Repairer dedicated to saving time

EVEN after generations of service, many historic church clocks across Yorkshire continue to tick faithfully.

And one man is responsible for keeping an increasing number of them in working order, despite the advancing age of many mechanisms.

Self-taught clock repairer Andrew Bates was approached by a desperate local vicar more than a decade ago and found that, after scaling the church tower, maintenance was similar to dealing with an outsized version of a domestic clock.

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With church clocks getting older and specialist repairers difficult to trace, Mr Bates has found his services increasingly in demand and is now responsible for the care of around 20 church clocks across South and West Yorkshire, with his knowledge occasionally in demand from further afield.

The former Manchester airport worker stumbled into the clock repair business while looking for a new career after moving across the Pennines to Sheffield.

While he found his workshop became almost instantly successful after opening at Elsecar Heritage Centre in Barnsley more than a decade ago, he discovered his real passion after being approached for help by the vicar of nearby Holy Trinity Church.

That clock needed maintenance and Mr Bates then took on full care for the mechanism, including the chore of climbing the tower every six days to re-wind the key.

His growing reputation led to others seeking similar help and he is now the man who ensures clocks tell accurate time at churches across South Yorkshire, the Holmfirth area and parts of Huddersfield.

The impoverished nature of local churches means many are still operating on the mechanisms installed more than a century ago, and sometimes much longer than that.

“We have been doing domestic clocks for around 13 years and one day the vicar came from across the road and asked if I would have a look at the clock,” he said.

“The chap I worked with at the time told me not to get involved, that it looked dangerous. But I did, and I still look after it.”

Others followed, with a group of churches in the Barnbrough, Hickleton and Goldthorpe area requesting his services along with others in the Holme Valley and Huddersfield.

With the original mechanisms manufactured more than a century ago, spare parts are no longer available which means Mr Bates has to make whatever he needs by hand.

However, the devices are a testament to Victorian engineering and he says that, properly maintained, they should run almost indefinitely.

Bushes are the most common replacements and can be produced in his workshop.

Some clocks in the region’s churches date to the early part of the 19th Century, but many were installed in the 1880s, apparently to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

“Most date from 1880 to 1910, and a lot seem to come from the time of the jubilee of Queen Victoria,” he said.

“But it depends on the church. Most are very reliable and if they are looked after they should just about run forever.

“It is when they are not looked after that you have to start to worry.

“Apart from the size, there is not a lot of difference to domestic clocks,” he said.

“I suppose the attraction is that you are doing something for a whole village, rather than just one person,” he said.

While the clock mechanisms may remain original, there have been some concessions to the modern era, however.

One West Yorkshire church had access through a small opening, with a series of York stone slabs set at an angle to provide a ‘ladder’ for the clock winder to climb the tower.

Fortunately, these days, the job of winding can be done by an electric motor.