Kendal town clock

Kendal town clock has told the time on the town hall since 1861. But it had a predecessor.

By 1837, the previous town clock (with a wooden face) had been marking time for 70 years. It was atop the old town hall, corner of the Market Place and Stricklandgate. But the ‘the clock wasn’t happy…’

Kendal town clock in 1836

At a time when few could afford their own timepiece, town and church clocks were an essential part of daily life.

In January 1836, the Kendal Mercury reported on possible mischief, error, or outright sabotage during the municipal elections.

‘During the day the person who has charge of the Town clock, put it back half an hour, so that in Kendal we had half-an-hour’s more work than at other places. Whether this proceeded from blundering, or was done by design, we are not prepared to state. At 4 o’clock, the altered time, the poll was closed…’

Perhaps it was just running slow, for just a week later:

‘Alderman Wilson next proposed that a Committee be appointed to make inquiries into the present unsatisfactory state of the Town Clock,—to ascertain the expense of putting it into complete repair – together with the cost of having both dials illuminated at night. 

‘Mr Alderman Banks seconded the motion, which was agreed to, and the following gentlemen were appointed the Committee:—Alderman Banks, E. W. Wakefield, S. Compston, E. Gibson.’

The town clock committee

By the end of February, the town council had decided the town clock should be renovated, reconstructed, and reformed. Suggestions included raising the height of the clock turret by 18 feet and lighting the dials at night.

This could cost £150, with £100 raised by subscription and £50 from a rate levied on the town.

The Westmorland Gazette – politically opposed to the town council – wasn’t impressed.

‘What benefit will illuminating the dials of the Town Clock confer upon the town ? None whatever. Oh, but the turret in which it hangs is to be raised and shoot high up into the heavens, as a commanding object, and the dials to be lighted with gas instead of the moon.’

It dismissed the town council by slating:

‘the puerile ideas and childish nonesense (sic) of creatures bent on change and innovation’

It seems to have taken till 1847 to illuminate the clock. And that didn’t really work: the light had to shine through wood, and no one could see the hands.

Missed the post

In October 1837, town councillor Richard Wilson told the council that Kendal town clock was 15 minutes behind London time. And as a result, when people took letters to the post office, they often found the mail had already left.

Robert Wilson, who had charge of the clock, said it was right by the sun. 

This caused laughter, and soon after, Councillor Richardson was appointed Superintendent of the Town Clock.

You can read about London time (railway time) here.

The town clock strikes back!

A month later, the Gazette carried a wordy appeal, supposedly written by the town clock. Here are a few key points:

  • your petitioner (ie the clock) was installed in office by the late Bill Wilson and his son Nicholas (requiescant in pace)
  • the mayor of Kendal in 1837 was William Gelderd
  • the town clock had historically been more reliable ‘than his reverend and venerable brother the Church Clock, who was at one time, stigmatized as the greatest fibber in Kendal’
  • That lsaac Braithwaite, when he was nominated curator, said one day “thou shalt go forward,” and the next thou shalt go backward,” till the clock ‘knew not which way to turn’

The clock then gets to the meat of its petition.

‘Your petitioner is now placed under the surveillance of a member of your body who is in the tea trade, and that, unless your worshipful body has discovered any connection betwixt tea and time, or can point out the number of ounces of Souchong that make an hour, he cannot be expected to perform his functions with regularity a day longer. 

‘…your petitioner, therefore, earnesly entreats your worships to… place him under the direction of one professionally qualified for the office.

Back to Mr Richardson

Was Mr Richardson, the Superintendent of the Town Clock, the ‘man in the tea trade’? For sure, he was still involved with the clock in August 1840, when he reported that the alterations to the town clock were ‘not completed, but very nearly so’.

Back to Robert Wilson

Or perhaps it was Robert Wilson. For the municipal accounts of October 1841 show he was paid £2 12 shillings (£2.60 – about £300 today) for regulating the town clock. Which for all the ‘alterations’ was acting up again 13 months later: striking five minutes before the minute hand reached the hour. 

The job of regulating the clock was then taken over by Samuel Marshall. He was intially lauded for sticking to London time. But less popular in 1844, when it was said:

‘Sometimes it was ten minutes behind, and at others ten minutes too fast, and its variations were so sudden, that although watches might be set by it in the morning, there was no certainty whatever that the two would agree the afternoon.’

If you want to know the time, ask a policeman

A Mr Edmondson, in 1845, thought the council might save the annual £2 12 shillings by getting Police Superintendent J Wilson to take over winding the clock. Yeah.

And so it continued

The topic of the inaccuracy of the clock continued to wind up Kendal councillors. The poor clock struck ten at 3pm one Tuesday in July 1846. Edward Wakefield provided a wooden pendulum and took charge, but couldn’t work out why it lost 12.5 minutes in five days.

And they were still arguing over ‘real time’ versus ‘railway time’ in 1854.

A new face

In 1851, alderman John Wakefield generously paid for the town clock to have a new face: made of iron, and bigger than the old wooden one. 

He also paid for new apparatus

‘by which the clock may be altered from the inside of the building’

Which makes you wonder just how the old one was regulated.

The new face was soon hard to read, as the heat of six gas lamps burned off the paint, but it wasn’t deemed insurmountable.

Time for a move

In 1859, the old town hall was deemed unfit for purpose. The present building was purchased and converted, the old one sold. 

And the old town clock?

Well, the town council at first said it was up to the residents of Stricklandgate to keep it going, if they wished. But, in August 1862:

‘We are glad to say that our dear and venerable friend, the old Town Clock, has at length found a comfortable home in the tower St. Thomas’s Church, having re-commenced its career of usefulness and regularity on Monday last, perfectly restored to health and vigour, after a few months’ necessary rest and retirement, under the judicious care of the Messrs. Scales.

Kendal Mercury

It thus was to escape the fate of the old town hall, which was burned down in an arson attack in the 1960s.

You can see pictures of St Thomas’ Church here: