The Groote Kerk

I have recently been working on another large clock. This is the oldest Tower/Turret Clock I have worked on.

A very big thank you to for the awesome insert.

The story is interesting (maybe only to me). I was approached by Gert Esterhuize one of the members of the church council of the NG Groote Kerk in Adderly Street Cape Town and asked to provide a quote to restore the church clock, this was about 2-3 years ago. I initially went to the church and had a look at the beautifully made mechanism. The clock had a dial inscribed John Moore and Sons 1829. 

So with this information I discovered that the clock was imported form the U.K by a silversmith Lawrence Twentyman . This then led me do so some more research particularly on the clock but there was very little information besides an article , based on this I contacted the Simon van der Stel Foundation. This put me in contact with Ian Pretorius their Chairman.  After a short discussion we decided to arrange a tour with some of their members. We did a tour of the church and two other historical clock buildings. Shortly after this the Foundation decided to raise some funds to help cover some of the restoration costs. Time Menders and Groote Kerk would like to say a big thank you for this funding. It made it possible for us to do what we love and get a big part of South African history restored.

We started the restoration in August 2017, we set up a marquee as a spray booth and took all our equipment to the Church.  I have been repairing clocks for many years and was trained (learned the hard way) not to do small repairs.  In the past I did get convinced to do a small job and “just get it running” on every occasion there were other problems that were overlooked and it came back to bite me. I try my hardest to check every aspect of every clock I work on to make sure there are no issues that get overlooked.

Now the restoration begins.

Open a section of wooden panels where the weights run, use the clock to wind the weights down to a floor level and remove the power/weights.

Remove the gear trains one section at a time and carry it down a few flights of stairs. All the parts are kept in separate containers to avoid confusion later on but we managed to mix them up just to make it more interesting. I keep saying we, so time to mention Shamus Mossop and thank him for all the effort and hard work. We are both having a fair amount of backache which will hopefully get a bit better now we are finished the heavy carrying. I always work with Shamus not being able to trust others who may drop,misplace or damage parts.

We removed years of grease, oil and I don’t know what from all the parts, strip the paint, clean (again) polish all the bushings and mask them off to prep for spraying, get the paints color matched (realize you cant match 180 year old paint so do some research and discover in the 1800 hundreds there were not 70 different greens and 70 different reds there were basic colors and these were used all over the world) We also discovered the reason green was used was mostly on steam locos because it does not show up dirt as easy as other colors), get the original green and red as well as primer and hardener (all paints are 2k industrial /what they use on cars) I know this is not original but modern technology can help sometimes and paint is paint. We hang the parts from the ceiling of the gazebo with wire, spray primer, wait for paint to dry (yes this is a real thing people do not just a saying), have a rainy day (the moisture in the air effects the paint so you can not spray on rainy days), spray the color, and start the same process with the next parts.

One of the gears which was previously repaired and needed a bit of attention. The gear must have broken at some stage and was welded/brazed together, The job was sturdy but it was never finished off so it did not look attractive. After inspection we decided to clean it up. This did not effect the strength of the weld just made it look a bit neater.

So once all the bigger parts were painted and looking new we got onto actual repairs. The first was the escape wheel. Some of the teeth were bent not a lot but enough to cause issues. Then there were one or two that were slightly shorter than the rest. The wheel was put int a lathe and the tips were reduced very slightly to even the teeth. This meant the pallet had to be adjusted accordingly. Luckily this clock was very well made, the pallet has adjustable ends so I added a small spacer under the ends which worked perfectly.

We then moved onto the Frame of the clock. The frame was very large cast iron sections bolted together. This was taken apart and the same stripping/painting procedure was done.

Once all the parts were inspected, painted and repaired we started with the installation. The main going train of gears was installed one gear at a time and checked for faults. I had previously noticed that at some stage most of the bushings had been repaired by inserting new sleeves into existing bushings. This would be a standard repair for all clocks just on a larger scale. The work was done very well, it is not an easy task to center bushing sleeves in such large bushings. When checking the gears I discovered that the work was done to well. There were three gears that had no lateral play/end shake and the gear directly below the escape wheel was so tight it could not run freely, luckily we were able to move the sleeves slightly to create lateral play and open the bushings up slightly to allow free movement.  Once each gear was checked separately and running freely the parts were installed.

We then connected the weight and got the clock running for the first time in many years. The first section the going/time gear train was installed without and of the gears that connect the hands. This was to test run and make sure there were no problems. This is a good method to check everything, if the clock runs without other gears attached and stops when you connect them you can identify where the problem comes from.

After this we restored all the connecting gears while installing the strike and chime gear train. Approximately four months later we finally connected the hands for the first time. It is very rewarding and satisfying to finally see the clock running after many years. We have had one or tow snags. One of the problems we encountered is the structure that holds the top section of gears that runs to the hands. The wooden supports are held on place with cross sections of wood to stabilize them and over time had shifted. There is a universal joint connection to allow for movement but we found the gear shafts were badly out of alignment. To correct this we loosened the supports and moved the structure to align correctly.

I have a lot more information and pictures if anyone is interested or has any queries you can contact me via e-mail :

A final big thank you to:

Gert Esterhuyse from the Groote Kerk. The restoration was done because of Gert’s passion and persistence.

Ian Pretorius from the Simon Van Der Stel institute for helping with the funds.

Shamus Mossop for all the hard work for the awesome insert and exposure.

Time Menders would also like to thank everyone for allowing us to do what we love best and get another important part of South African history restored.