The starting point of my original WT blog: From here on the posts run logically. Rather than the chronological reverse typical of most blogs.
My Gent's Model 'C40A' Waiting Train turret clock Movement No.309 was built somewhere around 1939. The WT (as it is affectionately known) is my favourite type of clock movement. It enjoys the benefits of reasonable size, large and small electromagnets, deep gold lacquered brass parts and finely-cut gears. All built into a beautiful whole thanks to its elegant cast frame. Where form not only follows function but has the gift of its own unique beauty. One might even suggest that art nouveau influences are seen in its organic, flowing lines. The period when the WT was being designed and developed lay precisely during the height of the Art Nouveau movement.
I first discovered the Gent's Waiting Train in an old book in the local reference library as a schoolboy and was fascinated by the illustrations. I would never have believed that 40 years later I would actually own one myself. I do hope you find something of interest here and will share my enthusiasm for this unusual tower (or turret) clock movement. (the terms are interchangeable) I make no apologies for the repetition required for clarity in each of the "chapters" which follow.
While I have tried to use the correct horological nomenclature to describe the fine details. I am almost sure there are places where I have lapsed to more everyday names. You can't please all of the people all of the time. I return here at rather irregular intervals to read through my text. Looking for spelling mistakes and better ways of expressing things. New images (or videos) are added quite regularly. I doubt a week passed without my making some change or addition as something new occurred to me. Don't be afraid to "refresh" or clear your cache and start reading from the beginning if you feel so inclined.
Please feel free to share any images or information you might have on WT's or their installations. Images would be very much appreciated if you have them. I hope you will enjoy discovering the details of this unique movement as much as I have enjoyed putting this information together. If you find anything you don't agree with then do let me know. I am a humble clock enthusiast not a horological historian nor a professional writer. I will openly welcome constructive criticism about anything you see here. Though you will have to register to be able to leave comments.
Most turret (or tower) clocks are driven by very heavy weights hanging from long ropes or wire cables wrapped around winding drums. Often pulleys were used with even more massive weights to achieve a longer run time or smaller drop. These massive weights were often a nuisance because they required so much room in the spaces below the clock chamber. Sometimes the weights were allowed to descend into long wooden chutes to reduce the danger to those below should a rope or cable break. This was not an unknown occurrence and sandbags were often placed at the bottom of weight shafts to break their fall!
Moreover, the weights had to be wound up regularly or the clock would simply stop. This might sound rather trivial but in practice turret clock movements were set high up in very cramped and inaccessible spaces. The clock keeper had to climb up to the clock, engage a large, cranked winding handle and then exert considerable effort in winding the massive clock weights back up again. This allowed the clock to run for a further period. The frequency of rewinding varied. Sometimes the clock needed to be wound every day, or at 30 hour intervals or only once a week. Only rarely would a turret clock run for much longer than a week. During the actual rewinding the clock would sometimes stop unless it had maintaining power to drive the clock escapement via the wheel train. This was usually supplied in the form of a weighted lever which engaged in the teeth of a suitable wheel in the gear train. No great accuracy was required provided enough rotational force (or torque) was supplied to keep the movement running.
It must be remembered that in former times the public clock dial was usually a vital timekeeper for a whole community. Watches were strictly for those who could afford them. It would be difficult to imagine the drudgery of keeping a clock rewound and to time if the keeper did not enjoy caring for the clock. Often the task was carried out by a volunteer or poorly paid church or estate worker. Rarely would the keeper have any real training in the skill of maintaining or oiling the movement. Nor taking care of the associated ropes, cables and multiple pulleys, lead off rods, couplings, bells, striking work or dial motion work.
I have visited an estate turret clock where the clock's winding handle could not even be rotated through a full circle because of the massive, badly-placed beams in the clock tower's construction. The torture and labour of winding such a clock is quite simply unimaginable today! It was impossible to stand upright. Yet too high to reach when kneeling down! So a half crouched position with one's hands held just above one's head was required. The effort of simply turning the handle by half a turn was downright unpleasant! It is no wonder that this particular clock had not been rewound in over 30 years and the clock chamber was ankle-deep in fallen plaster and other debris. Other clocks were reached in very high towers via tall and flimsy ladders. Sometimes requiring squeezing though tiny trapdoors before ascending the next seemingly endless ladder into the complete darkness high above. It seems that Health and Safety at Work is quite a modern concept! Many of these clocks had required regular winding for centuries!
