Grafton Marking Time – The Grafton Clock Tower

The story below is another extract from one of my local history booklets “As Time Goes By-Grafton’s Fascination with Time-Pieces”,which I wrote and published in 2009, for our Sesqui-Centenary Celebrations of Local Government. This booklet has long been out of print, and I am now sharing some extracts on my blog.

In 1908 the Grafton Municipal Council was making preparations to celebrate their Jubilee and so a special committee was to set up to organize and overseer the celebrations.

The Mayor encouraged the citizens to suggest a suitable memorial to the occasion. It was finally announced a Town Clock Tower would be constructed as the memorial. At the March Council meeting it was voted after much discussion that £400 should be expended from Council funds on the Jubilee Celebrations. The major part was to be for the erection of a suitable Clock Tower for the city and also for the publication of a booklet on the history and progress of the Municipality. The other proposed functions would be funded by a subscription collection.

It is not known if local architects forwarded proposed designs for the tower, but at the end of April Mr E C Norrie, a local architect, presented to the Council a plan for a Clock Tower submitted to him by Mr S M Becher, a Sydney Architect. Sherard Michael Becher, born 1883, Grafton, was the second son of Richard Fane and Louisa Becher (nee Paton). Richard Fane Becher was the Baptist Minister at Grafton for many years. Sherard attended the Grafton Public School before the family moved to Sydney. He became an architect in Sydney, but continued to be interested in Grafton’s affairs. He acted as his own Clerk of Works and made several trips to Grafton to supervise the project.

Within a few days of receiving the plans, the Council had called tenders for the building of the Clock Tower at the intersection of Pound and Prince Streets. At the following Council meeting in mid May, the tender of J J Bender of £144 was accepted. However a special meeting was called within a week to discuss matters, as Bender had withdrawn his tender. The tender of Jacob Walter for £188 was then decided upon. Jacob Walter, the son of Franz and Sophia Walter, was born in Grafton in 1865. He worked with his father and brother as a bricklayer. He married Ellen Rosanna Franey in 1893. He died in Grafton in 1945.

At a Council Meeting in May, 1909,Ald Maxted moved that provisions be made for the laying of the Foundation Stone for the Clock Tower, and Mr Becher was quickly contacted. Mr Becher hurried to Grafton by the steamer, Kyogle and arrived early on Monday 7th June. At the special meeting with the Council on Friday 11th June,

Mr Beecher expressed the opinion it was too late to have an official laying of a foundation stone, but he suggested a brass plaque suitably inscribed to be attached to the completed tower, and that he was prepared to present such a plaque. His offer was accepted by Council. Mr Becher returned to Sydney by the Noorebar the next morning.

With these matters settled Jacob Walter then prepared to erect the tower,and brought loads of bricks from Palmers brickworks at the top end of Prince Street and started work. However these activities caused two sensational incidents, which were later reported in the local press.

“The stack of bricks and brickworks at the centre of the junction of Prince and Pound Streets, where the Jubilee Clock Tower is in course of erection, were responsible yesterday for two accidents, at least so it is alleged.

At about 8 am Mr Peter Cumming, baker, was getting into his cart after delivering some bread in Pound Street, when his horse shied at the bricks, and bolting across the road at full speed, brought the cart in violet collision with a tree, a sandstone gutter-bridge (both in front of Mr T Willan’s Freemason’s hotel,)and one of the verandah posts. The final impact was so great as to snap both shafts from the cart and, with these dangling from either side, the horse dashed madly along prince Street, in a northerly direction, but was fortunately stopped, and brought back unhurt. The body of the cart was left, loaded with bread and surrounded by glass-wreckage from the hotel verandah-lamp, on the footpath, whence, later on, it was removed. We learn with pleasure, that Mr Cumming escaped without injury.

