The Fisherman’s Friend and The Time Machine

The new and the old. St James Church in September 2016 with the new spire erected earlier that same month. Much lighter at 5.5 tonnes, made of steel and shorter (15m) than the original, this brand new addition now sits on top of the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The new and the old. St James Church in September 2016 with the new spire erected earlier that same month. Much lighter at 5.5 tonnes, made of steel and shorter (15m) than the original, this brand new addition now sits on top of the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Stories from St James’ Church Tower | Sharon Henry

The fairy terns suffered a bit of a shock recently when a large upside-down ice-cream cone hijacked their prime perching area on top of St James’ Church.  Unfortunately for them a spire has reclaimed the space after a 36 year absence to once again grace the skyline of Jamestown, St Helena.

The ‘new’ piece lends quite a Disney-Magic-Kingdom-like feature to our historic seaport and in the first few weeks after its erection, motorists had to be vigilant of pedestrians distracted by the novel sight – it is after all the only spire on St Helena.

Fairy terns are a common sight taking refuge on the St James clock tower. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Fairy terns are a common sight taking refuge on the St James clock tower.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Its gold/bronze colour somewhat clashes with the church’s grey paint job and although opinions differ on the reinstated landmark, it is fair to say the scales are tipped in favour of the happy majority.

Crayfish For Breakfast

Top of that list is Churchwarden, Ivy Ellick who has a nostalgic affinity with the old spire.  “Before days when I was a little girl,” she tells me, “stump (crayfish) fishing was big.  Fishermen would go out to set their nets in the afternoon and went to bring in their catch early mornings.  They’d cook the stumps and sell them there at the seaside before people went to work or school.  I was sent to buy them as a young girl.  Anyway, those fishermen said they used the church spire as a guide on where to place their nets.  And before the days of motors, fishermen would row out to sea and use the spire as a reference point on how far to go from the island.”

Of course today’s fishermen use GPS technology to navigate St Helena waters, but back in the day they relied on St James’ church spire – the fisherman’s friend.

The original spire on St James Church, St Helena, erected 7 August 1843 was reluctantly dismantled 137 years later in 1980 because it had become unstable. Made of solid stone it weighed an estimated 37 tonnes and stood 21m (69ft.) The new spire erected in 2016 is much lighter at 5.5 tonnes, made of steel and is shorter at 15m. Photo supplied by Museum of St Helena.

The original spire on St James Church, St Helena, erected 7 August 1843 was reluctantly dismantled 137 years later in 1980 because it had become unstable. Made of solid stone it weighed an estimated 37 tonnes and stood 21m (69ft.) The new spire erected in 2016 is much lighter at 5.5 tonnes, made of steel and is shorter at 15m.
Photo supplied by Museum of St Helena.

The latest feature added to a familiar view of lower Jamestown; St James church spire rising up against the Ladder Hill backdrop. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The latest feature added to a familiar view of lower Jamestown; St James church spire rising up against the Ladder Hill backdrop.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

More Than Meets The Eye

Whilst eyes are understandably drawn to the new spire, I wonder how many glance at or even notice the turret clock just below?  Well, behind its unassuming face lies a 230 year old time machine.  Granted, not the type used by the likes of Marty McFly or Dr Who, but an inscription on the clock’s machinery dates it back to 1786, and it still works, which I think is ultra cool.

