Time passes but the old clock still stands tall

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It’s been 40 years since its chimes rang out across Queens Square but that hasn’t stopped people dreaming the old clock on stilts could be brought back to Crawley.

The clock stood in Queens Square between 1965 and 1973, having been unveiled by Sir Thomas Bennett on Saturday November 6 1965.

Crawley History: Queens Square clock

Crawley History: Queens Square clock

Whenever it struck the hour, the chimes played the theme from the film Genevieve and a series of electrically operated veteran car rally scenes were displayed.

The chimes were switched off between 10pm and 8am to avoid waking people up overnight – a tad optimistic as, according to townsfolk of the time, the clock always seemed to be broken!

That minor fact hasn’t stopped it from becoming the stuff of nostalgic fondness.

And, when Steve Mockler posted photos of the clock as it is today onto the Facebook site, Memories of Crawley, he prompted a tidal wave of calls for it to be brought back to town.

Danny Styles said: “It’s part of our town’s history. Too often too many things are lost over time. Here we have an opportunity to save some of our history - we would regret it if we didn’t take the chance.”

Anne Okapi added: “It would be nice to see it back in Crawley (and working).

“I propose putting it in the High Street so we could see it surrounded by the real veteran cars when they come through in November.”

Not everyone felt its return would be appropriate.

John Sturtivant said: “Personally,because of frequent breakdowns etc,it was not a feature for very long. So to me, not really part of the history.”

As for the clock itself, according to county council records, the design was put forward by Miss Diane Hillman, a member of the New Towns Commission architectural staff.

It cost £2,880 – almost as much as a house at the time – stands 27 feet tall, weighs two tons and took three years to build.

The clock was provided and paid for by the New Towns Commission and was made by Messrs Thwaites & Reed Ltd, of London.

The London to Brighton theme was suggested by chief architect, Mr HS Howgrave-Graham in recognition of Crawley’s status as an official stopping point for cars on the Veteran Car Run, which had passed through the town every year since 1896.

The council moved the clock from Queens Square to Tilgate Park in 1973 before being bought by John Drew, of Redhill, in July 1975 for £300.

It has stood on his property ever since.

Mr Drew, 60, went to Crawley College in 1969/70 and worked in the town.

He said: “I knew the mayor at the time and the council said they would sell it.

“Then we were told it had gone to an American. He pulled out and it was dumped up in Tilgate Forest so we came and got it.”

Mr Drew said he would be happy to see the clock returned to Crawley.

But returning the clock to town wouldn’t be as simple as paying £300 and sending a van to fetch it – the cost to repair and install it would be well over £100,000.

A spokesman for Crawley Borough Council said: “We investigated how much it would cost to repair the clock and consulted with Crawley Museum Society regarding its historical significance.

“Unfortunately, a fully refurbished clock would cost £123,000 and even a repair using replacement parts would cost £50,000. In addition, installation would cost between £4,000 and £6,000.

“While it may have been an interesting addition to Queens Square, many residents who remember the clock tell us that it rarely told the correct time and that the Genevieve-style cars – the prime attraction – were removed.”

Helen Poole, curator at Crawley Museum, echoed the council’s reservations and added: “Sadly the only potential repairers were frightened off by the scale of the problem.

“As it doesn’t really fit into the ideas for The Tree, we decided not to pursue it, especially when rather large sums of money started to be mentioned.

“The general view is that if it goes anywhere in Crawley, it should go back into Queen’s Square, but with the changes in the configuration it is difficult to know where it would fit best.”