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History of Turk's Clock in High Street, Deal touches on Dover watchmaker George Igglesden and drapers Baldwins and Hunniset's

ByEast Kent Mercury Reporter

For more than 100 years a very large clock, projecting most recently from the front wall of the building occupied by Skinner's Electricals, has been a prominent landmark in Deal High Street.

Last year the Deal & Walmer Chamber of Trade took the welcome decision to restore the clock to its former glory.

In September the clock was carefully dismantled and is now being restored by the antique clock and watch repairer Barry Creed.

Turk's clock in its original Deal location
Turk's clock in its original Deal location

The clock carries the name W R Turk. Who was he?

William Richard Turk was born in the Kent village of Egerton in 1864. He trained as a watchmaker, probably in London - his early advertisements included the strap-line “The Practical London Watchmaker”.

In 1888 Turk set up business in a former toy shop opposite St George's Church. He combined watch-making and repairing with the sale of jewellery and of “electro-plated, cutlery and solid silver goods”, and it was not long before he added a third string to his bow as an optician.

His business prospered. In 1897, having sold off unwanted items at a 15% discount for cash, he moved into larger re-stocked premises at 76 High Street. The picture reproduced below, from a 1913 trade directory, shows just how splendid his new shop looked in its pomp.

One wonders what his new neighbour, another watchmaker by the name of V J Munn, felt about the arrival next door of a dynamic new competitor.

This advertisement appeared in January 1915
This advertisement appeared in January 1915

Throughout his career Turk spent freely on advertising, and a large shop-front clock was an excellent and appropriate way to drive the message home.

But where did it come from? The answer is: Dover. It was first erected, as long ago as 1865, by the watchmaker George Igglesden on the front of his shop at 186 Snargate.

Sadly by the time Igglesden died in 1902 his business was in trouble. His wife Annie tried to keep things going but in 1907 filed for bankruptcy. Everything possible had to be sold to pay off her creditors.

So it was that Turk acquired the clock, replaced the name Igglesden with his own and attached it to his shop in Deal. The departure of the clock from Dover in April 1908 “caused a general feeling of regret”. Igglesden's shop closed a few months later.

According to one source the mechanism of Turk's new acquisition could only be reached through his daughter's bedroom and his apprentices were not generally slow to volunteer to wind it up.

William and his wife Eliza had five children in all. When war broke out their eldest son, Frederick, answered the call and in due course was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal East Kent Regiment.

William Turk's shop at 76 High Street
William Turk's shop at 76 High Street

His brother officers must have found it endlessly amusing that Frederick Turk should find himself fighting against the Turks.

In April 1916 he was wounded in action on the Mesopotamian front (in present day Iraq).

Frederick was lucky not to have been among the 13,000 men who surrendered in Kut later that month in what has been described as “the most abject capitulation in Britain's military history”. He was by then on board ship, having been granted six months home leave, and would survive the war.

Back home his father William had agreed in 1915 to be co-opted on to Deal Council. This was the start of 17 years of conscientious, if low-key, service as a councillor for what was then South Ward.

In 1920 “good old Bill” topped the poll. He repeated the trick three years later, having it seems attracted support by his opposition to the appointment of a Lady Mayor. But in 1929, to his considerable disappointment, he slipped down into third place.

Turk strongly supported the council's house building programme.

He argued for all year round shelters on the sea front but opposed a major Beach Street improvement near the Royal Hotel on the basis that “there was never a time when it was more necessary to study economy than at the present”.

He seems to have been proudest of his long service as chairman of the pier committee, which during his tenure steered through major repairs funded largely by income generated by the use of the pier itself.

William Turk resigned from the council in October 1932. He had said the mayor, “given a great deal of his life to the town, and was a great worker”.

William Turk (on the left) with fellow tradesmen on Deal Pier
William Turk (on the left) with fellow tradesmen on Deal Pier

His business continued to do well, and shortly after the first world war he opened a branch in Sandwich. Turk himself seems to have taken special pride in his qualifications as an ophthalmic optician and as a fellow of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers.

Turk was a member of the Wellington Lodge of Freemasons, and served as master in 1913. He was also active in the Deal Bowling Club, and took part in the annual competition between members of Deal and Dover corporations.

In April 1929 the Mercury carried a long account of the marriage in St Andrew's church of William and Eliza's elder daughter Olive to John Peel (described as an Inspector of Cotton from “Barrakat, Sudan”). The bride, given away by her father: “was attired in a dress of gold colour with tight long bodice of gold-beaded lace, and flouncing skirt of silk net, dipping at the back...her bouquet was of pink roses”.

When Turk retired in 1933 his shop at 76 High Street was taken over by Baldwin's, which expanded its drapery and millinery business in to it from the premises next door.

But Baldwin's, it seems, had no use for Turk's splendid clock.

Happily it took the fancy of another drapery business, Hunnisett's.

They acquired the clock, had it moved for a second time, and attached it to the front of their own building at 70-72 High Street

Now home to Skinners Electricals, this stood adjacent to Baldwin's, on the other side of Market Street.

Didn't it matter to Hunnisett's, which included the strap-line “Under the Clock” in its publicity, that its new acquisition carried the name of a retired watchmaker? Perhaps they just covered it up.

In 1959 Baldwin's took over Hunnisett's and so found themselves the owners of the clock after all.

William Turk, who retired to Walmer, died in 1944 aged 79. His wife Eliza died the following year. But his clock lives on and from later this year, refurbished and reinstalled, will display his name to High Street shoppers for many years to come.

This article was produced with the help of Judith Davies, Sue Solley, Paul Wells and Colin Varrall.

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