The second accident occurred at about 5 pm. It appears that Mr and Mrs Stephen Schafer, formerly of the Royal hotel, South Grafton, were driving in a sulky from the Grafton railway station and were about entering Prince Street from Pound Street when the pony shied at the brickwork and, swerving suddenly into Prince Street, up-set Mr Schafer, who was driving, clean out onto the road. Mr Schafer fell face downwards, severely injuring his nose, and as the reins fell with him the uncontrolled pony bolted, and as it did so, a wheel of the sulky passed over Mr Schafer’s right hip and waist. The objective of the pony appeared to be the river, and Mrs Schafer, who had retained her seat in the trap, must have had a most unenviable time as the a frighted animal careered with the helpless lady to apparently certain death, or severe injury at least. Shopkeepers, their assistants and customers rushed out to witness the rapidly approaching catastrophe, and in a moment each side of the street was lined with horror-strickened people, some yelling bootless instructions to Mrs Schafer. Mr Rowley Smith was riding up Prince Street with a parcel of account books under his arm, when the runaway dashed past him. Instantly he dropped the books on the road and galloped in hot pursuit. The pony with the sulky was turning in towards the ‘Argus’ where Sergeant Dean was standing. The intrepid officer made a grab for the reins, but his effort had the good effect of causing the pony to swerve shortly towards the middle of the street, in doing so, the trailing reins touched the wheel and were promptly whisked right into Mrs Schafer’s hand, and the cool lady was actually pulling the runaway in when Mr Smith galloped alongside and seized its head. That settled everything. The people from the shops went back, and Mrs Schafer, escorted by Mr Smith, still holding the pony’s head and riding alongside, drove rapidly back to pick up her husband. Meanwhile Mr Schafer had been carried into Mr Weiley’s Market Hotel, where he received every possible attention, and from there he was afterwards taken home. It is hoped that his injuries will not prove serious.”

Mr Becher acted as his own Clerk of Works and returned to Grafton by the Kyogle on 5 July, 1909. He stated that the brickwork would be finished by the 8th July and that the clock mechanism would leave Sydney on the Saturday for installation the following week by Mr Otto Fuch. Mr Fuch had already installed the clock faces in the tower..When he installed the clock faces he wrote the date on the back of each , 29 June 1909. By co-incident in 1959, when the Municipal Council was having new clock faces installed and maintenance done on the clock in preparation for the Centennial Celebrations the day this work was carried out was on 29 June. No-one knew of this coincidence until after the job was complete and the pencil inscriptions on the old clock faces was noticed.

The names of the former Mayors of the Municipality were inscribed on marble tablets on the tower. This was brought up to date in in recent years.

Mr Becher presented a brass plate for the Clock Tower, on which ‘Erected July 20, 1909, to commemorate the Jubilee of the Incorporation of the City of Grafton. This also bears the names of the Mayor, Town Clerk, and Mr Becher.

The Tower rises to a height of 42 feet from ground level. It is on a solid concrete foundation 18 inches thick, set on 6 inches of sand placed in the bottom of the trench. In excavating for the foundation the Council’s large drain was met with only 15 inches below the surface. This was a nasty obstacle, and had to be over come by throwing a semi-circular arch over the whole width of the drain. The concrete was mixed and laid in one batch , thus ensuring a perfect foundation. The Tower is built of brick, with the exterior of Sydney open kiln facing bricks. At the base is an ornamental drinking fountain, while segmental arches, span the openings above, between the piers. Above these, on two sides, two marble tablets have been fixed, to take the names of past Mayors of the Municipality, with the dates of their holding office. Above the clock, cement cornices surround the parapet, formed by inverted arches, whilst at the summit of each pier is a round terminal.

The clock is lighted with four wrought iron bracket lights fixed in the centre of each pier. Originally these were gas, and were able to be lifted or lowered for the purposes of repair and cleaning. They were later replaced by fixed electric ones.

The clock was made by Messrs Angus & Coote, of George Street Sydney. It has four dials, and has special devices for winding and setting the works. The idea of having a clock tower to commemorate the incorporation of the city of Grafton met with a mixed reception. Still, the tower was erected.

Prince Street,Grafton

There were many who criticized the structure and claimed the clock would have been more serviceable had it been a ‘striker’. Some were so incensed that they took up their pen and wrote to the press.

To the Editor of the Argus

Sir- For twenty seven years I have lived in Grafton, and I take great interest in the memorial which is being erected at the intersection of Prince and Pound Streets. I think the Borough Council were taking a rise out of us poor fools when they palmed this concern on us as a memento of Jubilee enthusiasm and as a token of progression. One of my customers from ‘out back’ wanted to know ‘whaf-for’ the Council was building another water tank . I told him ’twas to water the streets from the top of the tower, as it saved the man from carrying the street watering apparatus about in the wheel barrow . ‘Ah’ said he , ‘then I suppose those holes are for the cove to stick the water pipe through’.

The Clock Tower was unveiled on the 20th July 1909 with great pomp and ceremony

The Mayor explained the significance of the tower, in that it marked the passing of the old, and introduced the new ways for progress in the city. He stated it was built from a design prepared by Mr S M Becher, architect, (Sydney), the contractor who erected it being Mr Jacob Walter, of Grafton. He stated that both the architect and the builder were natives of Grafton, the former being a son of the late Rev B F Becher, formerly baptist minister here. The erection of the Clock Tower cost about £300.

