Public Timekeeping in Warrington


In the 21st Century our days are kept in order by timepieces. At one end of the scale there are clocks which keep time to an accuracy of one second in 3 million years while at the other end we can buy a watch for a few pounds and regard it as an item which can be disposed of when fashions change. As well as our clocks and watches we can find out the time by reference to the telephone, television and computer. Mankind has not always needed to know the time to such accuracy as we do now: in centuries past work was regulated by day and night and the seasons. Even when clocks became more common they did not tell the same time uniformly throughout the country: that only came about when the railway system came into being and trains ran to a timetable. However, there was a period of time in between when clocks and watches were not available to the majority of the population but they did need to reckon the passing of the hours. This is when public timekeeping came into its own.

“Time is Precious. Peter Winstanley erected this dial 1756”; so read the inscription on a dial on the stable wall in the yard of The Bull’s Head, Bridge Street. Not quite the first public timepiece in Warrington but one that gave you a little reminder every time you looked at it. It was soon followed by a second near Peter Winstanley’s residence with another adage “Virtue join precious Time. The gift of Peter Winstanley to the Publick in Stanley Street Warrington 1757”.

Inscriptions on timepieces are not always inspiring or even visible. In 1647, Colonel John Booth gave the town possibly its first public timepiece – the curfew bell. It originally hung in a tower on the corn market and bore this inscription: “Donum Johannis Booth Colonelli et rectoris hujus de Warrington 1647” (The gift of John Booth Governor of this market town of Warrington 1647). Beamont’s record of the inscription is somewhat different being: “Exdono Johannis Booth armigeri Colonelli et rectoris emporii de Warrington 1647”. It later became the fire bell and later still was transferred to the clock in Trinity Chapel.


Holy Trinity Church – home of Warrington’s town bell and clock.

A variety of different dates are given for this move to Trinity Chapel. Beamont says that a bell with this inscription was put in the steeple there in 1706 but he adds that the old curfew bell was also in the steeple. This other bell bears the following inscription: “Deo et ecclesia dedicavit Johannes Blackburn SSTP Hallelujah Henricus Penn fecit 1706” (Consecrated to God and the Church, John Blackburn SSTP Hallelujah Made by Henry Penn 1706).   A newspaper article suggests it was moved in 1810. If either of these is correct it would have been moved again after the steeple was blown down in 1822. However, the minutes of the Police Commissioners for the town on 19 August 1841 contain a resolution that Messrs Joseph Perrin, Peter Smith, John Smith and James Houghtin be appointed a committee to make an agreement with the Trustees of Trinity Chapel to move the fire bell to the top of the steeple if practicable. Yet again, another source says that it wasn’t transferred to the town clock (in Trinity Chapel) until 1855 when the old court house – where it had been – was demolished. It is known that a new fire bell was hung on the west end of the new Market Hall when that building was erected in 1856. I suspect that these items refer to more than one bell and although we may not be able to disentangle which bell was where during these years it seems that the town authorities were beginning to take an interest in public time keeping.

On 21 April 1836 the Police Commissioners decided that the salary to be paid to the ringer of the Town Bell at 6.00 am and 8.00 pm, should be paid by the Treasurer as “a matter materially attending to the regulation and order of the town”. In April 1863 Hamlet Savage was the ringer of the bell at a wage of 3/- (15p) per week and he was given explicit details of the times for ringing it:

  • 5.55-6.00 am: Monday to Saturday
  • 7.55-8.00 am: Sunday
  • 8.00-8.05 pm: Every evening (the bell was rung for 5 minutes then there was a break followed by the ringing of the number of days in the month)
  • 10.45-11.00 pm: Saturday (in addition to the earlier evening ringing)
  • 9.45-10.00 pm:  Sunday (in addition to the earlier evening ringing)

The Town Clock is housed in the tower of Holy Trinity Church, Sankey Street (built 1760). The first official reference to it is in the same Police Commissioners’ minutes referred to previously (21 April 1836) when Mr Carter tended his bill for one year’s care of the clock: from May 1834 to April 1835 the bill was 2 guineas (£2-10p). The Commissioners ordered that this sum should be paid by the Treasurer as, like the ringing of the Town Bell ‘it was a matter materially tending to the regulation and order of the town’. James Carter’s own notebook shows that he had previously received payment in 1824 for work on the clock. As the steeple of Trinity Chapel (as it was called until February 1870 when it became a parish in its own right) was blown down in 1822 the clock was probably put in when the replacement tower was erected. Unfortunately James Carter does not give us any other information about the clock.

The next official mention was on 1 February 1849 when Mr Carter (James died in 1848 so this is one of his sons, probably Joseph) reported that the winding ropes were ‘so worn as to be dangerous’. The prices of new ropes were to be ascertained and we can only presume that they were bought.

