Whitgift Church: The only church in the country where the clock can strike 13

The first sentence of George Orwell’s acclaimed dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four reads: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

The only church in the UK to actually read XIII instead of XII is St. Mary Magdalene in the village of Whitgift, East Yorkshire.

The church itself dates from the 14th century and is a beautiful Grade I listed building standing beside the River Ouse.

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Its clock was installed in 1919 to mark the end of World War I, its inscription “In Terra Pax” being Latin for Peace on Earth.

The parish church of St Mary Magdalene, WhitgiftThe parish church of St Mary Magdalene, Whitgift
The parish church of St Mary Magdalene, Whitgift

As for the intriguing baker’s dozen numbers on its clock face, local people have an amusing if un-Orwellian explanation.

They say that a man who was tasked with repainting the clock many years ago stopped work at dinner time and went into a pub across the road - long since gone - for some liquid refreshment.

Afterwards, he climbed back up his ladder to continue working and merrily added an extra numeral.

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The church has another claim to fame. It was mentioned in World War II radio transmissions by Lord Haw Haw, the British traitor William Joyce who broadcast Nazi propaganda to Britain from Germany during World War II.

He promised that German bombers coming up the Humber would fly so low they would “be able to see the thirteenth hand of Whitgift church clock”.

In more recent years the clock was removed as part of a restoration process and placed inside the church.

However, it was decided that the replacement should keep the XIII numerals because of its fame.

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The church itself is an integral part of the Twin Rivers parish and the wider Marshland community on the south side of the Ouse, just before the latter joins the River Trent to become the Humber Estuary.

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