Auntie Nan’s clock

This story may be of interest to my Johnston and Howell cousins…

Auntie Nan was a favourite great-aunt on my father’s side, she lived in Cregagh, Belfast. Much-loved by all her relations, her house was a safe haven and Aladdin’s cave to generations of kids. In the oak-panelled hall stood the grandfather clock that Uncle Bob had bought, probably in the 1930s. After her passing in the 1980s, Auntie Nan’s clock came to live in our house in Co. Clare.

Not Auntie Nan’s clock.

Auntie Nan’s clock, (I’ll call it ANC for brevity), is a longcase or grandfather clock, rather like the one shown above (from an auction site) but not quite so grand. And like the one in the picture, it has a fine mahogany case. A couple of years ago, when I decided the clock really needed taking in hand, I started with repairs to the case. A few softwood parts of the frame had historical woodworm damage and needed to be replaced, and there was one split in the mahogany base.

Repairing the case, ANC.

Now, when all this case-repairing was going on (yes, thanks – it worked out fine) I also had the question of what to do with the movement. ANC has never kept good time for very long – sometimes a few hours, sometimes a week or so, and she stops. I thought I would have to look into this horology business. Old technology is pretty simple, right? So… I put it off.

ANC – the works.

I put it off for a long time.

It was the book – the damn Grandfather Clock repair book. I couldn’t find it. I made some repairs that I could understand ok. Simple things like replacing a click spring in a ratchet. Cleaning and so on… but nothing much. The movement sat in a corner on a jig I’d made to support it. On wet Sundays, I poked around hoping to find The Book (out of print).


Finally found the book this Spring, in a box full of non-book items. With the book, I felt I could take the whole movement apart, check wear and clean all the bearing surfaces. And so, with photos at each stage to help me put everything back in place – I actually stripped it down completely. It gets boring from here on unless you are a clock enthusiast, but I did find something interesting in there.

On the inside of one of the main brass plates, in almost invisible spidery scribings, are the names of people who had opened and cleaned the clock before me. I’ll get into details in Auntie Nan’s Clock Pt II


  1. Hi love your blog about your clock… have a mahogany long case grandfather ( not working since moving home) and desperate to find out more but coming up with dead end after dead end… maker John gelston



    1. Hi Janet, as you can probably tell, I haven’t inhabited this blog much since COVID made things weird. John Gelston is a good provenance, I’d say. Let me see if if I have any leads for you. More later..



      1. John Gelston can be traced online. He was a respected clockmaker who worked in Newry, Lisburn and Belfast. His dates are 1754 – 1830, so he was nearly 70 when he cleaned my clock. He cleaned it again in 1826, but this time he put his mark on the outside, so perhaps did not dismantle it.


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