New lease on life for historic Alyth Kirk clock

John Smith of Alyth Parish Church with the historic Vulliamy clock mechanism
John Smith of Alyth Parish Church with the historic Vulliamy clock mechanism

Alyth Parish Church’s venerable clock is getting a new lease on life thanks in part to grants from Alyth Develoment Trust.

The clock chimes have been telling Alyth folk the time for almost 200 years apart from a few brief silences, most recently during the COVID lockdown.  Last year, the Kirk’s fabric committee decided to automate the clock’s winding mechanism and brought in specialists from the Cumbria Clock Company to advise on the best way of doing it.

They immediately recognised the clock as a rare and historic example of the work of Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, clockmaker to Queen Victoria.  Alyth’s clock is one of only two in Scotland known to have been made by Benjamin, was one of the best clockmakers of his time –extremely well regarded in the horological world and a second generation master clockmaker.

He was five times master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, and clockmaker to King William IV then Queen Victoria, making many of the internal clocks in Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Clarence House and Brighton Pavilion and many of the other palaces that the royals use, as well as many of the internal clocks in the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. 

Alyth’s clock was made and installed in 1840, by which time Benjamin was a renowned master craftsman having already designed and fitted the clocks in the Royal Palaces. The bell in Alyth’s tower would have been supplied by him at the same time as the clock; it was cast by the Mears Foundry, who cast Big Ben for the Houses of Parliament.  

No-one knows how Alyth came to have a clock of this quality and expense, made to Vulliamy’s exacting standards.  The Cumbria Clock Company discovered that the clock has very little wear even after 183 years of service, and with automation should have at least another 183 years in it.

John Smith, Kirk Fabric Convener, said:  “Many of the local community had commented on missing the striking of the bell, and we wanted to bring the 180-year tradition back to Alyth.  After the work is done, the local community will be able to continue to see the time on the clock and again be able to hear the bell striking on the hour.

“The clock itself only requires a light servicing since it was made to such high standards, but this project will fit a new mechanism for automatic winding and to allow the chimes to be silenced over night – something the old mechanism didn’t allow.

“We’re pleased to be able to bring back the historic chimes to Alyth, and delighted to have found out that the town possesses such a rare and fine piece of clock engineering.”

The project is costing around £12,000.  The Kirk has already secured a grant of £3,000 from Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust and is seeking grants from other sources.  ADT is contributing £2,000 from its Community Projects Fund and will cover half of any shortfall from its strategic funds, with the other half coming from the Kirk’s own reserves.

Find out more about Benjamin Vulliamy here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Lewis_Vulliamy

ADT’s Community Projects Fund distributes the community benefit funds provided for Alyth by the operators of the Tullymurdoch Windfarm, some five miles north of the town.  Applications to the fund are judged by an independent panel of volunteers drawn from across the community.  Apply at https://lovealyth.org.uk/projects/alyth-community-projects-fund/

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