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Hamilton Clock History

Hamilton Town Clock 1870 at New Cross


During the final decade of the seventeenth century, the clocks of Joseph & Knibb, a well-known London maker were available at Hamilton Palace whenever the Duchess Anne and her husband Duke William wished to know the time.- Sleser's drawing which depicts the town of Hamilton c. 1691 shows both the Collegiate Church and the Tolbooth. There is not however sufficient detail to allow us to pinpoint their clocks. These clocks however did exist at that time and the ordinary people of Hamilton relied on them. No record of the origin of the Collegiate clock has been found but the  Burgh of Hamilton records containing accounts for the year 1656/ 57 mention the Tolbcoth clock, "Item ane bell, clock and horologe to the Tolbuith and other works thereto conform to the particular account herewith affixed £314.18 Scots".

Alas, the account referred to is missing and we cannot tell from whom  it was received. The Tolbooth had been erected in 1643 and in 1651 there is ·mention of a bell string being purchased so it would appear that the bell of the 1656/7 accounts was not the first. It was again renewed in 1672 when Alexander Mylne, a merchant in Linlithgow was paid £422 Scots for, "ane bell which was new casten in Holland with some addition of weight . . ." Probably the Tolbooth clock required replacement too but of this there is no record. The next mention of matters horological occurs in the year l704 when Thomas Warrander, the painter responsible for the interior decoration at  Hamilton Palace, is paid £32 Scots for gilding the dial plates on the Church Clock.

At the same time a new clock is being installed at the Tolbooth after the turret or steeple had been extended. The clock was supplied by David
Weir, a Glasgow hammerman. Weir's essay when he was admitted to the Incorporation of Hamermen of Glasgow was, "ane hous clock". When he came out to Hamilton however he had to work on a larger scale and it was necessary for him to take over the workshop of Michael Nasmith the local smith for the assembly of his large clock.
While the work was proceeding Michael Nasmith's vice was broken and it cost the Council £4 Sterling for a new one. Weir's clock had four dials and he was paid £198 Scots for it. The Town Council also met the account of Thomas Warrander, "for gilding the new horologe boards with the finest english gold". The total outlays which the Council had to meet amounted to £l063 Scots and this included the cost of wine and ale supplied to the men who helped up with the dial boards!

Hamilton may have had a handsome Town Clock but it was not to prove very reliable. By 1751 the clock and the dial boards were in a very unsatisfactory state, William Tiry, a Hamilton foundsmith had been employed to repair the deck but the Town Council were dissatisfied with the result. The Town treasurer was authorised to communicate with William Telfer, a Glasgow clockmaker, to see if he thought that William Tiry's account for £48 Scots was reasonable. He was also asked to sugest what might be done to avoid further repairs. In his reply Telfer stated that he found some of the articles in the account had been charged more than once and that the account itself was "too overcharged" He suggested that he should come out to Hamilton to inspect the clock.

The Council agreed to this and asked him to submit a quotation for a new brass clock with four minute hands and a timber case at as reasonable a price as possible. This decision was based on Telfer‘s assertion that, "the clock is altogether insufficient and it is not possible to make her a wright going clock and that it takes a considerable yearly expense. After all this talk Telfer did not supply a new clock to replace the old one made of lead and iron. Instead, it was made by Andrew Dickie, a famous clock and sundial maker in Stirling. It was fashioned out of brass and his account. came to £444 Scots. In 1751 the masons Robert Mack and John Henry rehung the bell after the steeple had again been extended. For this they received £237 Scots. Although already committed to the construction of Chatelherault and a new Parish Church, the 5th Duke of Hamilton as principal Heritor, probably met most of the cost. The Town Council were always short  of money! Working on me the steeple was hazardous and John Ferry, the mason and James Burns, the wright, spent several days putting up new dial plates, "to the hazard of their lives". Unable to compensate them with money the Council waived tbe Burgess fines of James Burns' son and John Henry's nephew.

The Counci1's Minute describes the work which was involved. "The  Bailliea and Council being informed that the Cheapest and Easiest way to repair the four Dial Plates on the Tolbuith Steeple will be to cover the same with new Timber, sawn in three. They therefore appoint their Jayler to buy Planks for this purpose and to employ Workmen to join and put on the same and being likewise informed that the Town Magistrates are to be in Glasgow next week they recommend it to them to agree with a Painter to paint and gild the four Dial Plates and agree for their approval and they appoint their Jayler to pay the same when the Work is finished. "

Metal fatigue is no new thing and in 1758 the Council were informed that the bell was cracked! They commissioned John Miln an Edinburgh hammerman to supply a new one. Right from the start this bell was a disaster for it could not be heard except in the immediate vicinity. Miln came through to Hamilton and spent two days, "giving such directions for amending the sound as he thought proper". John Brownlie, a local smith, made some alterations to the tongue of the bell but it was no better. After discussing the matter with the Magistrates Miln returned to Edinburgh and his bell followed him soon after. It was suggested that it be recast but the bell never returned to Hamilton.

The clock had recently been repaired by George Jardin, a Glasgow hammerman and in 1759 Jardin offered to supply the Town with a bell at the rate of eighteen pence per pound English and to allow a discount of ten pence per pound Dutch for the old one. We are tempted to speculate as to whether this old Hamilton bell had been cast in Holland. This offer was accepted by the Council and Jardin was given £31 3s 3d for his bell which seems to have been completely  satisfactory.

For many years it had been the custom for the Town's Officer to be appointed official keeper of the clock. The first of these Officers was Robert Granger who received £24 Scots annually between the years 1710 and 1722 for these duties. This sum was still being paid to John Hepburn in 1757 but in 1761 his emolument had been converted to £2 Sterling which was the same amount! Adam Muir shouldered the responsibility betwem 1762 and 1775 and Robert Henshaw was the recipient of £2 per annum between 1774 and 1776. The Clock did not only need supervision it also required cleaning and periodic maintenance. In addition to those who have been mentioned already, we find that it was given attention by Robert Coats in 1758 and 1760 and again in 1785. William Paterson had received £6 Scots in 1752 and Jo. Jameson, Clockmaker was the recipient of £1 5s 6d in 1789. George Jardin had obtained a twenty year contract from the Council in 1760. With the same responsibility for the clocks of Glasgow he was a busy man

From Marking Time in Hamilton - 300 years of Lanarkshire Clocks and Watches
©1981  William Wallace, Silverton Hill, Hamilton  Reproduced by Kind Permission
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Created before 2012