Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Story of the Invercargill Town Clock 1860 - 1989 (Part Four of Four)

Wachner Place and the Re-Instated Town Clock
as it appears today

From Gathering Dust to Re-Instatement 
1943 - 1989

This concludes the story of Invercargill's 1893 'Littlejohn' Town Clock and chimes. You can read the first part HERE. This fourth part details the final restoration and re-mounting of the clock and chimes almost half a century later.

A four-sided electric non-striking clock, the gift of Miss Lumsden on the 14th April 1942, had been placed on a pole on the "tramway island" opposite the Post Office, now more or less taking the place of the old Post Office clock for public and tramways timekeeping. After the Tramways system was scrapped in September 1952 this clock was, with some opposition, shifted a short distance south to the Boer War Memorial at the corner of Dee and Tay streets where a modern replacement clock is still situated today.

On the 18th July 1950 the Council referred to their Works Committee a suggestion that the old Post Office clock and chimes be re-erected in a structure not less than 60ft in height. Upon the Council being advised that this would cost "some thousands of pounds" the matter appears to have been dropped. A "Southland Times" report from the 1970's claims that "several attempts have been made to have the clock re-erected". All appear to have failed because of the need for a structure at least (as above) 60ft in height and space of at least 12 sq ft for the mechanism not to mention a suitable site; "cost and site presented problems to which no solution could be found".

In October 1952 the Dunedin City Council, who were then seeking a replacement for their life-expired Exchange clock asked about the suitability of the Invercargill clock for their purposes. The Invercargill Town Clerk duly replied with the relevant dimensions and quoted a guide price of around £400 based on scrap brass value as "it is unlikely to be used again by my Council". The feeling may have been that as Invercargill had installed a 'Gent & Co. Pulsynetic' system for electric clocks around the city with a master clock in the Town Hall there was probably no longer any relevant need to retain the old clock.

In November 1952 the Invercargill Town Clerk replied again "that the Council, after consideration, regrets that the clock and chimes are not available for sale." Likewise, the offer of the services of their retired clock service-man to install it was likewise withdrawn. There was thankfully still some sentimentality attached to the old clock but it would be interesting to know how close the vote came to losing it.

The clock mechanism, bells and partially broken clock faces would now continue to gather dust in the Invercargill water tower until around 1973 when the question of reinstating the clock would resurface at a Council meeting. It was felt that the old clock and melodic chimes "would lend a quaint old world atmosphere to the city".


Mr Alex Casey with one of the Clock Faces,
taken circa 1973
[Source : "The Southland Times"]

A qualified Horologist, Mr Alex Casey, inspected the various parts and "marvelled at the excellent condition of the mechanism, which showed hardly any wear and only minor rust." He was, however, "staggered at the size of the bells", warning that they may create "a big noise problem." Three of the four dials had their centre glass missing and could be expensive to replace but the hands were intact and the winding handle had been found. He also thought the 8ft pendulum was large, "even by town clock standards.".

But a "ding-dong problem" now confronted the appointed Council sub-comittee when it was found that one of the bells was missing. I recall the mad scramble round Invercargill church bell towers searching for a 'missing' 2cwt Town Clock "chime" bell. Then some bright individual pointed out that the clock chime only ever extended to the four bells in storage, the musical setting for this being on Mr Nicol's printed card shown in my second blog. The set comprised of one large hour bell and three chime bells.

Around 1978, and with at least the condition of the clock making restoration possible, a Council committee, including representatives of local organisations, now set to work. Firstly, members of the the local Jeweller's Association would fully assess the clock mechanism while a suitable site was thought to be on the corner of Tay street and Elles Road / Queen's Drive where a 105ft tower would be erected. A local Architect then drew up a rough plan of what a suitable tower might look like. Mr Casey also advised that the bells could easily be switched off at night.

The Invercargill Town Clock
in Wachner Place Today
[Source : www.waymarking.com]

But it would be 1989 before the clock and chimes were eventually reinstated. Wanting an inner city site and to partially recreate the sorely missed town square, Council would close off part of the western end of Esk street, a clock tower with linking arcades forming a backdrop (and wind break!) to the new square which would be known as "Wachner Place", so named after a former Mayor, Abraham Wachner. Unspecified parts from the former 1900 'Littlejohn' Bluff Post Office clock were also used for the restoration. I wonder what now remains of the latter clock which is reported to have had "cathedral chimes"?

The 1894 'Littlejohn' Clock Mechanism
[Source : www.waymarking.com]

The large mechanism of the Invercargill clock is visible at ground level and can be viewed working through glass panels with the bells in the tower above, together with a brass plaque with the history of the clock and the musical score for the Westminster chimes :

"Town Clock History"
[Source : www.waymarking,com]

"Town Clock History - Originally installed in 1894 in the Old Post Office Tower in Dee Street, for the sum of £250, and the council were asked to supply the chimes for this clock. The Turret Clock was manufactured by W.J. Littejohn of Wellington and the bells cast by W. Cable of Wellington in 1893. The clock has a double three-legged escapement mechanism with a one-and-one-half second pendulum and a bob weight of 160lb. and is of the same design as 'Big Ben'. In 1943 the clock and tower were dismantled as it was considered to be an earthquake risk. The council was asked to accept the clock and chimes as the property of the citizens of Invercargill. The clock and chimes were restored by council staff in 1989 using the original clock and parts and bells from the town clock from Bluff."

This statement does infer that bells were also used from the Bluff Post Office clock but I am not aware that this was actually the case. If anyone knows anything more about this I would be pleased to hear from you and will update this blog accordingly.

Correction of any unintentional errors or additional information welcome. My email link appears in the right-hand menu bar.


Sources :

- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- "Centenary of Invercargill Municipality 1871 - 1971" by J.O.P. Watt, 1971 (from my own collection)
- McNab Collection, Dunedin Public Library
- Dunedin City Council Archives
- "The Southland Times"
- "New Zealand's Lost Heritage" by Richard Wolfe, 2013
- Waymarking.com

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