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Clock Celebrations

11.30 on Saturday 8th February 2014 saw a Clock Start Ceremony at St Michael's to thank Aragon Housing Trust and Shefford Town Council for their generous donations towards the cost of a professional service.

Frank Bond, who looks after the clock for us normally, opened the ceremony with a speach detailing the history and technical details of the clock (see below).

Shefford's Mayor, Paul Mackin, was on hand to press the remote controlled Start button (designed and built by Frank) at 11.58, followed 2 minutes later by the clock striking 12 hearty clangs to indicate that all was well!

Clock Cake

We were grateful for the singers from Shefford Methodist Church adding to the celebrations, and the splendid cake you see here, baked and iced by Shefford's very own Rogers Bakery in the High street.

Frank Bond's Opening Speach

The Church Tower, with its narrow, spiral, stone stairway of 39 steps, is the oldest structure in Shefford, built in 1700’s. It has a roof top area, with the weathervane, and two clock floors beneath. The upper chamber houses the Clock and Church Bell which has two clappers, one for the Clock, and one used to summon parishioners by a rope down below. A short, covered, wooden stairway connects with the lower chamber which houses the horizontal clock drive to the clock face and the current Chime Winder. This receives the vertical minute shaft drive from the clock above and gears convert this to horizontal plane and divide by 60 for the hour hand. The floor of this chamber forms the ceiling we see below in the Church. This clock has always been powered by weights falling under gravity, and the original weights are still housed in the wooden Shute just inside the Church doors. The weights were wound by hand every week on heavy wire ropes on barrel winders on the clock, with a system of pulleys. This is still operable, and the stone stairs have been worn down by successive generations of clock winders, and since rebuilt. Electric motors are used today to keep the clock wound, and these climb up endless bicycle chains carrying their heavy weights – 60 Lb. for Chime and 30 Lb. for Clock. Limit switches determine the extent of their travel. The hand weights had to be twice this size – 120 and 60 Lb. owing to the pulley arrangements used to reduce length of wind and hence accommodate the wire ropes in the space on the clock drums. The Clock itself is a Victorian blacksmith’s strike – a wrought iron frame carrying all the gear wheels. Timing is controlled by a very large pendulum, although originally a different form of escapement was used. This can be adjusted for length, and hence time keeping, with a large brass nut. The Church bell was cast at John Taylor’s foundry in 1808, so it is possible the Clock was made about this time.

Photographs in the town show a different Clock face which was diamond shaped with two faces, so it could be seen easily from both directions. It is not known when this was changed. The Clock light is a modern low energy bulb and I designed an outrigger assembly so it can be pulled through the window for bulb change or more major repairs. Controlled by a timer, it comes on at end of daylight and goes off at midnight. The Chimes are also controlled by a timer and only operate from 08.00 till 22.00 hours.

The clock was maintained by Clockmaker Peter Fletcher in Biggleswade until he retired to Spain several years ago. I looked after it ever since, carrying out minor repairs and even built a replacement automatic Chime winder in 2010. Last year I wanted to get a professional examination and annual overhaul of the Clock, and asked Simon Michlmayr, Clockmaker in Norwich, for help. Unfortunately he wanted £605 for a complete service, and we could not afford this.

Maizie the fundraising scarecrow

About this time we held a Scarecrow competition in the Church and Ian, our Churchwarden, and our friend Elaine, wanted to enter one. So we assembled 'Maizie' and put her in the Church. We did not win a prize but, before dismantling her, we thought of putting her in the Town Council Chamber to liven one of their Meetings. Well, she caused an uproar, and everyone laughed so much that the Council offered the Church £200 for this amusement at an otherwise dull Meeting. This was put towards the Clock maintenance, and we approached Aragon Housing to see if they would care to match this offer as support for an amenity.

It was with delight we heard they were prepared to let us have another £200 towards the Clock. So the Church had to find just £205 to get the work done. Mr. Michlmayr came personally to examine the Clock, and oversee my handiwork on 2 July 2013. He gave us a report on the Clock, indicating future work that might be needed, and checked it over and cleaned and oiled it. He recommended additional micro-switches to limit the travel of both winders, and I have since fitted these. So we now can celebrate the overall examination of the Church Clock, which would not have been possible without support from Shefford Town Council and Aragon Housing. The Ceremony is our means of saying thank you to these parties."

Date: 16th February 2014

Source: Frank Bond

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