The Jubilee Clocktower
he Jubilee Clock Tower on the sea front below Marine Gardens is a very attractive piece of architecture, and a great adornment to our town. Erected to mark the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s reign, it was a little late arriving. Due to lack of forethought in getting things moving in time for it to be finished in 1887, and a gross underestimation of the amount of work involved in preparing the very substantial foundation required, it was not completed until 1889.
Many suggestions were put forward for a tangible memorial of the Jubilee, including a free library, an extension to the Cottage Hospital, a public recreation ground, a new Town Hall and, of course, a clock tower. After much discussion by the great and good of the town, and more than a little opposition from some quarters, it was decided that a clock tower would be the most fitting memorial, and those who had hoped for something practical to benefit the people of the town were left disappointed. Always proclaiming a lack of money, the Council set up an appeal for a public subscription to fund the project and at the same time announced a competition for designs for the new structure. Unfortunately for them, the design competition was oversubscribed with 63 entries, while the appeal for funds met with far less success only £2,100 being pledged and that included two donations of £500 each from Mr. Cobb and Mr. Lansell. If it had been just the clock tower to pay for that would have been sufficient, but that £2,100 had to pay for all the other planned free events as well.
In May, 1887, a shortlist of three designs was made after much deliberation, and it was announced that the design of Mr. Kaufman had been selected, with those of Mr. Reeve and Mr. Johnson being second and third choices. But owing to the reality of the funds available, it turned out that the much cheaper design of Mr. Henry Arthur Cheers was the one finally built. The foundation required was 20 feet deep, sitting as it did over the bed of the brooks, and digging the hole for that and filling it with concrete was very time consuming. the actual construction of the clock tower was by Mr. F. Pearce, of Westgate, and work proceeded steadily until the great day the project was finally handed over in a civic ceremony on the 24th of May, 1889.
The building is of a highly ornamental character in the French Renaissance style. The external facing is of white Portland stone, except the ground floor level which is of grey Kentish Ragstone. The roof is of fretted iron work which lets out the sound of the peal of bells, and the cupola is also of iron, this time solid. The ball at the base of the mast on top of the cupola used to travel up the mast just before 1pm; then drop on the hour as a time signal. This has not worked since the mechanism broke in the early part of the last century, and it was deemed too expensive to repair. The clock was designed by Lord Grimthorpe and was made to strike the quarters as well as the hours, this causing many complaints from those living nearby whose sleep was shattered as a
The clock works were made to the best specification possible, but that open ironwork fret not only let out the sound of the bells but also let in the salt laden spray from the rough weather, which quickly caused serious problems with corrosion, and after just 13 years in service the clock was giving mechanical trouble with a marked reluctance by the Council to spend money repairing it. The enthusiasm of 1889 had worn off very quickly and shortage of funds has been the story over the years, as too often we have seen the hands of the clock stopped for long periods. At the moment it seems to be running well, and we should be glad we still have it.