Wells Cathedral

01 June 2022

Recently the Clockmakers' Charity has pledged £1000 to help support the restoration and conservation of the North Transept Clock dial, and automata wooden knights, at Wells Cathedral. The Development Office at Wells Cathedral have very kindly provided below and overview of the project and the fascinating history of this clock and its dial. Should you wish to contribute to this project there is a link below in the article.   

'Dating from about 1392, the clock at Wells Cathedral is the second oldest working mechanical clock in the world, and the oldest with a clock face. Many are familiar with the internal clock face showing the phases of the moon and Medieval view of the Universe, accompanied by jousting knights above the clock and the figure of Jack Blandiver, to one side, who strikes the bell every quarter hour with his heels.

Less familiar perhaps is the external clock which is situated on the exterior of the North Transept and run by the same mechanism as the internal clock. It was installed in the 1400s to remind the Vicars Choral (who dined immediately opposite) of their duty to be on time for services in the Cathedral - an instruction emphasised in the Latin text, Nequit Pereat meaning ‘let nothing be lost’.

The clockface is painted and although protected from the elements to some extent by both a canopy and its inherent location, it is nevertheless exposed. Over the years, the face has undergone frequent repainting and decoration. It was repainted as a 12-hour face in the 1800s with gilt roman numerals, having previously been a 24-hour clockface. Perhaps this was to match the gold gilded symbols of the four evangelists at the four corners of the clock face. It is now time to repaint the face again as the paint is literally flaking off, with threatening cracks in the stone beneath, but in doing this the Cathedral not only wants a clock that looks fantastic but also wants to conserve pervious paint schemes.

To each side of the external face stands a wooden knight wearing late 14th century armour. They twist to hit one bell each with the halberds they hold to chime the quarters. These, too, need conservation. They are made of many parts and will pose a challenge. The exterior hour bell (again driven by the same mechanism) is located at the top of the main Cathedral tower. The original mechanism still works but is now in the Science Museum on loan from the Cathedral. The current mechanism dates from 1880, the second mechanism to be put in the clock by the Victorians. It was still wound by hand until 2010 when electric motors were installed to undertake this laborious job on the retirement of Paul Fisher, Keeper of the Great Clock, a post that had been held by a member of the Fisher family for some generations.

Wells Cathedral is raising funds to restore and conserve the external clock and has achieved just over half the funding needed. Although work is about to start, all contributions towards this important conservation work are welcome at: https://www.justgiving.com/wellscathedral, stating that your contribution is for the North Transept Clock'.

Please contact the Wells Cathedral Development Office on 01749 832214 or: fundraiser@wellscathedral.org.uk  for more information if needed. 

North Transept clock dial and automata wooden knights at Wells Cathedral. © Photo image taken by David Bevan and courtesy and copyright of David Bevan and Wells Cathedral.