The special decorations for the occasion, included banners on each side of the Tower. The south face had the words, ‘Grafton Jubilee’; the north ‘1859-1909’; the east, ‘Advance Grafton’, and the west had a Royal Crown

The Mayor went on to describe the clock-tower itself. It was also stated that the whole concern was a creditable ornament to the city, and its significance as a memorial of the time should prove a perpetual education to visitors , and an incentive to the civic fathers to never cease endeavouring to advance Grafton.

Although with time people got used to the Tower itself, the clock was another matter, as it didn’t prove to be a reliable time piece.

A letter, perhaps with ‘tongue-in-cheek’, to the local newspaper a couple of months later reveals what some thought about the situation.

THE JUBILEE CLOCK

A story with a full 100 per cent of truth is going the rounds at the

expense of the horologe that adorns the municipal monument at the Prince-Pound Streets intersection. A visitor from up Richmond way who has toured a considerable portion of the North, sauntered along one morning, and scrutinising the face of the timepiece that is visible from the direction of host Weiley’s, thought he must have overslept himself or that Grafton was a little more ahead of its time than many gave it credit for. Hauling out his key-less lever, he noticed a wide discrepancy between Richmond River standard time and Grafton. Proceeding further up the street, he was astounded on beholding the Eastern face of that modern ‘timekeeper’ that he must have been travelling at the rate of something like 7minutes 27 seconds per yard. In order to become enlightened on the system of time gauging in Grafton, he inquired of a well-known frequenter of the Market Square how meal hours, knock-off time, hotel closing , and train departures were ascertained in the Queen City. He was solemnly informed that the clock was representative of the Labour Party, and only worked eight hours per day. He was advised also to have a look at the Northern and Western sides of the four faced machine that is supposed to provide Grafton folk with the correct time of day. Whether our visitor was more impressed by the influence credited to the Labour Party or to the quadruple method of measuring time by Grafton’s Jubilee Clock, has not transpired. Notes of his trip hither will probably contain the suggestion for the enlightenment of visitors that the several faces of this time-piece might be surmounted with an inscription indicating that Russian, Japanese, American and North Pole standard times are respectively represented on the several faces of the monumental clock.

The Grafton City Council finally resorted to having local watchmakers take care of the clockworks and coax the town clock to do it’s intended duty. So there were periods of time when the four clock faces worked in unison and the business people of Prince and Pound Streets felt confident to regulate their business hours by the Jubilee Town Clock, and all was right with the world.

One such businessman was W J Weiley of the Market Hotel, later just known as ‘Weileys’. He could observe the Pound Street ,eastern face from his bedroom window and rose early each day, by the clock to attend to the early delivery of goods, such as coal, beer, meat and vegetables and other sundry things.

One morning he rose as usual by the town clock, but was soon fretting as all the deliveries of goods seem to be much later than usual, and he finally remonstrated with a delivery man about the need for punctuality. Of course the delivery man was quite taken back that Mr Weiley should address him so, and advised him that he was very punctual. Mr Weiley then pointed to the time on the Town Clock, and was promptly told that the Town Clock was in fact an hour fast, and that some errant young louts must of changed the time as a prank. Mr Weiley was most vocal about the situation until he found the culprit was close at hand, and actually lived in his household. It was quite some time before he could really trust the Town Clock again, and on those occasions when it was fast or slow, no matter for what reason, he closely questioned his household over the matter.

Over the years there have been times when the Town Clock would be fast or slow and for a while the business people would put up with the inconvenience, while they waited for the City Council to call in the local watchmaker to attend to the maintenance. However if the Council took it’s time over the matter, they might be reminded by a newspaper article or by a ABC newsreader. On one such occasion Rupert Winwood-Smith was reading the news for the ABC. In those days the news bulletins were hand written or were typed, often on ancient typewriters, and so the print was not always clear. In the news Winwood- Smith stated that the ‘Town Clerk’ was late at the time of the last Municipal Council Meeting and was still running late at the time of the meeting held the previous night. It was reported it was most inconvenient to the businesses and citizens and called on the Councillors to act, and do something about this situation. Mr Wilfred Sheather was the ‘Town Clerk’ at the time and was most aggrieved as he was always very punctual in all matters. Of course the word ‘clerk’ should have been read as ‘clock’ as it was the ‘Town Clock’ which was the offending party, certainly not Mr Sheather.

In 1953, this great icon was decorated with flags and bunting as well as a huge crown, for the street parade in celebration of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In recent years it wears a splendid crown of lights each year for the Jacaranda Festival.

Clock Tower