Saturday, August 27, 2016

Coningsby, Lincolnshire

About time

I must have been only about 7 or 8 years old when I first saw the tower of Coningsby church. My father pointed through the windscreen as we approached the village, telling me that I had to take a look at this clock: there was something unusual about it. I noticed at once its extra-large size. At about 16 feet across it was easily the biggest clock face I’d seen. But it seemed to be telling the wrong time. It took me a minute to work out that it has just one hand, an hour hand, so half past nine in the photograph above looks at first glance like twelve minutes to four.

With a really big clock face a single hand doesn’t work badly. When you look closely, you can see that the face is marked in quarters of an hour, with a red diamond at each half hour, so with practice you can read the time to within a few minutes. And to make a face like this you don’t need any complicated metalwork or carpentry – it’s just painted on to the stone of the wall: a good sign-writer could do it. The mechanism of the clock must be simpler too – and is apparently 17th century so has stood the test of time. Hats off to the clock-maker…and to the people who climb 35 steps to the winding mechanism every day to wind the clock and keep it going. Time well spent.


bazza said...

When you think that the clock-faces on the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) are about 23 feet across that's a pretty big clock that you saw. Do you recall the comedienne Hylda Baker? She would look at her watch and say "It's nearly half-past.....drat! - I must get a little-hand put on this watch..."
Your post brought that ancient memory back!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

There is - or used to be- another one-handed clock at Bickenhill, ex- Warwickshire, near Birmingham Airport. There are lights on the tower next to the spire to warn approaching planes not to demolish a medieval building on one of the Midlands plateau foggy days. Or destroy its clock.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Yep, it's a big one. I've been puzzling for ages who used to say that 'I must get a little hand put on this watch' thing. Thank you for reminding me!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Thank you. I will tell the Resident Wise Woman to look out for it when she takes off from Birmingham shortly. There are other one-handed church clocks (eg Gaulby, Leics and Croft, Herefordshire, near the castle) but they don't have Coningsby's monster-size face.

Joe Treasure said...

Fascinating. I'm not aware of ever having seen such thing -- one-handed and painted directly on the wall. I wondered briefly why the long tail, risking confusion (as you say) with an hour hand. I assume it's for balance. And anyway, the clock wouldn't have been intended for passing strangers, would it, but villagers familiar with its oddness.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, the long-tailed hand is confusing, but less so when you're there. That's because the point on the long arm sits directly on what we could call the scale (on either one of the little marks indicating portions of an hour, or on the edge of a number) so the eye is led to it naturally. But this is not easy to appreciate on a small photograph.