Town Clock

Ampthill Town Council own and maintain the Town Clock's electric master clock and the drive mechanism plus ancillary equipment.

History of the Clock

AMPTHILL                                                                           Moot Hall (Town Clock)
Standing at the crossroads at the centre of the town, the Moot Hall (or Clock House) is a focal point in the townscape. It was rebuilt by the Duke of Bedford in 1852 but echoes the style of its predecessor. The cupola containing the clock bells may have come from the old building and it has been suggested that it originally belonged to Park House until discarded during alterations around 1760. It was given to the Moot Hall by Lord Ossory in 1787 when he presented the clock to the town.  It has a square base for the clock dials, an open-sided bell stage, and a cap surmounted by a large weathervane.

The cupola contains two bells whose inscriptions (recorded in the Victoria County History) are as follows:
Bell         Inscription
1.            Waist: R C MADE ME 1710
2.            Waist: RIC CHANDLER MADE ME 1701

Bell    Founder and date    Diameter    Hz    Note    Weight
1.    Richard Chandler 1710    14½”    2039    C-45    ¾ cwt
2.    Richard Chandler 1701    19”    1783    A+22    1½ cwt

Although they bear different dates these bells are clearly a pair, both having similar mouldings and waist inscriptions. Other Chandler bells of this period have bungled dates (e.g. Colmworth 1704) and it is possible that they were both cast in 1701 or 1710 but with the last two figures being reversed. There were several bellfounding members of the Chandler family called Richard and their working dates span several decades either side of the date of these two bells, so there is nothing to help pinpoint whether the correct date is 1701 or 1710. 

Both bells retain their canons complete. The larger bell has been quarter turned. The bells are now quite heavily corroded. 

The bells are hung between three East-West beams under the roof of the cupola. The smaller bell, on the South, has an old wooden headstock with strap gudgeons, stock hoops and open brass bearings set in the frame beams. It was at one time swung as well as being sounded by the clock. It retains its clapper and cast-in crown staple. The larger bell is fixed rigid, but again on an old wooden headstock. It has a cast-in staple but no clapper. The supporting ironwork of both bells has been renewed in fairly recent times, perhaps when the present clock hammers were installed (i.e. in 1974). The beams and headstocks clearly pre-date the rebuilding in 1852.

The old Clock presented by Lord Ossory was refixed in the present building in 1852 by Robert Reddall, the Ampthill clockmaker, at a cost of £20. Reddall’s bill dated 1 September 1852 is preserved in the Bedford Estate archives. Although now disused, this clock remains in situ. It is a large three-train movement in a wrought iron birdcage frame. The going train with recoil anchor escapement is in the middle with the hour striking train on the right and the quarter chimes on the left. There is no maker’s name or date on the clock but a small embossed brass plate fixed to the frame is inscribed “REPAIRED AND REFIXED. / JULY. 1852. R. REDDALL. / WOBURN”.

The clock was replaced in 1974 when Smith of Derby installed a new electrically-operated system (serial no.19891). This system is still used for the chimes, which are now silenced at night. The clock dials are now controlled by a Smith computer-controlled system (serial no.8129) installed in 2011 with individual T200 movements to the dials on the East and South sides of the turret. The clock strikes the hours and ting-tang quarter chimes. 

Credit: Chris Pickford and thanks to the late Andrew Underwood and the Bedford Estate archives for information.