Left: The turret clock of St James that looks down onto the Parade Square in Jamestown. Right: A fish weather-vane tops the new spire, in honour of St James the fisherman, and is fitted with a lightning protection system. Although thunderstorms are now unheard off, the history books have recorded a number of occurrences. Back in the late 1800s thunderstorms and sheet lightning happened almost at an annual rate on St Helena. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Left: The turret clock of St James that looks down onto the Parade Square in Jamestown.
Right: A fish weather-vane tops the new spire, in honour of St James the fisherman, and is fitted with a lightning protection system. Although thunderstorms are now unheard off, the history books have recorded a number of occurrences. Back in the late 1800s thunderstorms and sheet lightning happened almost at an annual rate on St Helena.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Aynsworth Thwaites made his first clock in 1740, for the Horseguards Parade, London, where the Trooping of the Colour Ceremony takes place each year. The St James clock was made in 1786 and first installed in 1787. It's a tribute to the engineering of 230 years that it still (with a little maintenance along the way) operates today. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Aynsworth Thwaites made his first clock in 1740, for the Horseguards Parade, London, where the Trooping of the Colour Ceremony takes place each year. The St James clock was made in 1786 and first installed in 1787. It’s a tribute to the engineering of 230 years that it still (with a little maintenance along the way) operates today.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Clock bell cast by John Warner & Sons, London, 1872. The coat of arms appears to be the same insignia moulded on the original Big Ben in London. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Clock bell cast by John Warner & Sons, London, 1872. The coat of arms appears to be the same insignia moulded on the original Big Ben in London.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Coat of arms on the clock bell. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Coat of arms on the clock bell.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

It doesn’t stop there.  This same clock has ties with – (drum roll please) none other than London’s, Big Ben aka The Great Clock.  The link actually comes twofold.  The company that made St James’ clock were custodians of Big Ben and most significantly, St James’ clock bell was cast by the same founders, John Warner & Sons, who made the original Big Ben bell in 1858.  Albeit that bell (in London) cracked and had to be recast by another company.

Yes, the modest looking belfry of St James’ Church is a larder of tasty historic breadcrumbs.

The Weight Lifter

The church tower itself resembles a grand scale grandfather clock.  High up in the belfry a brass inscription reads, ‘Aynsworth Thwaites of Clerkenwell, London 1786.’ It’s attached to a contraption of cog wheels, spools and wires.  These are connected to a fixed bell that rings the quarters and hour chimes.

Shutter-slat windows surrounds the room which were specifically chosen to better disseminate the sound of tolling bells.  Thick beams, which once lived life as ship masts, criss-cross overhead.

Three hammers are positioned around the clock bell; two strike the quarter hours and one strikes on the hour. A little rusty but still doing their job. The 200kg weights dangling through the tower below are required to lift the hammers each time. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Three hammers are positioned around the clock bell; two strike the quarter hours and one strikes on the hour. A little rusty but still doing their job. The 200kg weights dangling through the tower below are required to lift the hammers each time.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The clock bell (right) and the manual church service bell (left) installed at the top of the tower, above the clock and directly under the spire. The large round beams are believed to have previously been sailing ship masts. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The clock bell (right) and the manual church service bell (left) installed at the top of the tower, above the clock and directly under the spire. The large round beams are believed to have previously been sailing ship masts.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Roddy Yon winding the St James clock which was made in 1786 by Aynsworth Twaites of Clerkenwell. It was placed in St James in 1787 having been provided by the East India Company. Roddy climbs the tower twice a week to keep the clock working.

Roddy Yon winding the St James clock which was made in 1786 by Aynsworth Twaites of Clerkenwell. It was placed in St James in 1787 having been provided by the East India Company. Roddy climbs the tower twice a week to keep the clock working.

Aynsworth Thwaites made his first clock in 1740, for the Horseguards Parade, London, where the Trooping of the Colour Ceremony takes place each year. The St James clock was made in 1786 and first installed in 1787. It's a tribute to the engineering of 230 years that it still (with a little maintenance along the way) operates today. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Aynsworth Thwaites made his first clock in 1740, for the Horseguards Parade, London, where the Trooping of the Colour Ceremony takes place each year. The St James clock was made in 1786 and first installed in 1787. It’s a tribute to the engineering of 230 years that it still (with a little maintenance along the way) operates today.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Every four days, volunteer, Roddy Yon climbs this two-storey tower to ‘wind’ the clock.  To do this he manually turns a crankshaft that lifts 200kg weights to set pulleys and hammers in motion which keeps the clock happily ticking and chiming along.  “It’s a clock and a half,” smiles Roddy, who resurrected the clock ‘winding’ ritual seven years ago on his return from overseas.

