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Passing the time in the City

28 March 2013

Trevor Blundell has dedicated himself to photographing the dial and workings of every clock in the City of London. On the threshold of British Summer Time, we tick off a selection of his pictures


Tempus fugit: St Ethelburga's, Bishopsgate

Tempus fugit: St Ethelburga's, Bishopsgate

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 that time.

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 St Helen's.

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 rendered dysfunctional.

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.


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