RECITE II Program under the Dossier IDC –MEDICI

Seminar about “Transmission of Knowledge” 2nd cycle

Theme: Protection of Public Clocks


IDC-MEDICI = Ingénierie Du Clocher – Maintien de Emplois De l’Ingénierie des emplois du Clocher et de ses Industries

RECITE = Régions & Cités d’Europe 



The seminar took place 2nd – 4th July 2001 under the auspices of Alain Jouffray, Campanologist /Director of the I.E.A.C. (Institut Europeen d’Art Campanaire) in function as project leader of the Dossier IDC-MEDICI.

The participants gathered together in the Training Institute ‘Vincent Auriol’ in Muret/Toulouse, where clock restorer Michel Perissas, teacher in clockwork technique at this Institute, arranged the organisation. 

The European Commission is aiming with some experimental RECITE projects:

a)      To promote the culture of collaboration in European regions by mutual transmission of knowledge.

b)      To consolidate the social, as well as the economical structure in these regions.

In consequence of the ICE-MEDICI dossier of I.E.A.C., one of these projects under RECITE II pointed to the protection of European Bell towers with all their furniture.

According to the European conditions, at least three other European countries have to participate with commercial companies in the dossier IDE-MEDICI, being Italy, Greece and Belgium.

In addition to the I.E.A.C., the other partners are important Bell-foundries and dealers in Electronic installations, namely:

Paccard, Bell foundry, Sevrier, France.

Indelec, Douai, France.

CEM, Rethymnon, Crete, Greece.

Martinelli Bell foundry, Agnone, Italy.

Clock-O-Matic, electronic clock & carillon installations, Holsbeek, Belgium.



The Seminar was organised for all persons who are directly of indirectly involved with public clocks, as clockmakers, teachers in clock technique, restorers, collectors, institutions, the earlier mentioned companies and others.

Some weeks before the beginning of the seminar, the invitations in French were also sent to interested people in the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Germany to give them the opportunity to participate in the seminar.

Because of the short preparing time and the absence of an English and German interpreter, only a few of them could accept the invitation.

Of the four European Partners France was represented by 23 members and Belgium by Mr. Renders, a private collector of Turret clocks.

From the Netherlands there was Mr. Wijbenga, a clock restorer and teacher in clockwork technique at the Technical School in Schoonhoven and myself, a clock restorer and manufacturer of the Clock Care System. (Automatic winding & regulation of Turret clocks.)

Excursion and Presentations

The program provided a visit to Arignac, Haute-Garonne, on 3rd of July.

The participants had the opportunity to visit the enormous collection of turret clocks of Mr. Ginestet.  He guided us personally around his private museum and told us many interesting details about his clocks.

Although Mr. Ginestet has only been collecting for a short time, the collection has some particular and early clocks as well as a great variety of Comtoise clocks and mechanical turnspits.

The discussions during the sessions were alternated by two wonderful documentation films, which were extremely interesting although they had nothing to do with turret clocks.

In addition we were able to view and listen to an extremely complicated music-automaton, recently restored by Mr. Vassort from Loches.  It represented a naturally moving lady, who teaches a canary to sing by means of a Serinette (little organ).

Later on we saw a film from the Workshop of Christian Damet from Rabastens, that showed macro-pictures of a working verge escapement inside an 18th century watch, by means of a glass optic fibre camera!


The mechanical clock in the RECITE programme

Until now, the RECITE II projects appear mainly to concern the carillon in Bell Towers.

In our modern time such a carillon is activated by an electronic installation operating the hands at the same time and displaying the accurate time outside on the tower wall.

In the past these clocks, with or without a carillon, was functioning mechanically being the kind of clocks that this Seminar is designated to.

To let them function in good condition, these old, often ancient clocks need all their own special care.

The number of traditional clockmakers, who are capable to repair and maintain clocks professionally, has decreased dramatically.

More and more mechanical turret clocks are taken away and replaced by electronic specimen, as a consequence of the young ones loosing interest in the trade.

This development will be a great danger for mechanical clocks.

The RECITE II Program is aimed to change this by proposing the following themes at the seminar:


Theme 1.

