St. Margaret’s, known as ‘the church on Parliament Square’, is a 12th-century church next to Westminster Abbey. It’s also sometimes called ‘the parish church of the House of Commons’. Unlike the Abbey, it’s also free to visit.
At the moment though, part of the church is hidden, because there’s a project to restore to working order a 300 year old clock that was turned off in 1972. The clock mechanism was removed in the 1980s, when the current sundials were added to the tower.
The clock workings of St. Margaret’s nevertheless survived, and are a fine example of clock mechanism, dated to 1712 and supplied by the well-known London clock maker of Langley Bradley, who also made the clock for St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Too good to throw away, the clock mechanism was stored for a while in the entrance hall of Dean’s Yard, before being stored outside under a tarpaulin, where it remained for some years. During c.2010, the exposed condition of the clock mechanism was a cause of some concern, and it was sent to Julian Cosby for repair. The work was carried out, but the clock mechanism has remained in Mr. Cosby’s workshop ever since.
Serious consideration was given to the possible display of the clock mechanism in the new Triforium Galleries, but the mechanism could not be accommodated due to its size.
The tower needed maintenance, as the Portland stone that is clamped around the original darker Tudor stone tower needs to be restored.
So while the tower is covered in scaffolding, they have decided to renovate three of the sundials, and restore the clock back to the north facing side.
There’s been a bit of a debate about how to restore the old clock, specifically what colour it should be. Restoration work on the tower has shown up many layers of paint on the stone where the clock used to be, so they’ve gone with a blue and gold effect that is similar to how it looked in Tudor times.
So at the moment, under all that scaffolding, while the stonework is repaired, they are also repainting the sundials, and preparing the north window to receive back the clock that once adorned it.
By October 2020, when the tower is uncovered, revamped, and with an old clock back in place, Big Ben will have its little cousin back.