Council raids savings for church clock bill

By Steve Peacock in Local People

Totnes Town Council is being forced to raid its savings to save the town’s daily ding-dong timepiece from being silenced.

St Mary’s Church clock needs £780 of repairs to its chiming mechanism to ensure it continues to ring out every quarter of an hour – day and night.

Last week, town councillors were told they only have £300 in the budget for the centuries-old clock – and half of that is earmarked for annual maintenance work.

But after hearing that the parish church clock is at the “heart” of the town, councillors agreed to dip into reserves to find the rest of the cash.

Council clerk Catherine Marlton said: “We could go back to the church and say we are not going to do it but the reality is it would stop working.”

The clock has no faces but chimes every quarter of the hour with a series of notes from the bells in the tower and then chimes the hour on the hour.

The council’s responsibility for the upkeep of the clock dates back centuries to a time when the average resident of Totnes did not have access to a watch and relied on the chiming bells to tell them the time of day.

Ms Marlton told councillors there was now “a significant problem with the chiming system” of the clock housed in the 500-year-old tower.

She said that the repairs would cost £780, and added: “The problem is that the budget that we have for the clock does not come to that.”

She said the council only had £300 in the kitty for the clock and half of that was earmarked for general maintenance work.

She also pointed out that the East Gate clock, with its double clock face, is “quite unreliable” even though its old mechanism was abandoned years ago when the clock was electrified.

And she added: “The church bells are the most accurate.”

Cllr Marion Adams said: “We are responsible for the clock. We are obliged to do it.”

And she suggested the council should get the money from its “emergency” fund.

Cllr Ben Piper said the church clock was part of the “heart, heritage and culture” of the town.

The church clock was silenced some 20 years ago when a nearby resident complained to the environmental health department at South Hams District Council that its chiming was keeping her awake at nights, even though she was using ear plugs.

Church officials turned off the chimes for a couple of months while they took legal advice and then turned them back on when they got the all clear.

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