Ringing the changes for tower’s special anniversary peal

Morpeth Clock Tower  Michael Scott, grandson of the clock maker William Scott, visiting the clock tower with Mayor Phil Taylor. The re-painting of the clock in 1953 when three dots between the numbers were painted on instead of the usual four.
Morpeth Clock Tower Michael Scott, grandson of the clock maker William Scott, visiting the clock tower with Mayor Phil Taylor. The re-painting of the clock in 1953 when three dots between the numbers were painted on instead of the usual four.

A FAMOUS Morpeth clock will be given a special chime for its 75th anniversary as bell ringers attempt a challenging new peal.

Eight ringers from across the region will gather at Morpeth Clock Tower to sound the specially arranged peal in celebration of the landmark’s timepiece.

The undertaking is no mean feat as a peal requires at least 5,000 changes — different patterns in which the bells are rung — and appropriately there are 5,075 changes in the 75th anniversary peal, which uses all eight of the tower bells and will take about three hours to ring.

The peal has been arranged by Alan Barber of Whitley Bay and just one member of the resident Clock Tower Bell Ringers, Bill Davidson, will be taking part due to the demands of the task.

Tower Captain Richard Major said: “Our body just isn’t strong enough to ring a full peal ourselves as it is quite a long time of ringing.

“There are 5,075 changes for the anniversary peal and that is not easy to achieve. It is exhausting and it requires everybody to concentrate throughout. Just a single mistake can lead to failure so it will be quite an achievement to do it.

“We don’t have many peals in Morpeth because of the location of the Clock Tower, with residents and businesses nearby, so it is a significant thing for the town.”

The Clock Tower dates back to the early 17th Century and its original clock, a single-pointer, is believed to have come from Bothal Castle.

In 1881 it was modified to make a two-handed clock, but it proved unreliable and in 1936 a new timepiece was given in memory of local jeweller Andrew Foster.

The original clock is still stored in the ground floor room of the tower.

“The original single-pointer clock was modified to make it two-handed, but the problem was it didn’t seem to work as well,” said Mr Major.

“In Woodhorn there are pictures of the clock showing impossible times for when the pictures were taken and there is lots of evidence of those problems.

“The new clock was given in memory of a Morpeth jeweller so his widow must have decided enough was enough and it was time to have a proper clock.”

The feature was installed by another jeweller William Scott.

Anyone who takes a close look at it will notice that it has three dots between the numbers instead of the conventional four, but this was not the case when it was first installed.

Mr Major said: “People will tell you that if you look at the clock face you can tell that it was originally a single-handed clock because the quarter hours are marked by the three dots, whereas the conventional clock face has four between the numbers to show the minutes. That is what they say, but it is absolute nonsense.

“If you look at photographs of the clock face when it was put in it is a conventional clock face with four dots. However, it was re-painted in 1953 and that is when the dots were changed to three. Somebody might have decided to do that because originally there was a single-handed clock there, but the new clock was not designed like that so who knows what the reason for changing it might have been.”

Mr Scott’s grandson Michael recently travelled from Aberdeen to see the clock in action after discovering his family links to the landmark, and he was given a tour of the Clock Tower by Morpeth Mayor Phil Taylor.

“Michael Scott contacted me a couple of years back about the clock so he knew about its history, but he had never seen it. He was very pleased to finally come and see the clock and the work that his grandfather had done,” said Mr Major.

The celebratory peal will be assisted by new bell ropes, which have finally been installed after 18 months on order.

The ropes, which cost about £1,000 were funded by Northumberland County Council.

Mr Major said: “We were concerned that our old ropes were getting very old and weak and we knew they would break at some stage. Now we have some new ropes that are in excellent condition for the peal.

“Each bell rope has to be specially made, but there are very few rope makers for bell ringing around now so we have been waiting quite a while for them.”

There has also been some changes to the sallies, the woolly bits on the ropes.

The traditional red, white and blue colours have been changed on the lightest bell, the treble, to the blue and white colours of the town, and the heaviest, tenor bell, sally has been changed to red and yellow, the county colours. The sally colours for the six middle bells are unchanged.

The anniversary peal will begin at noon on Sunday, October 16.