The clock bell is green with age and oxidation; an inscription reads, ‘John Warner & Sons, London 1872, Patent.’  It also bears a rather regal coat of arms which appears to be the same insignia moulded on the original Big Ben.  Thankfully ours has stood the test of time and remains crack-free.

After winding the clock Roddy carries out a series of checks on the mechanism, including lubricating the cogs and wheels to keep everything ticking along. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

After winding the clock Roddy carries out a series of checks on the mechanism, including lubricating the cogs and wheels to keep everything ticking along.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Photographing the maintenance process - Roddy running through his checks which he does twice a week. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Photographing the maintenance process – Roddy running through his checks which he does twice a week.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

According to 'Churches of The South Atlantic 1502 - 1991,' by Bishop Edward Cannan, the clock was originally installed in the west tower until 1834 when the tower was taken down. The clock was ferried across the street to the Court House where it lived from 1841 until 1845 before being relocated to the newly built north tower which had been built in 1843.

According to ‘Churches of The South Atlantic 1502 – 1991,’ by Bishop Edward Cannan, the clock was originally installed in the west tower until 1834 when the tower was taken down. The clock was ferried across the street to the Court House where it lived from 1841 until 1845 before being relocated to the newly built north tower which had been built in 1843.

The 'grandfather clock' church tower, topped with the new spire (2016). The clock and bell lives behind the shutter-slat windows on all four sides at the top. The sound of the bell every quarter hour can be heard all the way to the top of Jamestown and out in the harbour in the opposite direction. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The ‘grandfather clock’ church tower, topped with the new spire (2016). The clock and bell lives behind the shutter-slat windows on all four sides at the top. The sound of the bell every quarter hour can be heard all the way to the top of Jamestown and out in the harbour in the opposite direction.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

This is what is known as a 'secure grip.' Climbing the ladder up through the bell tower to reach the clock at the top. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

This is what is known as a ‘secure grip.’ Climbing the ladder up through the bell tower to reach the clock at the top.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The three clock weights hanging through the tower below the mechanism which requires winding every four days. The middle drives the clock hands, the left drives the hour ring and the right the quarter chimes. The two bigger weights are 200 kg each. At the back the silver looking disc is the clock pendulum. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The three clock weights hanging through the tower below the mechanism which requires winding every four days. The middle drives the clock hands, the left drives the hour ring and the right the quarter chimes. The two bigger weights are 200 kg each. At the back the silver looking disc is the clock pendulum.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Looking up through the clock tower, a good view of the weights and pendulum that keep the clock working. The weights slowly fall through the hole, down through the tower and must be wound back up every four days. If they are allowed to reach the bottom then a complicated process of resetting and restarting the clock is required. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Looking up through the clock tower, a good view of the weights and pendulum that keep the clock working. The weights slowly fall through the hole, down through the tower and must be wound back up every four days. If they are allowed to reach the bottom then a complicated process of resetting and restarting the clock is required.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

St James's Clock was removed for repairs in 1993 and was re-installed fully operational in 1995. The clock had not been working for approximately 15-20 years prior to this. Pictured here with Bishop Ruston (left) in 1993 are the three local craftsman who voluntarily undertook the repair work, from right: Arthur Bizaare, Geoffrey Scipio and Douglas Yon (Roddy's dad). St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

St James’s Clock was removed for repairs in 1993 and was re-installed fully operational in 1995. The clock had not been working for approximately 15-20 years prior to this. Pictured here with Bishop Ruston (left) in 1993 are the three local craftsman who voluntarily undertook the repair work, from right: Arthur Bizaare, Geoffrey Scipio and Douglas Yon (Roddy’s dad).
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

St James's Clock after being removed for repairs in 1993 pictured here on the front steps of the church. Roddy's been on touch with Thwaites in UK who made the clock and the company thinks this clock is possibly the only one left in the world with an original English oak wooden barrel. The clock's two other barrels have been replaced with steel ones. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

