World’s oldest mechanical clock to be replaced

August 19, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

The world’s oldest continually-working mechanical clock is to be replaced with an electric motor – after being wound by human hand for over 630 years.

Wells Cathedral Clock in Somerset has been wound by hand since it was installed in the 1380s.

Since 1919 it has been wound by five different generations of the Fisher family, who spend an hour three times a week turning the three 250kg weights 800 times.

But the clock’s 630 years of history are due to come to an end on Monday (23/08) when the mechanism will be replaced by an automatic electric motor.

The move has been prompted by the retirement of horologist Paul Fisher, 63, who admitted he is ”sad” to end six centuries of history.

He said: ”I’m a bit sad that all these years of history are coming to an end but winding the clock by hand is just so time consuming.

”By the time you have walked up all the steps and winded the weights it takes at least one hour three times a week.

”I feel very proud and privileged to have wound this magnificent clock and that my family has been involved in such a historic task.

”Even after my retirement I will still be keeping a watchful eye on the clock’s mechanism and will look in to oil ad check the time.”

The Wells Cathedral Clock was installed in the 1380s and the earliest written record appeared in the cathedral’s 1392-93 accounts when a keeper was paid 10 shillings.

It is dated to around the same time as the Salisbury Cathedral clock, which is widely perceived as the world’s oldest clock but has not run continually since it was built and does not have a dial.

Wells Cathedral Clock’s mechanism has been replaced twice since it was built, most recently in 1880, but the face and figures of the clock are original and date to the 14th Century.

It is currently powered by three 250kg weights which are winched up on a pulley system and then power the clock as they descend over the next two days.

The astronomical clock, situated in the cathedral’s triforium, has a 24-hour dial and shows both the time and the phases of the moon in front of a background of stars.

Above the historic clock is a figure, known as Jack Blandifers, who hits the bells on the hour with a hammer and his heels, while a pair of knights strike every 15 minutes.

The Fisher family took over the winding of the Wells Cathedral Clock in 1919 after Leo Fisher returned from fighting in the First World War.

His sons Ken and Toni carried on the tradition in 1935 before their sisters Ruth and Mary took over during the Second World War.

Paul Fisher became the official Keeper of the Great Clock of Wells in 1987 and has shared the task with his son Mark, 39, and his four children since then.

But Paul has now retired and handed over Gallery Jewellers, a clock and jewellery shop he owned in Wells, to son Mark.

The Fisher family was paid a nominal fee for winding the Wells Cathedral Clock but Mark revealed ”circumstances” make it impossible for him to continue the tradition.

He said: ”It is a real shame the clock won’t be wound by hand anymore but it’s a question of circumstances.

”My father is retiring and it’s quite an involved job so it’s physically impossible for me to run the shop and look after the clock at the same time.

”We suggested that the vergers could do it but the cathedral decided that it would be much more practical to have it wound automatically.

”A lot of clocks are wound electrically nowadays because it just makes everything so much simpler”.

The Wells Cathedral Clock will now be wound by an electric motor, funded by the Friends of Wells Cathedral, which will be installed on Monday.

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