The WT continued to tell the time to within a few seconds a week regardless of the weather conditions attacking the exposed clock hands outside the building. Many weight driven turret clocks stopped completely. Or became unreliable timekeepers in gales or wintry weather. The hands on public clock dials are usually counterbalanced. However, a build up of ice along the length of a hand could easily swamp any balancing weight. This out-of-balance would greatly increase the friction and torque required to lift it against gravity. Leading to serious timekeeping problems or actual stoppage. The WT's reserves of brute (but finely controlled) power could easily overcome these problems.
Errors in timekeeping with weight driven clocks had to be corrected manually with all the problems this caused in resetting the hands to the "correct" time. The dials were always invisible to the clock keeper inside the building. Though many, more modern movements, had a small hand setting dial older movement would not have this luxury. Who knows the accuracy of the watch used to reset the clock to time? Or the accuracy of the reference clock used to set the watch in the first place?
It would be amusing to imagine the watch being set to the hands of another, equally inaccurate, local turret clock before the advent of radio time signals. A so-called Zanzibar Fallacy could easily arise under these difficult circumstances. Where one clock keeper set his own clock to another public dial and then the other clock keeper would reset his own clock to match the first. Perhaps a local sun dial was normally used? In this case one must hope that the clock keeper was familiar with the Equation of Time.
The truly major breakthrough with the WT was the end to arduous rewinding. The lack of bulky weight shafts allowed the WT to be housed in tight situations where a weight driven clock would have been completely impossible to fit. Not to mention the greatly reduced need for easy access to the movement for rewinding. It is difficult to imagine the savings in manpower (and wages) from removing the human burden of clock rewinding. The WT was also infinitely more reliable than many older clocks. Many of which required the regular attentions of a clockmaker as is noted in many a church's financial records.
Early in the 20th century the largest public clock dials in the world were suddenly made possible by the WT design. The WT movement was available in several increasing sizes depending on the intended size and number of clock dials, their height above the ground and the degree of exposure to high winds. All sizes of WT offered the same remarkable accuracy, reliability and freedom from the attentions of the often-unskilled and possibly unhappy clock winder.
The WT began to be installed in all kinds of buildings and structures from the early 1900s onwards. They were used in railways stations, fire stations, office blocks, town halls, chimneys and churches and in many tall and slender war memorials worldwide.
Rather oddly, the WT was resisted in clock making circles as "new fangled" technology. Architects continued to stipulate outdated, weight driven movements for their prestigious new buildings. Clock making had a very long history and had developed such inertia that new ideas were not readily accepted. Or were sometimes bastardised into situations and movements where simpler methods were often far superior. For example: Many weight turret driven clocks and spring driven domestic clocks employed the dead beat escapement. Which was only superior in special cases where the driving force was very steady, constant and even. The blind adoption of the dead beat escapement for general use was rather typical of the clockmaking industry. As were major bottlenecks in the design of pendulums. These oddities went on for centuries due to blind ignorance amongst clock makers.
But enough of my opinionated rambling: Here are some seriously useful (free) guides for turret clock keepers, owners and those charged with their care and maintenance. Written by real experts with useful illustrations:
Regardless of the type of movement or its place of installation you should acquaint yourselves with the expert practical advice found in The "Turret Clock Keepers Handbook."
You could save a unique clock movement from rapid deterioration, major repair or an expensive overhaul simply by changing your own misguided activities concerning the clock in your charge. Or even save yourself and others from serious harm as a result of an unforeseen accident.
TCKH.pdf (application/pdf Object)
The second link is to a very comprehensive guide to detailed practical restoration and a guide to getting work done properly to safeguard the clock movement, dials, bells and installation for future generations.
Turret Clock Guidelines.pdf (application/pdf Object)