The Restoration of Dover’s much-loved Olde Frying Pan

May 13, 2024 Uncategorized

On 15 February Martin Crowther (Engagement Officer at Dover’s historic Maison Dieu) and his wife Michelle visited Smith of Derby to see work in progress restoring the building’s much-loved Victorian bracket clock. Here’s Martin’s recollections of a very special visit…

“Michelle and I enjoyed a truly fascinating visit to Smith of Derby, clockmakers and restorers, where we were warmly welcomed by Martin Butchers and the dedicated team of specialists working on the Maison Dieu (Dover Town Hall) clock.

We were treated as special guests and given a VIP tour to see all stages of clock restoration in process.

Martin Crowther and his wife Michelle

What struck us was the sheer scale and variety of the work Smith’s do, not just in the UK, but for clients all around the world, from the Caribbean to Dubai.

Also evident is the pride and dedication of employees, in working for a local family firm that’s been a world leader in clockmaking and repair since 1858. Staff stay for a long time. Apprentices undertake expert training on site as well as at college and are given responsibilities early.


The Clock prior to restoration

No job appears too big or small, or indeed too complex for an expert team, who definitely love a challenge and have brought thousands of timepieces back from the brink, to grace historic buildings once more and bring joy to local people, for whom they are treasured parts of the landscape.

They also design and build new clocks, continuing a fine tradition of craftsmanship into the 21st century.

Incredible old clock mechanisms, with intricately engineered cogs, dials, and levers; huge clock faces and housings fill the premises, towering above us, as we’re shown round, providing a horological feast for the eyes. Turret, bracket, A-frame and wall clocks, all carefully labelled and in different stages of conservation, jostle for attention.

Some parts of the business rely on the most traditional of clock-making and repairing skills. Others involve the latest technology, to ensure clocks run exactly to time, do not need to be wound weekly by a clock winder, and are made of materials resistant to the ravages of weather and decay.

One of the highlights was to spot the Cardiff Pierhead Clock being restored, which, with its troop of mischievous burnished copper monkeys, clambering all over it, is a star attraction in its native city!

The monkeys were the idea of the fabulously wealthy 3rd Marquis of Bute, who commissioned it, and who earlier in his life had employed Maison Dieu art architect and designer William Burges to realise their Neo-gothic fantasies at Cardiff Castle and nearby Castell Coch.

And then, there it was, right in front of us, a familiar friend, in pieces and looking very different to when we’d last seen it – the Maison Dieu bracket clock!

Phil Dickinson, Progress & Dispatch Supervisor, preparing the clock for its return journey from Derby to Dover

Manufactured by E H Dent and Co, clockmakers to Queen Victoria in 1883, the town’s much-loved timepiece, affectionately nicknamed Ye Olde Frying Pan because of its shape, was undergoing major surgery.

Exposed to the elements high above the town hall for nearly 150 years, the drum, clock dials and mechanism had become badly corroded, revealing evidence of a number of previous repairs, of mixed quality.

We were shown the original cast-iron clock dials, which had been cleaned and strengthened, with new pieces welded in so expertly, it’s impossible to see the joins. Then, coated in a protective layer of marine-grade tungsten, before being painted. The newly cleaned and painted hands were also brought out for us to see.


The rusting drum, in such poor condition, it had a head-size hole in the bottom, and had become a nesting site for pigeons, has been replaced in black-painted copper, while 4 new stainless steel pins had been made to secure it firmly in place to the building.

I’m delighted to say that following our visit, the restored clock is now back in pride of place high above Dover High Street and we’re looking forward to a big reveal when the scaffolding is removed later this year.


To discover more about the National Lottery funded Reawakening the Maison Dieu project to conserve and make accessible to new audiences an incredible 800 year old building that’s been medieval pilgrim hospital, victualling yard for the Royal Navy, town hall and prison please visit

A huge thank you to Martin Butchers for his fascinating tour, and to the dedicated team of specialists who’ve brought this much loved timepiece back from the brink.”

Martin Crowther, Engagement Officer, Maison Dieu, Dover

About the author

Nicholas Whitworth: