You’ve said it, I’ve said it, we’ve all said it: “Meet you at the Clock Tower, yeah?”
It’s a sentence which has been doing the rounds for almost 150 years.
And yet, apart from its role as Leicester’s most well known landmark – and a hub for noisy religious irritants, people handing out free coffee, chuggers, beggars and the like – the Clock Tower is actually a bit of a babe.
Seriously. Give her a good looking over. She has real fairytale beauty.
It all boils down to the partnership which pits the design of architect Joseph Goddard against the handiwork of stonemason Samuel Barfield.
This totemic gothic timepiece, if you didn’t know, was the winning entry from 105 designs submitted to a clock tower committee led by John Burton. Mr Burton was the head of a Leicester photography business.
He and another 471 subscribers raised £872 for the tower, while the Corporation of Leicester added the final £1,200 needed to create what was, believe it or not, an unlikely traffic calming measure.
And onto it we placed four statues: Simon de Montfort, William Wyggeston, Thomas White and Gabriel Newton. (I could write about these at length, but I’ll just give you a little nugget on Newton. Newton, a woolcomber, landlord, councillor, school founder, once lashed out at, I think, a churchman, over some minor matter. The churchman responded by delivering Newton a sound beating).
At 70ft tall, the completed Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower – to give it its full name – was unveiled on July 18, 1868, to coincide with the holding of the Royal Agricultural Show in Leicester.
The show, incidentally, proved to be the society’s most successful outing with 96,653 visitors.
It also saw J&F Howard, of Britannia Iron Works in Bedford, clear up the competition with 10 first prizes, including the trophy for, wait for it, the best steam cultivating apparatus for farms of moderate size.
But I digress.
The base of the tower is constructed from Mountsorrel granite and the rest of the tower is mainly constructed from Ketton stone, quarried in Rutland. The statues are made of Portland stone.
The Clock Tower, at the junction of five of the city’s most prominent streets, could currently do with a good clean to bring it back to its elegant self. Which is more than can be said for the 1973 Haymarket Shopping Centre skulking by its side. No amount of cleaning will ever help its appearance. Unless you plan to polish it with a wrecking ball and explosives.
Below are some pix of the Clock Tower over the years – inside, beneath and outside. Lots more pix will be added when I can find them.
The laying of the foundation stone back in the day.