LETTERS : Time to honour our civic clocks

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The Independent Online
From Mr Gideon Berman Sir: Your leading article "Why the clocks don't run on time any more" (30 December) regrets that there are now so few functioning public clocks. It is high time (pardon the double pun) that attention is given to those grand and lofty machines which for so many years worked away up in the towers, in hot and freezing weather alike.

The number and the condition of public clocks are indicators of civic pride. These days, public clocks are not necessary for the functioning of social and economic life, but they are very relevant as indicators of a different type, namely our concern forour heritage. The preservation of craft and mechanical artefacts is important for a host of reasons: architectural history - clock dials were focal points in building design; science history - clock mechanisms indicate the comparative state of the mechanic arts; economic history - for centuries, the striking of public clocks co-ordinated economic activities; social history - the striking of time on church and town bells communicated order and stability; Church history and practice - from their beginnings in the 14th century clocks have been associated with religious observance. In sum, public clocks have been an unceasing and integral part of community life.

It is evident that clock mechanisms and dials have been allowed to decay when other significant artefacts such as paintings, sculptures and furniture have been preserved. Some public money is given to preserve paintings and sculptures, and to saving themfrom export, but hardly any support has been given to the preservation of the old village, town and city clocks, most of which have depended on inadequate collections.

The lack of such funding indicates a lack of recognition and appreciation of the merit of the English makers of public clocks, which were copied throughout Europe. Government and town hall officials should reflect on the loss to the nation of the great many town and church clocks that have been discarded. While some of the dials do remain, the vast majority of the mechanisms have been dumped or sold for the scrap value of the metal. What does that say for our civic pride? What does that say of our concern for history? Where is our tribute to the magnificent craftsmen mechanics?

Yours faithfully, GIDEON BERMAN Oxford 3 January