Unlocking Stourport's Past

Stourport Clock

On the upper left-hand corner of the centre casting is a brass plate inscribed:

Erected by Public Subscription
Made by Samuel Thorp

The clock tower located on the Yacht Club building.
The original subscription list was recently found in an old wallet purchased at a local car-boot sale. How fortunate the finder recognised its significance. Seventy one subscribers are listed donating a total of £247: 16s: 0d in amounts ranging from one to ten guineas. An additional unspecified sum was raised amongst a few subscribers to cover the difference between the estimated and final cost (nothing changes when financing public ventures).

In today’s money the sum collected would be over £6,000. Among the subscribers were two MPs, the directors of the canal Company -the source of Stourport’s prosperity, the Vinegar Works, the Swan Hotel, the Red and White Lion and the Bell public houses together with businesses and names still of note in the town today. The following note on the original list is worthy of comment:

'Sir Edward Littleton Bt, Thos & James Perry of Wolverhampton Esqrs with the other Canal Proprietors give Thos Rowley Jnr the grant and liberty to put the Town Clock on their Warehouse, being the best situation. The Gentlemen of the Town and likewise the wish of the Canal Company that it should be there, till a better situation could be found.'

The formation of English Heritage must have afforded the Town Fathers some relief: they can at last cease their search for a 'better situation'.

The date of 1813 makes the clock 194 years old and in its present position has marked the passage of Stourport’s time. To put it into an historical perspective, the clock started its life two years before the battle of Waterloo, the end of the Napoleonic Wars and immediately after the infamous land tax of 1811 and 1812. Stourport must have been a 'boom town'.

Made by Samuel Thorp of Abberley, who was this man living in the remote village of Abberley able to accept and fulfil such a contract? He was born in Madeley, Shropshire, being baptised on 6th Jan 1765, the eldest of three children in a family of modest means. He started his apprenticeship with the celebrated Shrewsbury clockmaker Robert Webster in July 1780 at the late age of 15 yrs 6 months. Such a late start could indicate full time education which his will and other surviving examples of his writing support. During this time his locality had three Sunday schools sponsored by Abiah Darby, the widow of Abram Darby II, the Ironbridge iron master and well-known Quaker philanthropist, plus the Grammar School at Wellington, both of which he possibly attended. In his immediate locality all the technical advances of the Industrial Revolution were taking place. He was 16 yrs old when the Iron Bridge was erected.

He came to Abberley sometime in 1790, why is a mystery because as far as can be ascertained he had no connections with the locality. One presumes he saw a business opportunity in 'booming' Stourport and with the owners of the twenty-five or so mansions of the nouveaux riches industrialists in the area. The first reference to Abberley is on an application for a special licence to marry and secondly on a marriage certificate recording a marriage to Mary Newall at Ford in Shropshire on the 20th December 1790. He lived in Abberley village as owner / occupier of a house that was converted into two cottages, 36 and 37, sometime after 1883. There were seven children two of which died in infancy and are the only issue buried at Abberley. He left his clock making business to son Thomas who pre-deceased him by six months. Samuel was buried in the old churchyard in Abberley village on 15th Feb 1838 aged 73 and was joined by Mary on 19th Feb 1843.

He was a private man; his only recorded contribution in Abberley was to vote against the formation of a Parish council. He paid his Poor Law and land taxes in full on demand. In 1823 Samuel lost the contract to maintain the clock through neglect, but in 1819 he had been awarded two tracts of land in the parish of Abberley by the visiting Enclosures Commission on which he built two cottages. He was otherwise employed.

He has been described as a clockmaker of more than ordinary ability well able to make clocks equal to the London standards of his day as many of his surviving fine clocks testify. His horological abilities ranged from pocket watches, long case clocks from simple 30 hour cottage style to eight day regulators, and including bracket clocks. The better clocks all feature innovations peculiar to them. Also surviving is a fine compass used in the Abberley coal mines, two spinning wheels, a sun-dial and five turret clocks.

Stourport town clock is one of five known to survive in the locality; they are Witley Court 1804, Rock Church 1805, stourport 1813, Glasshampton 1814 and Brockhampton Court 1815. The search continues for others. While all five clocks are different, the Rock and Stourport are the largest and most alike and appear to feature common castings and forgings. The Stourport clock has three trains: time, quarter chimes on two bells (ting-tang) not working at this time and striking counting the hours on a larger bell. currently operating. The construction suggests the clock was built to strike only, the chimes added later as a 'bolt-on' extra. The clock is of heavy construction and uniquely features substantial iron castings for the larger wheels, pinions and the frame. These castings could have been produced at any of the Coalbrookdale foundries and brought down river, the Baldwin foundry in Stourport or the Foley foundry in Kidderminster. The forgings would undoubtedly have been produced on the anvil in the blacksmith’s shop next door in Abberley village.

The Town Clock located in its loft with access up a vertical ladder photo supplied by Charles Hadwell Discarded cast iron clock faces  Photo by Anna Carter
The dials on the cupola are fibre-glass replicas; the original cast-iron dials, four, are open-centre discs painted black with white Painted (originally gilded) Roman numerals and are on the ground leaning against the warehouse wall from where, amidst general lamentation, they will inevitably disappear (see photo).

The clock includes features unique to Thorp and to this clock. It has an anchor recoil escapement regulated by a wooden rod two second pendulum suspended from a forged bracket attached to a substantial beam along the back of the clock. A two second pendulum is some thirteen feet long and ticks once every two seconds. The time regulation is achieved by raising or lowering the pendulum suspension spring between two studs by a screw & wing nut at its upper end, thus changing its swinging length. The crutch or arm from the anchor is not attached to the pendulum but held against it between two opposing screw adjusters. The beat (regularity of the tick) is adjusted by fixing the crutch pendulum rod relationship with these screws: a feature to be found in the better quality Vienna Regulator later in the century. The heavy work of winding the clock is eased by a simple attachment offering a four to one reduction that can be fitted to each winding square in turn. The drive from the clock is for the minute hand rotating once each hour; it is taken to each of the four dials through a central distribution gearbox, misalignment accommodated by a series of simple Hooke joints (Hardy Spicers). The twelve to one reduction to the hour hand is provided by a reduction gear box behind each dial called the Motion Work. Each of these motion works includes a small barrel and weight which drives the hands forward taking out the hand windage induced backlash in the drive train to the hands which can adversely affect the time keeping. They are called ‘expiditors' and are to be found on only three of Thorp's clocks. There is just one other known clock with an expiditor; it is in the Blist Hill museum store at Coalbrookdale, maker not known.

The Stourport clock is an important rare antique and forms part of a collection of five turret clocks all located and soon to be working in the close vicinity, all made and errected by a clockmaker living close by at Abberley. Every effort should be made to restore it to full working order and maintain it in that condition. The original iron dials should be retrieved and fixed to the warehouse walls, two either side below the cupola. Somewhere near, the origin and uniqueness of the clock and the sites of its four companions could be suitably advertised.

This article originally dates from 1997 and the concerns for the cast iron dials have recently been addressed by the Stourport Yacht club.

The Stourport Yacht Club managed to rescue the dials from the council yard shortly after the fibreglass ones were fitted, as they were concerned they would go for scrap. They wished to have them refurbished and fitted to the outside of the warehouse. Unfortunately British Waterways would not agree to this. However the Yacht club are making sure the four original dials are looked after, and kept on the premises of the warehouse.

Why not visit the Stourport Yacht club website
by Charles Hadwell (Newsletter October 1997)
This page last updated 14 January 2007

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