In 1852 more work needed to be carried out: Mr Carter was authorised to effect repairs not exceeding 45/- (£2-25p). New ropes for the weights were supplied by Mr Wagstaffe for 28/- (£1-40p) and to complete the improvements Mr Whittle repaired and repainted the dials at a cost of 10/- (50p).

In the Warrington Guardian of Saturday 14 August 1858 there is an interesting report of the debate of a resolution at the previous week’s council meeting. Councillor Holmes put the resolution that it was desirable to provide an illuminated public clock for the convenience of the inhabitants. He suggested that the matter should be referred to the General Purposes Committee to ascertain the best site for such a clock and an estimate of its cost. The important word is presumably ‘illuminated’ as there was already a town clock but why was the councillor thinking of another site? Councillor Pickmere provided the answer when he said that Mrs Houghton’s shop almost shut off the view of the clock from Market Gate. He believed that Market Gate was the only place for a public clock as anywhere else would only serve that locality whilst Market Gate was the true centre of the town. His suggestion was that a clock should be suspended on chains from the 4 buildings at the corners of Market Gate and have 4 faces one towards each of the principal streets.

Councillor Holmes thought that the current clock could be made ‘a yard or two higher’ and if illuminated could be visible from more places than if it were put on any other public building in the town. He estimated that the cost of installing illumination would be £50-£80 with running costs dependant on the length of time it was lit. Councillor Edelsten did not think that it was the right time to be spending money on an illuminated clock but if one was really essential it should be sited at one end of the market shed with one face to Market Street and the other to the market hall. The resolution was sent to the General Purposes Committee and at their September meeting the borough engineer. Mr Coxon, was requested to obtain information as to the cost of maintaining the proposed clock. At the October meeting, he reported that much depended on the size and situation of the clock. A clock on a pillar ‘similar to the one opposite the Electric Telegraphic Company offices in Castle Street, Liverpool, would best answer the purpose and might be placed with advantage at the corner of Market Gate at the angle in front of Messrs Picton and Hattons’. This would cost £70-£80 with maintenance of £5 per annum. The committee resolved that it was not prepared to approve Mr Coxon’s plan and no one seems to have resurrected Councillor Pickmere’s suggestion! However, it was not long before the council was forced into action.

In November 1861 Mr Coxon reported to the General Purposes Committee that the dome of the clock tower in Trinity Church was much decayed and it would be prudent to cease ringing the bell. He suggested that the trustees should have it repaired or replaced. A builder, Mr Gibson, advised the commissioners of the chapel that it should be replaced but they did not have sufficient funds to do this. The rector, Mr James Nicholson, on behalf of the Commissioners approached the corporation pointing out that in the past matters of this nature had always been met by the inhabitants of the town generally as “it is especially devoted to the town clock and the bell”. He promised the Corporation full co-operation from the commissioners. The General Purposes Committee then resolved that Trinity Chapel was the best site for a public clock for the convenience of those passing through the town and the following January the Commissioners of the chapel offered, and had accepted, £50 towards the cost of rebuilding the tower; the total cost was estimated at £200.

In addition to producing the town clock, George Blackhurst made many other timepieces whilst working in Warrington. This Brass Quarter Striking Skeleton Clock recently fetched £2,800 at auction.

In addition to producing the town clock, George Blackhurst manufactured many other timepieces whilst working in Warrington between 1851-58. This Brass Quarter Striking Skeleton Clock recently fetched £2,800 at auction.

Councillor Edelsten, of whom we have already heard, offered the council a clock to be put up on Mrs Houghton’s shop at Market Gate ( if Mr Wilson, the owner, agreed). He said “he would take care that it was such a clock as would be not only a credit to himself but useful to the town”. It was to be made by Mr George Blackhurst, a Warrington clock maker, and be guaranteed for 12 months. He asked that the Corporation should pay him 1/- (5p) per year as acknowledgement. A sub-committee was set up to confer with him. However, there seems to have been some ill-will between the members of the sub-committee and Councillor Edelsten as he wrote to the General Purposes Committee complaining that they would not accept it on his terms but only under certain conditions. “I am astonished,” he wrote, ” and after the uncalled for remarks….the Corporation must accept the offer as it stands or decline it altogether.” The corporation declined it.

Warrington Museum has a regulator with winders dial which is stated to be part of George Blackhurst’s town clock of 1855 which came from Hamlet Houghton’s shop; however it is the wrong year if this was Councillor Edelsten’s clock.   There is no mention of this clock in the minutes of the General Purposes Committee and from the subject matter it undoubtedly would have been mentioned if it was there in 1858 or 1861. It seems then that either the date is wrong and Councillor Edelsten put up a clock notwithstanding the sub-committee’s views or this was merely a large or turret clock that was on Houghton’s shop and calling it the ‘town clock’ is incorrect.

In April 1862 the Committee accepted tenders for the work on the clock tower: Richard Kitchen, for iron work £160; John Jackson for masonry, joinery and scaffolding £85; H & S Chandley for painting £8.

