Turret clock

Turret clock

A turret clock is a large mechanical clock set in a tower, for use by a large number of people. Typically found in a church tower or other public building the clock mechanism drives the hands on one or more large clock faces visible from the outside.

The earliest European turret clocks were found in ecclesiastical buildings such as monasteries, and they are still often found in churches. Later they became common in any building which regulated the working lives of a large number of people, such as barracks, hospitals, factories, workhouses etc. In England they were also often found in large country houses, frequently placed over the stable block.

Public and tower clocks are also known as turret clocks (the term tower clock is more usual in North America), and the modern examples are not necessarily large mechanical clocks. Most of them have some mechanical parts such as gears behind the dials, known as motionwork, but often the hands are directly driven by electric motors.

The spread of cheap personal timepieces from the early 20th century onwards undermined the need for large public clocks. Conservation best practice however is to retain old mechanical clocks because they are part of the fabric of the building, and in most cases will outlive modern electric replacements: however, even older clocks are not necessarily wound by hand any more. There are examples of new devices which automatically wind up old clocks, and even some which automatically regulate the pendulums.

In Britain the unfortunate practice of replacing mechanical clocks with electric motors gained ground in the 1960's when many rare examples were simply destroyed, particularly during the 'Beeching Axe' era of the railways, when many railway clocks were replaced. Similarly during the 1970's many churches lost their clocks as well. In recent decades however the Antiquarian Horological Society has formed a sub-group dedicated to the recording and preservation of old turret clocks.

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