St. Anne’s Church Tower bell rings… Are you listening?

The sleigh bells may have missed ringing over Soho this Christmas, however one bell which has been consistent is the sound of the St. Anne’s Church tower bell!

The Museum of Soho generously invited our editor in chief, Kai aka The Soho Girl, to be a guest clock-winder of the church tower clock… Which had us curious about the history of St Anne’s Church and the clock. Here’s what we found out!

A brief History of St. Anne’s Church & Parish Clock

Saint Anne’s Church was consecrated on 21 March 1686 by Bishop Henry Compton as the parish church of the new civil and ecclesiastical parish of St Anne, created from part of the parish of St Martin in the Fields. The church’s tower was only completed in 1718, with the addition of a timber spire by local carpenter John Meard. The tower, however, became unstable by 1800 and, after 41 meetings of a “Tower Rebuilding Committee” came no closer to solving the problem, the architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell was commissioned to design a replacement. The original tower was demolished (though the 1 ton clock bell, cast in 1691 and still in use, was retained).

The whole church was left burned on the night of 24 September 1940 during the Blitz, apart from the tower, which was left derelict. In June 1976 members of the Parish of St. Anne’s and the Soho Society formed a joint committee to undertake the complete restoration of St Anne’s Tower and the parish clock, which had lain derelict since 1941. The tower is now a Grade II listed building. St. Anne’s Church remains a thriving part of the Soho Community.

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A memorial to those who held St. Anne’s dear during their lifetime, including Lily Walters who previously lived at Kai residence.

Gillett & Co

William Gillett was the founder of the firm. He first began as a clock maker in Hadlow, Kent under the patrionage of Lord Sackville-West. He then moved to Clerkenwell, London and from there to Croydon where he established his business in 1844.

Charles Bland became a partner around 1854 and brought his considerable skills as a salesman to the company and it was through his influence that turret and public clocks were first introduced to the business. The company was one of the first steam-powered clock factories in the world and in 1868 the well known clock tower at the factory was built as a working advertisement.

Arthur Johnston bought a partnership in the firm in 1877 and the firm became known as Gillett, Bland & Co until Charles Bland’s death in 1884 when the company name was changed to Gillett & Co. During this time the business was further extended with the development of the Bell Foundry as there was a need to supply bells for the clocks.

The title Gillett & Johnston appears to have been used from around 1877 onwards and it was during this period that Arthur Johnston took over full control of the foundry. Between 1844 and 1950 more than 14,000 Tower clock installations were manufactured at the Croydon factory. In 1925 the company became known as the Croydon Bell Foundry Ltd and in 1930 the name changed again to Gillett & Johnston Ltd.

The full history of St. Anne’s is available in a book by Anthony Hurst Soho and St Anne’s Church available from the Parish office and The Museum of Soho.

Reference and Citations: Wikipedia, St Anne’s Church website, Gillett & Johnston website.

Photos: The Soho Girl

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