22 May 2024

Work starts on clock restoration

by Rebecca Hannant

Work has started on the war memorial clock at Withernsea’s St Nicholas Church – but a nesting bird of prey has meant restoration experts will have to wait to complete the job.

On Monday, May 13, Smith of Derby carried out initial work to remove some of the inner workings, hile the clock hands were removed from three of the four faces.

Because of kestrels nesting with in the tower, Smith of Derby were unable to remove the fourth set of hands and a further visit will be needed – at a cost to the fundraisers, the Friends of St Nicholas Church.

The restoration of the clock has delighted fundraisers who feared work would not have gone ahead because of a funding shortfall. However, they say that, now work has started, this could encourage more people to donate, bridging the gap required for a full overhaul.

The clock is considered to be an important part of the town’s wartime heritage. The first meeting of the war memorial trust took place on May 17, 1945, and in 1947 the clock was dedicated to the men and women of Withernsea who fought in the war. A second memorial was unveiled inside the church in 1948.

In 1945, the clock appeal raised a total of more than £500 – about £30,000 in today’s money. Money was donated from the people of Withernsea including Florence Cavell, sister of the famous First World War nurse Edith Cavell. Records of donations were also kept, naming the families and their donations.

The clock is believed to have last worked in 2017.

In August 2023, a consultation was announced by Friends of St Nicholas Church members Darrin Stevens and Russell Mathers to scope opinion among local people on restoring the clock.

They said that, if they achieved their funding goal, Smith of Derby would carry out the repairs by removing all the clock faces and inner workings to restore them into a near-original condition.

New technology would also be added to update the clock, allowing it to self-adjust an hour forward and an hour back. The upgrade would mean the clock would need less interaction from human hands, prolonging its life. Work would also be done to repaint the clock faces and the hour and minute arms.

The consultation was met with widespread support among the Withernsea community, including several individual donations as well as £25,000 from Withernsea Big Local and £5,000 from the War Memorial Trust.

Darrin said: “No matter who you go to, everyone thinks it’s a nice idea, but there have been critics of it – £44,000 is a lot of money, but so is a life. Those people went to war and gave up their lives so we could have this. It’s Withernsea’s legacy, so I don’t want to hear people say it’s too much money because the people whose families died are still here.

“We should not forget those people. Florence Cavell gave £1 to have part of it installed. It’s part of her memory – look what she did for the town.

“In the past few weeks, we have had more donations, and they are trickling through. Its quite heartwarming that people are starting to see the sentiment. I think now it will start to get the momentum.”

Supporters of the church are also excited by work starting on the clock.

Friends of St Nicholas Church member Brian Cloak said: “It’s important because the trust raised the money to have it as a war memorial back in the 1940s. We must remember that, and so it’s important that we called it Time to Reflect.

“I hope that once it is completed it will be back striking as it used to.”

Former caretaker Peter Clegg said: “I worked on the clock for 20 years, and it was rapidly failing in the past four or five years. I was asked to look after it because I oversaw the bells and bell ringing here. It will be nice to see it going once again.”

The clock is now hoped to be ready by May next year in time for the VJ Day commemorations.

Meanwhile, Withernsea Royal British Legion president Darren England said that veterans and their families were looking forward to seeing the clock work once again.

He said: “It has been a fantastic process that Darrin and Russell have gone through to get where we are.

“It’s not just a clock in a church tower – it’s a war memorial clock, and it was produced just after the Second World War for the people of Withernsea, their families that went to war and didn’t come back, or those that came back and weren’t the same. We must remember that.

“Every time that bell rings again on the hour and every half-hour, we need to remember that is why it is ringing.

“Having spoken to people at the veterans’ breakfast club, all the veterans and their families support this venture, and they can’t wait for it to be finished. We’re hoping it will be finished by the 80th anniversary of VJ Day next year.

“Withernsea schools are very good at teaching our history, and they also have people like me going in to talk to them.

“They will be able to hear this bell ringing at school and then we will tell them its story.”

Darrin added that the project would be halted until the kestrel and her chicks moved on.

He said: “We cannot disturb the nest or birds so this will delay the project and, clearly, we will incur more costs as they will need to do a return visit.

“We have not budgeted for this – nature is a wonderful thing and is not interested in budgets. So, we need to get more funds and we will keep applying for donations.”