SCALING a narrow wooden ladder into a place few will have had the pleasure of visiting before wasn’t what I anticipated.

However, time was literally of the essence as Steve Morson and his colleague Peter Lane were in the midst of a painstaking project restoring the clock face at St Paul’s Church in the village of Birkenshaw.

Anxious not to take up too much of their time after spotting them up the scaffolding - and being intrigued as to what was going on - I followed Steve up the ladder and then on to a narrow winding stairway as we scaled the heights.

There, for the first time, I came face to face with the beautifully ornate mechanism that has kept this clock ticking since it was presented ‘to the inhabitants of Birkenshaw.’

The brass inscription mounted on the black-framed workings indicates the clock is dated A.D 1850.

Steve explains that many churches now have automatic wind-up mechanisms - considering the steep and narrow climb to the relatively cramped space where clock workings tend to be located I can see why.

A great commitment is required from congregations too to keep them ticking....

Working for the Nottinghamshire-based Time Assured Ltd, a family company specialising in the conservation, service and repair of Church and Public Clocks, Steve and his colleagues are responsible for keeping around 200 clocks ticking from Kent to Newcastle. Councils, schools, private individuals, are just some of their clients.

Perhaps the most high profile assignment was restoring four large stone clock dials and a decorative gold coronet above the west dials at Blenheim Palace, the iconic country abode which is home to the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill near Woodstock in Oxfordshire.

Another high profile project was repairing Coventry’s iconic Lady Godiva clock. The giant clock features Lady Godiva riding her white horse out of the doors while peeping Tom looks on from above.

Steve explains the electronic system needed upgrading to allow the doors to continue opening, as they do, 9,000 times a year.

In comparison, the work at St Paul’s wasn’t as complex, but the restoration of the clock faces proved an intricate and skilful assignment involving the cleaning and repainting of the faces back to original blue and the restoration of the dials.

For Steve, working with clocks is a labour of love. He entered the fascinating world of clock making in 1977 after it was introduced to him as a career option at school..

“I lived in Derby so it was either railway or Rolls Royce,” says Steve, referring to the professions he could have pursued.

When clock maker was suggested he decided to pursue it. “I did an apprenticeship at a clock company. You learn machinery, drilling, all the engineering stuff.

“It’s a pretty different world,” he says, referring to the places where his profession takes him.

While clock making is a traditional profession it remains, and will always be, a required skill to keep historic timepieces ticking up and down the country.

The conservation and restoration of the country's most iconic clock is the perfect example of why specialist clock workers are required. The Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben, the historic landmark keeping time in the Capital is currently undergoing a refurbishment programme which is expected to be complete by 2021.

Of course, such assignments dictate scaling the heights - and often in windy weather - the day Steve and Peter began the programme of works at St Paul's winds were averaging around 50mph; they’re used to working in cold climates too - but it’s all part of the job they know well and love.

“You just get used to it,” says Steve.

Scaling the heights certainly keeps them fit and active too. Steve explains they look after a church clock in Dinnington which has 119 steps. “You have to make sure you take everything up and, hopefully, you don’t want to go to the toilet half way through the day!” he smiles.

The Rev Danny Walker, vicar of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, says: “We have been wanting to do the clock for some time because the ravages of time and the weather have taken their toll on it, particularly the south face that faces down the village.

“At the church we know that the clock is very important to the people in Birkenshaw, it’s one of the main landmarks in the village and a source of community pride.

“We have been able to repaint the clock now because of a generous grant towards the cost of repainting from Kirkless council. We are grateful to the council for their help and also to our local councillors Andrew Palfreeman, Robert Light and Liz Smaje who have supported this scheme.”

The church recently held an Auction of Promises to support the clock restoration.