Wells’ famous medieval clock restored and ready to spring forward this weekend

23rd March 2023

Wells Cathedral’s famous external clockface on the North Transept, which was feared to be irreparable if left in its current state, has been repaired and restored with a programme of work carried out by Cliveden Conservation and other heritage specialists.

Since its fabrication in c. 1475, the clock has undergone many phases of redecoration and repair. With further deterioration becoming more apparent specialist conservators were contracted at the end of 2022 to carry out crucial repair work to preserve as much as possible of the historic painted layers and fabric of the clock.

Cleaning, consolidation, repair, replacement, and refinishing of each element of the clock has now been completed and the scaffold removed. Cliveden Conservation worked in collaboration with the Chapter of the Cathedral, Cathedral Architect, Nick Cox, the Cathedral Fabric Commission for England (CFCE), and Historic England throughout the process.

The new decorative scheme, prepared by Nick Cox, and approved by the Chapter, CFCE and statutory consultees is based on the original to replace the mid-twentieth century interpretation. This was partially informed by samples taken during extensive paint analysis to establish the many historic decorative schemes; the most recent was carried out in 1959.

Large amounts of rare historic paint which was discovered during the cleaning process has been consolidated and protected. Irreparable stonework has been successfully replaced with newly cut stone including the creation of crenelated tops to the pedestals and the pendant hanging beneath the jack.

During works, the clock motion behind the dial was removed to be restored by Timsbury Clocks and the timber jacks were transported to Swan Farm Studio for repair and repainting. The bells were cleaned of corrosion by Matthew Higby and Company.

All the counterweights for the jacks have been de-rusted and stabilised, and new stainless-steel rods have been installed to operate the jacks. The bells have been turned by a quarter-turn to prevent excessive wear when struck by the poleaxes.

The freshly restored 15th century clockface is now set to tell the time for many years to come, thanks to expert collaboration and sensitive restoration. Jackie Croft, Chief Operating Officer and Chapter Clark, said that Chapter (the Cathedral’s governing body) is thrilled with the results:

“The Exterior Clock of Wells Cathedral draws visitors from near and far; and its bells, struck by the jacks on the quarter-hour, mean that everyone in the vicinity of the Cathedral is in no doubt of the time of day! The repair and restoration of this iconic clock has been a long-held aspiration of the Chapter and it is very grateful for the generous donations from the Dickinson Family Charitable Trust, The Worshipful Company of Clock Makers, plus others. The work is a wonderful example of skilled heritage craftspeople coming together to deliver the project and ensures that the clock will be seen and heard by generations to come.”