Nos­tal­gia: Orm­skirk Clock Tower his­tory re­vealed

Ormskirk Advertiser - - Front Page -

ON APRIL 4, 1876, the keys to the new Clock Tower were handed over to the Orm­skirk Lo­cal Board by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Court Leet.

The events lead­ing up to that sim­ple cer­e­mony con­tain a con­sid­er­able cat­a­logue of fi­nan­cial, tech­ni­cal and plan­ning is­sues which were to even­tu­ally be over­come by sheer dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion on the part of lo­cal solic­i­tor and Stew­ard of the Manor, Robert Ware­ing of Charles­bye.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence from the mem­oirs of the towns­folk in the 19th cen­tury, con­firms that prior to the fa­mil­iar Clock Tower, the site at the Cross was oc­cu­pied by a two tier foun­tain, the up­per cir­cu­lar trough be­ing for hu­mans and the lower one for live­stock.

In the cen­tre of the cir­cu­lar struc­ture, cer­tainly from the mid 19th cen­tury, there was a large lamp, quite likely supplied with gas from the Orm­skirk Gas Com­pany, es­tab­lished in the 1830s in Aughton Street.

Be­fore the foun­tain and lamp, it is recorded deep in the Par­ish Chest records that a cross marked the spot where the turn­pike and the by­ways met.

It is also prob­a­ble that, like many towns and vil­lages in the county, the cross was re­moved and buried away from the town at the start of the Civil War.

In 1876, there was cer­tainly no liv­ing mem­ory of the cross.

Robert Ware­ing (18011881), was the Stew­ard of the Manor in 1876, but it was not as im­por­tant a po­si­tion as it had been.

Un­der the Pub­lic Health Act of 1848, Orm­skirk be­came a Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Dis­trict.

The Earl of Derby, as Lord of the Manor, ap­pointed a stew­ard in ear­lier times, and the stew­ard held a Court Leet an­nu­ally on a Wed­nes­day in the third week af­ter the Feast of St Michael.

Michael­mas Day be­ing Septem­ber 29 this would put the court dates usu­ally as the third Wed­nes­day in Oc­to­ber.

The County Court was built in 1850 and the Court Leet, though con­tin­u­ing af­ter that date, lost much of its le­gal in­flu­ence.

In 1874, the Earl of Derby of­fered the lo­cal board of health the op­por­tu­nity to pur­chase the right to the mar­ket and fair tolls. Once a fig­ure was agreed on, the lo­cal

au­thor­ity took con­trol of the mar­ket and the Court Leet was left as just a tra­di­tion of the town. The tower plan was first an­nounced at the Court Leet in Oc­to­ber 1875, the of­fer from Lathom-born stone­ma­sons Charles and John Wells to build it was ac­cepted at the meet­ing. The Wells broth­ers had based their busi­ness in Ever­ton and were huge em­ploy­ers in that area in the 1870s and ’80s al­though they had a brother, Robert, in Burscough and a brother, Joshua, in New­burgh, both also stone­ma­sons. The ar­chi­tect was an­nounced as Pe­ter Balmer of Aughton, who was only in his late 20s in 1876, an ar­chi­tect and sur­veyor, the son of Ed­mund Balmer who was the Sur­veyor of the Turn­pike for the dis­trict. The Balmers lived at Quarry Drive, Aughton and were own­ers of the quarry. The cost of build­ing the tower was es­ti­mated at £300, not count­ing the clock mech­a­nism it­self, and much of that had been off­set by the Court Leet, al­though a pub­lic sub­scrip­tion cam­paign was started and raised suf­fi­cient funds to com­plete the work. The tower de­sign is an early gothic style and the stone is York­shire “shod­dies” (York­stone) and Boo­tle red stone.

Two drink­ing foun­tains were ini­tially planned, fronting Church Street and Moor Street.

The plan was changed how­ever and the foun­tains faced Church Street and Aughton Street.

The clock was to have il­lu­mi­nated di­als set 25ft from the ground.

In the first few weeks af­ter the clock was in­stalled, be­fore the of­fi­cial han­dover, there had been some is­sues with the clock’s time-keep­ing, which had caused some good-hu­moured com­ments to ap­pear in the

Ad­ver­tiser col­umns. The top was de­signed with a bat­tle­ment capped by an oc­tag­o­nal bell tur­ret to re­house the cen­turiesold town fire bell which had hung over the Town Hall build­ings.

The bell is no longer in the tower.

There were dec­o­ra­tive shields added to each side of the tower with plans to in­sert the coats of arms of fam­i­lies con­nected with the town, the Court Leet and the lo­cal board.

That plan re­lied heav­ily on the funds raised from the ap­peal to the pub­lic for funds.

There ap­pears to have been a prob­lem with the fund­ing as the coats of arms, if ever added, have not sur­vived.

Within just a few years, the gleam­ing York­stone was black­ened with soot and grime.

For more than a cen­tury it was a dark, grey ca­su­alty of do­mes­tic and in­dus­trial smok­ing chim­neys.

In the 1970s, when it was cleaned and re­stored to its former state, the con­trast­ing stonework once again showed the true vi­sion of de­sign of Pe­ter Balmer and the Wells broth­ers.

In Au­gust 1972, the 96-year-old Clock Tower was given grade 11 listed sta­tus as a build­ing of his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est.

On Satur­day, July 29 Orm­skirk Com­mu­nity Part­ner­ship’s Ginger­bread Project, Orm­skirk & Dis­trict Fam­ily His­tory So­ci­ety and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Lathom Park Trust will be man­ning a mar­ket stall on Moor Street for the day.

They will be pre­sent­ing a unique dis­play of pho­tographs of the town and of­fer­ing help and ad­vice on fam­ily, lo­cal and so­cial his­tory as­pects of Orm­skirk and dis­trict.

Please call by to of­fer sup­port or seek ad­vice on your own re­search.

Stone­ma­sons John, left, and Charles Wells

The newly cleaned tower dec­o­rated for The Queen’s Sil­ver Ju­bilee in 1977, and, be­low, the grimy tower in the late 1950s or early ’60s.

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