THIS tale began on 10 April 1992, when an IRA truck-bomb
exploded outside the Baltic Exchange in the heart of the City of
London. Three people, including a 15-year-old girl, were killed,
and many office buildings were damaged or destroyed, costing £800
million to rebuild.
In addition, two important turret- clock movements at churches
near by, St Helen's, Bishopsgate, and St Andrew Undershaft, dating
from about 1826, were damaged, utterly beyond repair.
I am a retired accountant and business-systems developer. I
first started working in the City in 1982, for Neville Russell
Chartered Accountants. I have attended St Helen's, Bishopsgate, for
more than 30 years, and I have got to know the City intimately in
Even after my wife, Thalia, and I started TnT Ministries, a
charity that teaches adults to teach the Bible to children, in west
London, in 1988, we made sure that we stayed securely anchored at
As I walked around the City, I became aware of the extraordinary
variety of fine clock-dials displayed on various public buildings,
which most people sadly ignore.
I am also a keen photographer; so, when we retired, in 2011, I
thought I would take a proper look at the St Helen's clock. I was
invited to photograph the movement in the church tower. Here, I
discovered a large, two-train posted frame movement by Thwaites
& Reed of Clerkenwell, dated 1826, which the 1992 bomb had
The beauty, complexity, craftsmanship, and sheer mass, however,
left a lasting impression on me. I then learned that the dial was
only one of many components in a turret clock. It was a kind of
horological epiphany, and I decided that a good retirement project
would be to photograph, as a permanent record, all the dials in the
EC1 to EC4 postcode areas.
I CONTACTED the London diocese, and told it what I proposed to
do. I was given a letter of authority to photograph all the
movements in churches under its care. Every Saturday for four
months, I cycled round the City recording the public dials, in what
has become the London Clock Project.
I discovered that there is no complete register of public clocks
in London. Some organisations, such as London diocese's Care for
the Churches, the Corporation of London, the Worshipful Company of
Clockmakers, and the Antiquarian Horological Society (AHS) have
some records, but there are many large gaps in them.
There is a danger that the extraordinary and outstanding
heritage, history, craftsmanship, and engineering culture of
clockmaking are seriously at risk in London. The 1992 bomb may,
thankfully, have been a rare incident, but clocks are constantly
under threat, from property developers, scrap-metal thieves, the
loss of horological apprenticeships, small clock-repair and
maintenance companies' going under, and owners' refusing to service
and maintain their clocks because of rising costs.
Having started the London Clock Project, I joined the Turret
Clock Group (TCG) of the AHS, and gave a presentation about it at
its annual general meeting.
Late last year, I was invited to join the AHS-TCG national
database design team - a huge undertaking that will record details
of all public clocks in the UK, and which will be available for
anyone to gain access to online.
This National Public Clock Database, as it is called, will
provide a priceless archive, which will be immensely useful for
historians, antiquarians, architects, and interested members of the
general public - as well as horologists and clock enthusiasts.
The work of the database design-team has been facilitated by the
Church Buildings Council, which reports to the General Synod. We
have benefited greatly from the advice of its senior conservation
officer, Dr David Knight.
Clocks are an iconic part of British history and culture: where
would we be without the striking of Big Ben, for example? Knowing
where they are and what they comprise is essential, and this needs
to be recorded now, before it is too late. I hope that the National
Public Clock Database - expected to be complete by this autumn -
will provide the long-term solution.