Standing the test of time at Leeds Town Hall

Eric Ambler who is in charge of changing the time on the Leeds Town Hall clock.
Eric Ambler who is in charge of changing the time on the Leeds Town Hall clock.
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Turning back time in Leeds is no easy feat.

There is no remote working or timers involved so when you walk past Leeds Town Hall this weekend passing the time of day, spare a thought for Eric Ambler - the man responsible for telling the time in Leeds.

27 October 2017.
Eric Ambler who is in charge of changing the time on the Leeds Town Hall clock.

27 October 2017. Eric Ambler who is in charge of changing the time on the Leeds Town Hall clock.

As the clocks go back at 2am on Sunday to mark the end of British summertime, we may get an extra hour in bed but Mr Ambler, 64, the town hall functions supervisor, won’t.

For the second time this week, after giving the Yorkshire Evening Post access to a usually unseen part of the city, he will traipse up 209 spiral steps to the dizzy heights of the clock tower at the town hall and manually change the time.

It is so high up and obscure that if you get into difficulty you will have to be rescued by a helicopter and the last time the clock face was repaired it was easier for workmen to abseil down to it rather than put scaffolding up.

But he re-assures, “It is quite simple. Just like winding on your watch.”

27 October 2017.
The bell in Leeds Town Hall clock tower.

27 October 2017. The bell in Leeds Town Hall clock tower.

Well sort of. He unfastens four nuts and bolts, winds a shaft and turns the pointers using a dial to see what is showing on the clock face outside. This weekend he will wind the clock forward 11 times as you never turn a clock back he warns.

The mechanism is still very much as was when the clock, a Dent type, was added to the town hall in 1860.

The parts are wearing with time so, preserved by a hut in the clock tower which looks very much like a railway signal box, the elements of the clock have to be handled with care and any maintenance work needed is carried out by specialist firm, the Cumbrian Clock Company.

Mr Ambler says: “If something breaks, you can’t just get the bits from B&Q. Everything has to be manufactured.”

27 October 2017.
The view from the top of Leeds Town Hall.
The view across to Armley.

27 October 2017. The view from the top of Leeds Town Hall. The view across to Armley.

A new cog with three teeth less than the current one is being made as a new winding mechanism is not compatible with original parts and just ten months ago the chimes were playing havoc with a neighbouring pub landlord’s sleeping pattern.

Mr Ambler recalls: “The clock stops chiming at 10pm and restarts at 7am so as not to disturb the patients at Leeds General Infirmary.

“But one morning the landlord from the Town Hall Tavern came in saying ‘your bloomin’ clock woke me up at 4am’. I said he must have been dreaming but I had a look and the hands were jammed and it was striking at 11pm, 1am, 3am and we had to turn it off.”

So will Mr Ambler be poised at the bottom of those steps in the hours of darkness to turn back time? “Noooooo, I will do it when I get in on Sunday.”

Ian Beaumont of KPMG

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