Clock Mechanism Gets Councillors In A Spin

The clock mechanism

An old clock mechanism got councillors in a spin at the Full Council meeting yesterday.

The clock was taken down from St Mary’s Parish Church when the new bells where installed in 2009. A new electric timepiece was put in to replace it.

The mechanism, thought to date from the 1870’s and made by the same firm who made the one in Westminster Tower, commonly known as Big Ben, has been stored in a glass case at Porthmellon. There were hopes it could be displayed in the new Porthcressa Shelter.

But councillors were reluctant to spend the estimated £25,000 cost to refurbish and install it.

Cllr Gordon Bilsborough said he understood the sentimental value and the desire to preserve it but, “wouldn’t be able to walk down the street” knowing they’d spent that sort of money at a time when budgets where being cut.

He suggested it should go to the museum.

Cllr Julia Day described her ‘dismay’ that it was taken down from the tower in the first place. She said it was originally bought by public subscription and the community should be consulted on what to do with it.

However when pressed, Julia admitted she didn’t actually have any evidence, other than people coming to tell her, “we raised the money for this clock and it shouldn’t be disposed off.”

She didn’t want to spend the money on refurbishing it either.

Vice chair Amanda Martin, who is also the curator of the museum, said they’d done extensive work to find out who owned the clock. She said it was installed in the 1870’s by Augustus Smith, predating the Council by almost 20 years.

Cllr Brian Lowen had been responsible for winding the mechanism every week for 15 years before it was removed and said he’d enjoyed the “marvellous old movement.”

And he implied some form of supernatural intervention when the clock stopped for no apparent reason on the day his predecessor, Jack Pender, died.

But Brian didn’t want to spend the money either.

He said the quote, obtained on the behest of the Chief Executive Philip Hygate, seemed pricey for something that was working perfectly well when it was taken out.

Cllr Richard McCarthy rejected the proposal too. He said that while the Council had maintained it, they didn’t necessarily own it.

Amanda Martin agreed, saying legal title was extremely important and until that was established, it would be illegal to spend public money on it. In fact, she wanted to know how much had already been spent on items such as a new glass case for the Queen’s visit last year.

In the end, councillors agreed to find out who owns the clock first.

They’ll be writing to the Diocese to see if they can help. And until then, it’ll be kept in storage.

Speaking to Radio Scilly after the meeting, Councillor Richard McCarthy says there appear to be several pieces missing, including the face and the hands.

He said it’s currently spread across the floor in the old Wholesalers building at Porthmellon, and felt it probably wouldn’t fit in either the Porthcressa shelter or new library anyway.

And while he admits it’s a piece of Scilly’s history, he said there are lots of unanswered questions about the ownership of the clock.


5 Responses to Clock Mechanism Gets Councillors In A Spin

  1. Steveatt December 14, 2012 at 1:24 am

    Just to be pedantic Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell in the Elizabeth tower clock. The tower has been renamed from simply the clock tower. The st Stephens name itself was a nickname.

  2. Bill Hiner December 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    I find it disappointing that councillors use the phrase “Don’t want to spend money” on the clock! This is a piece of bona fide Scilly history and should be treated as such. Better to say that the money is “currently unavailable” in such cash-strapped times.
    This clock may turn out to be a gem that increases in value with the passing of time (no pun intended).
    If such a piece were found on Tresco, would such complacency be so apparent?
    Store it and treasure it until someone with the right skills can get the workings going again!

  3. Mr Joe Boulderstone-Salthouse December 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Just to educate,Big Ben is the hour bell of the Great Westminster Clock which is in St.Stephens Tower,Palace of Westminster,please retain your mechanism in your museum in the hope that someone may volunteer to repair it and bear in mind that it is right twice a day!

  4. Todd Stevens December 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    So who paid for the new glass case for the clock for the queens visit? If its not the property of the council- then was spending money on it right and proper?

    Why would anyone think the queen want to see a broken clock anyway!?

    Put it in the museum where it belongs.

  5. Greg December 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Put it on eBay, what ever profit it makes, spread across the community in areas where it’s needed most.