St James’s Clock after being removed for repairs in 1993 pictured here on the front steps of the church.
Roddy’s been on touch with Thwaites in UK who made the clock and the company thinks this clock is possibly the only one left in the world with an original English oak wooden barrel. The clock’s two other barrels have been replaced with steel ones.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

When The Princess Came To Town

The same cannot be said of the other bell hanging in the belfry.  In terms of age this is a baby compared to the clock bell and it swings as opposed to being fixed.  Separate from the time machine this bell is manually rung by pulling a suspended cord, usually before and after church services.  It was installed in 1950 in honour of the Royal Visit of 1947 when Queen Elizabeth II, a young 21 year old princess at the time, stepped ashore in Jamestown.

This bell was cast by John Taylor of Loughborough and has a small chip on the rim.  It is inscribed, ‘In memory of William A Thorpe, 1842 – 1918.  Honour the King 1947.’  Mr Thorpe was a churchwarden.

The church bell that was installed in 1950 by Arthur Eden Bazaar, father of the same Arthur who repaired the church clock in 1995. This bell was installed in honour of the Royal Visit of 1947 when Queen Elizabeth II, a young 21 year old princess at the time, stepped ashore in Jamestown. The bell was cast by John Taylor of Loughborough, England. St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

The church bell that was installed in 1950 by Arthur Eden Bizaare, father of the same Arthur who repaired the church clock in 1995. This bell was installed in honour of the Royal Visit of 1947 when Queen Elizabeth II, a young 21 year old princess at the time, stepped ashore in Jamestown. The bell was cast by John Taylor of Loughborough, England.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

Built in 1774 St James is the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere.  Its walls have witnessed centuries of island events that in movie terms would shift from black and white to colour footage.  Hopefully along with the church, the fisherman’s friend and the time machine will continue to shine and strike long into the coming centuries, and progress onto who knows what movie media will be the norm in the future.

St James Church in Jamestown with its new spire, viewed from the top of Ladder Hill. Castle Gardens can be seen top right; court house and police station top middle (through the trees) and just visible top left is The Castle.  St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

St James Church in Jamestown with its new spire, viewed from the top of Ladder Hill. Castle Gardens can be seen top right; court house and police station top middle (through the trees) and just visible top left is The Castle.
St James Church clock tower, Jamestown, St Helena.

12 thoughts on “The Fisherman’s Friend and The Time Machine

  1. Darrin & Sharon you two are magnificant people who likes to tell untold stories. This is great and the pics are brilliant. Its good to read old stories about our Island and people. Your site is so interesting. Thanks to you and Sharon for keeping everyone up dated.x
    .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Debbie – we enjoy documenting our unique island, and showcasing gems like St James’ Big Ben connection and people like Roddy is especially lovely. 🙂

      Like

  2. Smashing pictures and great story – who’d have thought something that old was still capable of telling the time? Mind you, that bell striker could do with a dose of anti-rust and a lick of paint if it’s to survive another 200 odd years!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peter – the clock’s longevity is due to brilliant craftsmanship, they really made things to last back in the day. Yes, we too thought the hammer was a bit crusty. 🙂

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    • Thanks John – we enjoyed doing this story especially discovering the links to Big Ben. Re Dougie’s nickname because we’re not familiar with him didn’t use it. 🙂

      Like

  3. Good reading. Did you know the original company that built the clock are still operating? Thwaites and Reed – in fact the Museum just received a delivery of clock parts from them including an authentic Victorian click spring for much needed maintenance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Museum, and for use of the b/w photo. How great to know that the Time Machine is to be replenished with new and Victorian clock parts. Roddy will be pleased. 🙂

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  4. An amazing and wonderful story, beautiful pictures, Tribute to all those skilful workers who kept this wonderful machine working to this very day. Excellent, Darrin and Sharon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pat – it is a wonderful story of our historic church. The working clock is a testament to Roddy, Arthur and the rest of the team of their skills and dedication.

      Like

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