The residents of a South Lakes village have been treated to something only the more elderly may recall thanks to the bell in the ancient Haverthwaite Clock Tower having been rung for the first time in over 70 years.
The bell, believed to have last been rung in 1945, has been heard across the village and beyond, following the recent restoration of both the iconic Clock Tower’s clock, and its weathervane, by current owner, Julius Barratt.
The Haverthwaite Clock Tower was first erected in 1849, by Daye Barker Junior, to commemorate his father, Daye Barker – one of a consortium who established a gunpowder works at a site, that was a forge in the 1700s and then an ironworks during the Industrial Revolution.
There may have been symbolism in this gesture, as Daye Barker Senior was originally a clock maker from Wigan, with interests in a cotton mill at Backbarrow.
Workers in the gunpowder mills, handling sulphur from Mount Vesuvius, saltpetre from Bengal and charcoal made from local silver birch, alder and shrub juniper, lived in cottages on the south side of the clock. Interestingly, this meant that the workers could not see the clock face, which had been positioned to catch the eye of travellers on the road.
Back in 1849, the main road to Cartmel crossed the River Leven via a wooden bridge located 200 metres upstream of the current Low Wood Bridge. It then passed up the hill to the east side of the Clock Tower, before continuing over Bigland Hill.
Originally, the tower was built with a four-faced clock in mind and observers today can see that the windows on the top floor are a later addition, built between the four columns that were originally constructed as roof supports, anchored to level two of the tower by oak pillars bolted to the wall plates.
Architectural historian, Ronald Mein, believes the Clock Tower’s clock may well be older than the tower, with the professional clockmaker, William Bellman of Broughton-in-Furness, likely to have been its creator.
Mr Mein says the bell was made in 1792 and was taken from the Old Mill at Ainsworth Mills in Backbarrow. He believes that the clock may also have come from there, making it potentially more than 40 years older than the Haverthwaite Clock Tower structure.
The frame of the clock is made from either iron or steel, whilst the clock face is formed from copper and all gears were cut from brass. The clock’s mechanism was housed in a wooden box, but much of the wood has now been lost, even though two inspection windows can be seen on either side of the box.
The clock needed winding at least once a week and it has been wound by many different people over the years. In the time of the gunpowder works, the job fell to employees like John Dickson, who lived in cottage No 9 at the site, with his wife Nancy. Some of those who wound it left a note to that effect and we know that John Dickson wound the clock on September 24, 1900. Other names that have been found are W Towers and W Dixon.
The history of the clock continued after the closure of the gunpowder works. ICI closed the Haverthwaite site in 1935, after production petered out during the First World War and the years that followed it. During the Second World War, the site was divided, with Italian Prisoners of War living in one part of a ‘camp’ and American GIs in the other.
The notes of who wound the clock were augmented in these years. On August 3, 1938, the duty fell to a W Withers, whilst a Corporal in the Royal Army Service Corps performed the task in 1941. Although his signature is hard to determine, it is likely that he was one of the guards of the Italian Prisoner of War camp.
Restoring the clock workings would have been incredibly expensive. As a result, Julius Barratt, has been able to commission the cleaning up and restoration of the clock face, by the Cumbria Clock Company, but not the original mechanism. This is to be preserved for clock historians to inspect, in future years, whilst the hands of the clock will now be driven by an electric motor.
The restoration of the weathervane has included the application of gold leaf, to make it, once again, a striking part of one of the most familiar sights on the Haverthwaite area’s landscape.
This latest restoration work is one in a series that Julius Barratt has undertaken at the site. From 2011-12, he sympathetically restored the rest of the Grade II listed building to which the Clock Tower is attached, creating The Clock Tower Business Centre. This is now home to eight office units ranging in size from 200 to 1200 square feet and named after features that have graced the site during its industrial past. Names include ‘The Saltpetre Store’, ‘The Powder Lab’ and ‘The Sulphur Store’.
Currently there is only one unit empty and available for rent by a business wishing to be inspired by the Clock Tower’s rich and historical past and stunning location, whilst working in a building designed with environmental sustainability in mind. As part of the 2011-12 restoration, the building was provided with green credentials, being heated by energy generated by hydro-power from the River Leven, which passes through two huge reverse Archimedes screw-driven turbines, a heat exchanger and air-source heat pumps.
Julius Barratt says: “We hope residents from Haverthwaite and beyond will enjoy hearing the bell sound once more, following its 70 years of silence, and appreciate seeing the hands of the clock move and actually show the time. We do not know if the latter has happened since the RASC Corporal wound the clock in 1941, so it could be 75 years since residents have been able to tell the time without referring to a watch or electronic device.
“It is fitting that time will no longer be standing still at a site that has become ultra-modern through the creation of contemporary office accommodation and the latest in green power technology. We hope that the completion of the restoration process will be appreciated locally, as before this project began, the Clock Tower and the attached building were in a very poor state and could have been lost to the landscape altogether.”
Anyone wishing to find out more about this historic gem of a building in its current day form can go to www.clocktoweroffices.co.uk