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The Royal Small Arms Factory clock

Red brick clock tower

Clock Tower above the Machine Shop at Enfield Island Village © R Tuthill

Any visitor to the site of the old Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock (now Enfield Island Village) will be immediately drawn to the Machine Shop, which stands at the heart of the complex, and is one of the oldest surviving buildings. At the centre of the building is the clock tower with its bell, which chimes on the hour, every hour, to tell the time for local residents and those working at Enfield Island Village.

Bronze bell with the name Albert cast on it

The bell of the Enfield clock tower © RSA Trust

The history of the clock has always been something of a mystery as it is dated 1808, eight years before the factory at Enfield was officially commissioned. Now records uncovered at the National Archives have revealed that the clock was originally installed at the Royal Small Arms Manufactory at Lewisham in 1808, and then moved to Enfield in January 1819 almost exactly 200 years ago.

On 2 February 1808 the Board of Ordnance, which was responsible for the supply of equipment to the armed forces, ordered a common turret clock from the clockmaker, John Thwaites, for the manufactory at Lewisham for which they later paid £95 14s 0d (about £4,450 in today’s money). Thwaites was one of the most renowned clockmakers of the day, and supplied time pieces all over the world. His turret clocks were designed to be mounted in church towers, town halls, and other public buildings, and would have been essential in factories to ensure that workmen kept to time. The Lewisham clock was able to run a full 8 days without rewinding and was linked to a bell.

Turret clock mechanism

The name of the clockmaker and date of manufacture can be seen stamped on the clock © RSA Trust

The records further reveal that when the Board decided to close the factory at Lewisham in 1818, and to transfer the workmen and machinery to the new Royal Manufactory at Enfield Lock, the clock was also relocated. The minutes of the meeting of the Board of Ordnance held on 18 January 1819 relate that the:

Storekeeper [George Lovell] at Enfield having by letter of the 9th instant stated that in obedience to the Board’s Orders of the 28th October 1818, the Clock from the Royal Manufactory at Lewisham had been removed to the above Station and recommended that the same might be regulated and kept in repair by Mr. Thwaites the Ordnance Clockmaker.

The clock was mounted in one of the houses, which had been constructed for the workmen, probably the one closest to the entrance that had been converted into the Storekeeper’s Office, where it presumably remained until the factory was modernised in 1856. The clock was then moved and mounted in the tower above the new Machine Shop, where it remains today, and linked to a new bell, called Albert after the husband of Queen Victoria.

Enfield’s eight day turret clock is one of the earliest surviving clocks of its type still in working order, and is still maintained by the original manufacturers, Thwaites and Reed. It is the oldest surviving relic of the Royal Small Arms Manufactory at Enfield Lock… and perhaps the only surviving relic from the factory at Lewisham.

This post is based on a detailed history of the clock compiled by Ray Tuthill, the current President and Heritage Officer of the RSAF Apprentices Association, and a former apprentice at the RSAF from 1952 to 1957; and are supplemented by research carried out by Philip Abbott, the Archives and Records Manager at the Royal Armouries at Leeds.

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