Sewing Machine Research
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The Sad Tale of the Singer Clock

Singer Clock Tower

WHATEVER happened to the Singer clock?

But hold on, let's start at the beginning - 1885 to be exact - when Singer built its European headquarters at Clydebank, moving from far too small premises in Glasgow.

To signify the wealth and importance of the new factory, a mighty tower was to be built complete with the largest clock the world had ever seen

Although the circular opening in the tower measured 26 feet in diameter, the outer ring around the minute chapters was only 20 feet, the firm's name taking up the six-feet gap around the dial.

The hour chapters, in Roman numerals, were two feet long, the hour hands six feet and the minute hands eight feet six inches.

A massive 23 cwt. cast-iron weight was used to drive the mechanism. This had to be wound to the top of the tower twice each week - on Tuesdays and Saturdays - by a four-strong team which took 15 minutes to complete the task.

Singer Clock Tower

Half-way through the first decade of the new century, larger clock faces were designed to fill the whole of the opening and the name Singer removed to be replaced in plywood above each face. The names were gilded and remained in place until 1928 when they were replaced by illuminated sheet-metal signs.

The faces were originally of obscure glass and in 1907 an attempt was made to light the tower by means of spot lights located on nearby roofs. The clock could be seen six miles distant.

Another attempt was made by positioning gas mantles inside the tower. There were two problems. The mantles had to be placed so as not to cast giant shadows on the faces from the machine but, more importantly, the light given was not enough to penetrate the obscure glass sufficiently to clearly outline the hands.

Then electricity was tried in the same, internal, manner. Although this caused sufficient light, it was patchy and the shadows of the internal machinery could not be over- come. Finally, in 1928, lamps, a total of 145, were fitted to the hands themselves.

During the First World War illumination experiments were curtailed.

At the beginning of World War II all illumination was shut down. The lights went up again in 1946 after being re-conditioned, but within a few weeks a national fuel short- age switched them off again.

Early in 1949 the Singer signs were re-enameled and the clock faces and Singer signs were re-lit in October of that year.

In its later guise the clock faces in the Scottish-baronial-style tower had 26 feet-wide faces, each comprising a five-ton cast-iron frame work. Each of the four-hour hands was 8 feet 9 inches long and the minute hands 12 feet 8 inches long.

The end of the clock came in 1963 when the Clydebank Provost officially threw the switch to stop the mechanism at 5pm on March 15.

And now the mystery, referred to in the opening sentence, starts.

In his speech Provost Downie said that Singer "had continued to prosper and develop. That is why the management has been compelled to move the clock away".

Move it away? Didn't he know it was to be destroyed?

Singer Clock Tower

There were lots of speeches at the shut-down ceremony. Singer's man said: " ..... it (the clock) has been a symbol of friendship that exists among all the people who are citizens in our town. As only seconds remain before I mark the term of our clock's service, I think it right, quietly, for all of us to let the moments tick out as it draws near to the final hour".

Seconds later the plug was pulled. The next day the hands were moved to the 6 o'clock position and in the following weeks the clock tower was demolished with the building below it as "part of area organisation in the interests of production with a smaller labour force."

The aluminum hands were made into souvenir ashtrays and the internal machinery was given to the Town Council to display in the reading room of the Central Library.

I've been to the reading room. The "internalworking" (and we're talking about hefty machinery here, not something one can overlook) was not to be seen. Nor was it in the museum; nor in the museum store.

We're only talking 30 years ago. You can't misplace something like that. So where is that "symbol of friendship" now?

Perhaps someone from Clydebank can tell us.

Graham Forsdyke, ISMACS News, Issue 46