Clocking the Time of Death

by MSO
St. James Church's clock stopped at the exact moment its caretaker died.

Every week for 30 years Dr. Farrer wound the clock on St. James Church in Clapham, England. It stopped at the exact minute he died.

But it stopp’d short — never to go again When the old man died. - My Grandfather’s Clock by Henry Clay Work

Every week for 30 years Dr. John Farrer who lived in Clapham, North Yorkshire climbed the narrow, stone spiral staircase of St. James Church up into the tower so he could wind the heavy weights of the clock and clean it as well. In the past few years he had regretfully handed over the task he had loved as it was too much for him to manage.  St. James Church has been in existence since at least the 12th century. Clapham is a village with less than 700 people and the church with its chiming clock were very much a part of the day to day life of small village. So when it stopped on New Year’s Day people noticed.

Originally from Australia, Dr. Farrer emigrated to England when he inherited the family estate in Clapham that was acquired in the 1700s. He spent subsequent years modernizing the village, building playgrounds and lending a hand wherever needed.

He died at his home on January 1, 2014 at the age of 92 at 8:15 in the morning surrounded by his family. His son who shares the same name and is also a doctor glanced at his watch from habit as his father took his last breath. Later he spoke with two villagers who remarked on the fact that the clock had stopped on the day of the doctor’s death. It was then that his son realized that the clock had stopped at exactly the moment his father had died.

Clocks have been a symbol of death for many years. In Victorian times it was imperative to stop the home’s clock at the time of death because people believed that the person’s spirit would stay to haunt since the clock’s ticking, heralding the passage of time, would confuse the spirit into thinking that it was still alive. A more scientific explanation is that stopping the clock was just a convenient way to record the time of death.

However, clocks stopping on their own accord and especially at the exact moment of death, makes you wonder.

The clock on St. James Church was started again after Dr. Farrer’s funeral.

Photo by: Alexander P. Kapp

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