in, of all places, a London car salesroom. 

The Paine Turret Clock Movement

J.P. Paine, was Public Horologist to Her Majesty Queen Victoria and was awarded a Society of Arts medal for improvements to Public Horology.

Canons Ashby turret clock re-assembly 9

Previously, the clock had ticked away for 150 years in the tower of St Peter's Church - a beautiful Grade II* listed neoclassical church only a short walk from the National Trust's London offices.

Canons Ashby turret clock re-assembly 8

Installed in 1837, this impressive clock, with jewels fitted to its upper bearings and other special features, remained working throughout the Second World War, totally unscathed by the Blitz as buildings around it fell. However, as the result of an arson attack in 1987 which virtually destroyed the church, the clock fell 60 feet, smashing onto the stone floor below. Thought to be beyond repair, it was sent for scrap. Luckily one of the scrap company's staff was the son of a watchmaker. Recognising its quality, it was sent to a horological conservator for a complete restoration.

Perhaps surprisingly, the vicar of St Peter's decided against reinstating the clock and it ended up as a curiosity in the showroom of Britain's oldest Jaguar dealership.

Canons Ashby turret clock re-assembly 5

It was certainly a challenge to dismantle and transport the clock movement to its new home in Canons Ashby. Each part was carefully removed and packed ready for its relocation.

On arrival at the Canons Ashby an expert horologist worked hard to reassemble the mechanism.

Canons Ashby turret clock re-assembly 7

With a lot of care, patience and expert knowledge, this impressive piece of engineering gradually took shape. At some points staff and volunteers were called in to help with the heavy lifting: the metal frame alone weighs 200 kilos! The clock mechanism was then on display in the Great Kitchen for almost two years.

Canons Ashby clock mechanism

With thanks

The final installation will take some time due to the complexity of the task, and the experts who are required to perform it.

This work is being funded by a few generous donations including a bequest, a donation from the Northamptonshire Association (a voluntary group of National Trust members and volunteers from Northamptonshire and the surrounding areas), and from visitors to Canons Ashby.

Latest updates

25 Feb 20

Clock mechanism heads back to conservation

The clock mechanism is now heading back to conservation in the North of England, having various tests and tunings, ready for its installation in the turret. We want to make sure it's in top condition before it's installed in the attic spaces. We hope to have news on when it can be installed in it's final position soon.

Pieces of the turret clock mechanism laid out on the floor

19 Nov 18

Specialists give advice on installation

National Trust clock and bell specialists have given us advice on the installation of our 19th century turret clock and discovered the bell dates from 1736. The mechanism will be installed during summer 2019.

Canons Ashby crane and turret clock