In August of that year the Committee, as ever trying not to spend more than is absolutely necessary, asked the Gas Company to illuminate the dial free of charge. The Gas Company’s reply, in which it took no responsibility for the safety of the clock, was to agree to illuminate but with a meter from which, £7.10.0 (£7.50p) per half year would be deducted. By September it had been firmly decided that the old clock could not be repaired and that a new one was to be purchased. In October J Bailey and Company of Manchester had their tender of £255 accepted for the construction and erection of a new clock.

By May 1863 there was dissatisfaction with Bailey’s conduct concerning the clock. Some of this frustration is shown in the following verse which appeared in the Warrington Guardian of 30 May:

Dithery, dithery dock, what’s up with the trumpery clock? It tells nothing but lies, you don’t know how time flies, unless by the Borough reeve’s clock, And that tells the truth like the giver; on both you may safely rely, so three cheers for J B now and ever, and three groans for the clock in the sky.

The real problems are seen through the minutes of the General Purposes Committee. In May 1863 the Committee gave Bailey’s 14 days to finish the clock or the contract would be cancelled. Bailey’s wrote agreeing to this but did not do the work. Next Mr Coxon was told to have the work carried out by some other firm and charge it to Bailey’s. However, this does not seem to have happened either, because it is not until August 1864 that we are informed that Bailey’s had completed the work “according to contract” (!) and £300.16.4 (£300.84p) had been paid with £45.16.4 (£45.64p) being for extra work on the dial and telling hammers. Unfortunately the minutes supply us with no more information about this strange state of affairs.

In July 1871 the old clock which had been taken from the tower was requested for use by St Paul’s Church to “provide a clock for the people at that end of the town” and the Committee resolved that it should be handed over to Dr Massingham as long as the Corporation incurred no expense.

January 1876 saw a new lighting system used on the clock. Arnold and Lewis of Manchester set the jets further away from the dials where they gave a brighter light and ensuring the dials would stay cleaner. The cost was £20 per dial exclusive of joinery and ventilation work and in May £92 was paid to the company for the work which included some other repairs. £15 was also paid to Henry Holt for painting the tower which was next painted in 1881 when Mr Whittle was paid £20.

Another new clock was placed in the tower in April 1883. Mayor John Crosfield presented a clock made by Mr Joyce of Whitchurch to be put in Holy Trinity church and this was accepted with none of the antagonism that surrounded Councillor Edelsten’s proposed gift of over 20 years previously. James Joyce was a highly respected maker who had made, among other turret clocks, one for Worcester Cathedral. In July of the following year the minutes tell us that the corporation asked the company to provide an estimate for care and repair of the clock for the following three years. In that same year the rest of the clocks belonging to the corporation were put into the care of Mr Edward Eustance for their repair and winding. He was paid £10 per year for three years. In 1886 it was arranged with Joyce’s to fit new opal dials to the Town Clock.

After the dark years of World War 2 the Warrington Guardian of 28 July 1945 reported that the clock and tower were to be painted and pointed respectively. The possibility of adding more lights was going to be considered and an attempt would be made to clean the faces from the inside. The ironwork was to be scraped and the figures, fingers and weathervane were to be gilded. It was mentioned in this report that the tower from the church roof upwards was regarded as town property. The Warrington Examiner of 8 August 1952 reported that in 1948 the clock and tower were overhauled as the weather vane had attained a list of 5o and it was thought to be a danger to the public.

Eustance's Clock, Sankey Street.

Eustance’s Clock, Sankey Street.

Other well-known clocks in Warrington have been the market clock in the old covered market and E & A Eustance’s clock above their premises in Sankey Street. A clock had been on that site for many years. An advert in the Warrington Guardian of 26 November 1862 used the words “The Illuminated Clock” with their name and address. It was finally removed in 1993 when the firm moved into Golden Square and, unfortunately, seems to have disappeared from public sight.

{This article was first published in Warrington History Society’s Millennium Scrapbook in the Year 2000}.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Minutes of Police Commissioners for Warrington – Vol 1 & 2 (WCL ms 1354); Minutes of General Purposes Committee, Warrington Corporation (WCL ms 1630); Notebook of James Carter (WCL ms 2433); Warrington Guardian – 14 August 1858; Warrington Guardian – 28 July 1945; Warrington Examiner – 8 August 1952: A Bennett Proceedings of Warrington Literary and Philosophical Society 1898-9 “Glimpses of  Bygone Warrington” 1899 (WCL S10211); W Beamont with notes by J Kendrick jnr: A Chronicle of Events at Warrington at and shortly before the Great Civil War (WCL 5152); GA Carter: Warrington and the Mid Mersey Valley 1971; Warrington Town Trail 1 1976 (WCL p2859); Dava Sobel: Longitude 1995; David E Duncan The Calendar 1998. WCL is the Warrington Central Library reference number.