 The Declaration of European lines of action and conditions for the restoration of Turret clocks and the creation of a supplementary course, specifically for restoring mechanical Turret clocks for example at the Institute ‘Vincent Auriol’.


Theme 2.

The intention to constitute a complete inventory of all public mechanic clocks in Towers still existing in more than 70.000 municipalities of Europe.


Personal remarks about Theme 1

Happily in the region of Mid-Pyrenees, where this seminar took place, there are still tradition-trained clockmakers professionally working on Turret clocks.

To be able to execute restoration work professionally, a craft background is absolute necessary, but when speaking about a ‘responsible restoration’ other aspects are as important as well.

Modern technologies in the conservation field become more and more important as to original clock material.

Most clock making schools are not yet prepared to train clockmakers into restorers currently because the accent lies mainly on the technical and functional aspects.

This tendency was noticeable during the Seminar, both at the constitution of the restoration guidelines and the proposals for lesson programs for the supplemented Restoration Courses.

The examples of daily practises that the clockmakers who were present brought forward however furnished important discussions.

One was that a Restorer needs both historical and art-historical knowledge and also that an open mind is a precondition to work with other specialists in a multidisciplinary way.

Some essential subjects were suggested and added to the Restoration Course that is to be set up:

a)      The importance of carefully documentation in work, image and sound

b)      The development of a restoration philosophy (not to be confused with rigid restoration ethics!)

Everybody agreed that a specific professional training programme is needed to graduate from Clockmaker to Restorer.

Trained like this, one is able to prepare specified estimates and quotations with matching calculations.     It became clear to all persons present that much experience and knowledge is necessary to restore and maintain this important cultural heritage in a responsible way.

Also Mamias en Bodet, dealers in electronic carillon, striking and clock installations, recognised this specialisation and proposed the present local clockmakers to carry out restoration work and maintenance of the existing mechanical clocks for them.


Personal remarks about Theme 2:

To get an insight where Turret clocks still exist and in what condition, a questionnaire has to be sent throughout Europe to all communities.

The discussion intensified on how detailed the questions should be and whether a photograph of the clock should be requested at the same time.

The addressed person has not always the specific clock knowledge, so a difficult and extensive questionnaire might be put aside.

Everybody preferred a plain version that outsiders could complete.

After the questionnaire is returned, a more specified version could be followed with a request for photographs.  There was also the opinion that many communities would not be agreeable to cooperate, being afraid of the consequences, as for example, a loss of autonomy.

Another reason often is that a clock is in such a neglected state, and its exposure is embarrassing.

The question, “If an addressed community will benefit by cooperating in this inventory”, could not be answered.



I think the RECITE II programme is a valuable initiative, starting the possibility to encourage cooperation in saving public clocks throughout Europe.

Considering the many operating mechanical clocks, it is urgent to convince both the concerned people and the public how crucially important these clocks are a Cultural Heritage.

 In my own experience, I know that similar initiatives have been developed in several European countries by institutions for example:

-        In the Netherlands, the “Rijksdienst voor de Monumentenzorg” and the “Stichting tot behoud van het Torenuurwerk”

-        In England, the “Council for the Care of Churches” and the “Antiquarian Horological Society” and the “British Horological Institute”.

-        In Germany, the “Deutsches Zentrum fur Denkmalpflege” and the “Fachkreis Turmuhren der Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Chronometrie”.

Certainly there will be a lot more European countries cherishing these same ideas, so the time is now to coordinate all these initiatives on a European level.

 A useful investment of the RECITE programme seems to me, the stimulation of employment in this trade, spread over European regions.

This will continue or perhaps guarantee the  possibility for the restoration firms to fulfil professionally the necessary restorations and maintaining work, in the future.

 Not all mechanical Turret clocks are   protected by the  RECITE programme, namely the clocks not being in Bell towers, but on facades of private castles, town halls, etc.  They must not be excluded and must be protected and recorded.

It is worth making these efforts to save this important culture heritage against its decay.

 The participation in this Seminar was a very useful experience for me and I am very grateful to both the I.E.A.C. and the Trainings Institute ‘Vincent Auriol’ for their hospitality during these days.

I hope that much more disciplines from many more European countries will be gathered during the next reunion in February 2002, so it can be regarded as a Real Representative European platform.



Melgert  Spaander

The Netherlands