A father and son from Whitchurch have called time on their careers winding the town’s clock after more than two decades.

Barry and Brian Jackman have been keeping the clock in the town hall running for almost 20 years, ensuring that the historic timepiece ran in historic occasions on time. However, they’ve now been caught by the march of progress, with renovations to install an automatic winding mechanism.

“I do miss it, as does Brian,” said Barry. “We will miss doing it but I think we’ve earned a rest. Brian said to me the other day it’s strange not having to go up there to wind the clock and I agree.

“After doing it for so long it became one of those things you always did. I’m sure had it carried on being wound by hand we’d still be doing it and serving the people of Whitchurch is what we’ve always been about.”

The clock in Whitchurch Town Hall replaces an older timepiece, and was funded by public subscription between 1864 and 1867. For all that time, generations of Whitchurch residents have wound the clock to keep it running.

Barry and Brian took over just after the turn of the millennium, when their predecessor fell ill. They began the task of climbing three flights of stairs to wind the clock, which Barry described as “quite a workout”. This normally took place once a week, but this wasn’t always guaranteed.

“It’s not easy to regulate the clock because the main pendulum is steel, so when it’s hot it expands and slows the clock down,” Barry said. “So even during the week you can gain or lose two or three minutes depending on whether it’s hot or cold. If the weather changes a lot then you may have to go up there two or three times a week.”

One of the ways of controlling the clock is placing pennies on the pendulum, but this has its own challenges.

“It’s a bit hit and miss and I never got used to it,” Barry said. “If the clock was a minute or so slow when I was heading past I’d go up and try using pennies, but it’s a challenge if you’ve not got change!

“You also can’t see the time of the clock from inside so very often I had to get someone outside to call me and let me know if I was doing it right.”

Ensuring accuracy was particularly important on occasions such as the transition from summer time to winter time. As the clock cannot be turned backwards, this involved turning it forward by 11 hours at once, while New Year’s Eve was also challenging.

“New Year always posed a challenge in ensuring the clock would strike at precisely midnight,” Barry said. “This meant that, on occasions, I would be standing with phone in hand and manually starting the striking mechanism to make sure the bell strikes on the dot of midnight.”

Despite Barry and Brian’s best efforts, the clock would sometimes go wrong and stop working, with the pair stepping in to ensure its place in the high street was secure.

“A town hall clock can be controversial, especially as it’s directly opposite the White Hart,” said Barry. “If it breaks down and people get used to the quiet then people might start complaining it’s a racket and want it turned off, so it’s important to get it working as quickly as possible.

“I’ve been up there when the clock has stopped and it’s not working to manually sound the bell to make people realise it’s still there, and that while it’s not yet working it will work at some time or other.”

Now, however, the clock stands silent as refurbishment takes place at Whitchurch Town Hall, of which one of the main changes will be a self-winding mechanism, calling time on the bell winding tradition. Barry himself started off this process, looking into the possibility of a refurbishment during his time as chair of the council 10 years ago, though it didn’t go ahead at this time.

Looking back on his time, Barry said that he will miss the opportunity to look down on the town, but more importantly, the time that he and his son have spent keeping the clock going.

“It was really lovely to know I could always rely on him,” he said. “If I was on holiday or ill I knew he could step in. I broke my back last year so he’s had to do it from then on, and did it right up until it stopped for the alterations.

“He’s been doing that ever since I started 20 years ago so it’s really handy to have someone in the family to rely on. I just appreciate that Brian helped me for all these years when I was doing it and was always there.”

The clock’s upgrade is part of a wider programme of works at the town hall, including the installation of a lift and a refurbishment of the council chamber.