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Turning back time as clock tower returns to Sheerness after revamp


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Swale council has turned back time and returned Sheerness clock tower to its former glory.

Work began on reinstalling the revamped 120-year-old time-piece to the Crescent on Monday after a marathon seven-month £160,000 renovation.

Swale's mayor Paul Stephen, with his wife Sarah and Cllr Monique Bonney, right, had the honour of being the first to ring the bell in the refurbished Sheerness clock tower. Picture: John Nurden
Swale's mayor Paul Stephen, with his wife Sarah and Cllr Monique Bonney, right, had the honour of being the first to ring the bell in the refurbished Sheerness clock tower. Picture: John Nurden

Yesterday Swale’s mayor and mayoress Cllrs Paul and Sarah Stephen attended a ‘topping out’ ceremony with Cllr Monique Bonney, who was behind the project, and rang the bell seven times.

The Grade-II listed timepiece was first unveiled on June 26, 1902, to mark the coronation of King Edward VII and and Queen Alexandra.

It has now been restored to its former glory by clock specialists Smith of Derby just in time for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

The previous colour scheme of red, white and blue has been stripped and replaced with its original holly bush green with dashes of gold and red.

Stunning dragons, which sit at each corner at the top of the tower, and 24 small red flowers, have been bead-blasted and gilded with 22.5 carat gold leaf.

The dragons which go around the top of the clock tower. Picture: Smith of Derby
The dragons which go around the top of the clock tower. Picture: Smith of Derby
Handmade lanterns created from scratch. Picture: Smith of Derby
Handmade lanterns created from scratch. Picture: Smith of Derby

The tower’s 100kg (220lb) bell, cast by the John Taylor and Co foundry of Loughborough, which also made the main bell for St Paul’s Cathedral, has been cleaned and polished.

The clock mechanism and its four faces have been repaired and long-lost lanterns have been rebuilt from scratch. Even the concrete ball bollards surrounding the clock have been blasted clean.

The cast-iron tower, built by Walter McFarlane & Co of Glasgow, originally cost £350 and stands 34ft 6in tall and weighs eight tons.

It now boasts a new plaque, part written in Braille for the blind, which reads: "Swale Borough Council extensively restored 120 year old Sheerness clock tower during the platinum jubilee year of HM Queen Elizabeth II 2022".

Sheerness Broadway was closed to traffic as the tower, which was removed in September, was delivered by low-loader and rebuilt on site with the help of a crane.

Sheerness clock tower plaque from 2022 - complete with Braille
Sheerness clock tower plaque from 2022 - complete with Braille
As it was, the old bell when it was removed from Sheerness clock tower in September. Picture: Smith of Derby
As it was, the old bell when it was removed from Sheerness clock tower in September. Picture: Smith of Derby
The bell of Sheerness clock tower has been cleaned and polished. Picture: Smith of Derby
The bell of Sheerness clock tower has been cleaned and polished. Picture: Smith of Derby

The clock will be formally unveiled to the public in a couple of weeks when stonemasons have finished work to the plinth and the lights have been connected to the power supply.

To celebrate the return of the clock, artist Nicole Mollett prepared free copies of a line drawing of the tower from her Sheerness drawing book for children.

Copies were available from the nearby Cottage of Curiosities museum in Rose Street.

The scaffolding is likely to be taken down in a few days’ time.

Martin Butchers of Smith of Derby said: “The work has gone very well. It is so nice to see the clock back where it belongs.

Martin Butchers, complex project manager of Smith of Derby, in Sheerness to oversea the return of the town's clock tower. Picture: John Nurden
Martin Butchers, complex project manager of Smith of Derby, in Sheerness to oversea the return of the town's clock tower. Picture: John Nurden

“It has been a pleasure and an honour to have been part of such a great project. It has been fantastic right from the start and has also involved our apprentice team.

"It’s all gone very much to plan. Obviously, we expected a few hiccoughs along the way but we did a trial run back in Derby and the whole structure has gone back together very well.”

Cllr Bonney, who is cabinet member for the economy and property, said: "The project has gone fantastically well although it started off as a paint job and then we discovered some severe structural defects. So it was decided to do a full nine-yards restoration.

"It's amazing what Smith of Derby has done. It's absolutely worth the money. They have not only fixed all the structural problems but discovered the original paint scheme and created hand-made lanterns which are very similar to how they would have looked when the clock was new.

"Today was the topping out ceremony. Once the lanterns have been put back up and the scaffolding struck next week the electricians will be here as well as the stone masons to build a new plinth around the bottom."

Metal damage at the top of Sheerness clock tower. Picture: Swale council
Metal damage at the top of Sheerness clock tower. Picture: Swale council
Bye: the clock tower is taken away for refurbishment. Picture: John Nurden
Bye: the clock tower is taken away for refurbishment. Picture: John Nurden
Off with its head: Sheerness clock tower being dismantled to be taken away for repair. Picture: Swale council
Off with its head: Sheerness clock tower being dismantled to be taken away for repair. Picture: Swale council
Gone but not forgotten. Sheerness clock tower is no more having left for Derby. Picture: John Nurden
Gone but not forgotten. Sheerness clock tower is no more having left for Derby. Picture: John Nurden
The clock tower returns to Sheerness. Picture: Cameron Beart
The clock tower returns to Sheerness. Picture: Cameron Beart
Sheerness clock tower arrived back in the town centre on Monday after a seven-month facelift. Picture: Donna Mansi
Sheerness clock tower arrived back in the town centre on Monday after a seven-month facelift. Picture: Donna Mansi
Sheerness clock tower arrived back in the town centre on Monday after a seven-month facelift. Picture: Donna Mansi
Sheerness clock tower arrived back in the town centre on Monday after a seven-month facelift. Picture: Donna Mansi
Upright: Sheerness clock tower back in the town centre. Picture: Donna Mansi
Upright: Sheerness clock tower back in the town centre. Picture: Donna Mansi
Coming back home: Sheerness clock has its 'topping out' ceremony. Picture: Donna Mansi
Coming back home: Sheerness clock has its 'topping out' ceremony. Picture: Donna Mansi
Easy does it. The top of the clock tower is lifted into position in Sheerness. Picture: Ray Featherstone
Easy does it. The top of the clock tower is lifted into position in Sheerness. Picture: Ray Featherstone

She added: "It's in the jubilee year so I am hoping Sheerness has its jubilee celebrations around the clock."

Making sure the event was celebrated in style, Tim Bell was present playing suitable songs, including the National Anthem, as the crown of the tower was winched into place.

He set up near the barriers with his mobility scooter which has converted into a tank complete with turret and barrel. He collects money for the Kent Air Ambulance.

A small crowd of sightseers were also present, watching as the final piece of the clock was lifted into place.

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