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The Priory Clock and Carillon

A Bell-Ringer writes in appreciation of the recent modification paid for by The Friends.

We have the Friends of the Priory to thank for funding the new system, costing nearly £9000, which has replaced the old striking hammers on the bells that were such a potential danger to the bells themselves. 

The new units produce a crisp and immaculate strike without losing the character of the original clock, and there is now no need for our faithful clock-winders to toil up the 86 or so steps of the tower which they have done everyday of the year for the last 110 years.

Church archive may be able to tell us what was used to chime the 1755 set of eight Evans bells prior to 1900 but we know that Smith’s of Derby sold, and we assume installed, a clock and carillon music drum in 1900 at a cost of £329 10s 0d with one very large donation from a Miss James of £300.

The bell frame installed by Warner’s of London, who undertook the restoration and augmentation to a peal of 10 bells in 1894, did not lend itself to the 1900 Derby clock and some of the oak braces had to be cut to suit. The new clock only used the larger 8 bells to chime quarters and the hour and at 4 hour intervals 1.00, 5.00 & 9.00 the carillon would play one of seven tunes which needed four weighted cable drums to be wound every 24 hours.

For the tunes to play when the same two notes were needed in close succession the bell would require two hammers and so on. This meant some of the bells would have upwards of 4 hammers located around the edge of a single bell. These hammers were actuated by small gauge steel rods and when a direction change was required, to reach the bell, angle levers were used.

Over time pivot points had worn and rods had stretched and there had been many breakages and temporary repairs. The mechanical arrangement would have needed major work and an even larger sum of money to make all sound and safe for the bells.

With the advancement of technology, an electromechanical hammer unit has become available. Two companies are known to fit such arrangements but Nicholson Engineering from Bridport, install a more compact unit manufactured in Italy which fitted into the space we have available.

Advantages in such units mean that only one unit is required per bell as the repeat operation is momentary and as it is controlled electronically, there is no requirement for assistance in the form of clock winding for either the clock or carillon. If a unit should fail then only that unit might need replacement.

Agreement was sought from the DAC (Diocesan Advisory Committee) and approval was given to remove all the existing mechanical hammers and fit the new electromechanical units to all 10 bells. This work was done in August 2011.