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Back to the Future or stay in the past?


By David G Scott


THURSO citizens might think they are stuck in time – at five minutes to seven, to be precise.

The source of the error – apart from on two occasions throughout the day – is the clock tower of St Peter’s and St Andrew’s Church in Princes Street which stopped running after reportedly being hit by lightning during a recent storm.

The clock at St Peter's and St Andrew's church in Thurso stopped after being hit by lightning thinks a local community activist. Picture: Alexander Glasgow
The clock at St Peter's and St Andrew's church in Thurso stopped after being hit by lightning thinks a local community activist. Picture: Alexander Glasgow

Community activist Alexander Glasgow witnessed the moment lightning struck in the area and believes it caused time to stand still at the 19th-century clock tower.

"I was at the window of my flat watching the whole of Thurso caught in torrential rain and forked lightning came down around where the clock tower is sited," he said. "I tweeted about it at 6.58pm and that's just after the time the clock actually stopped working."

Mr Glasgow had a spectacular view of the storm from his top-floor flat in the Mount Pleasant area of the town on the evening of August 5. "I'm situated at one of the highest points overlooking the town. Strangely, my area was actually bathed in brilliant sunshine at the time of the storm."

Thurso community activist Alexander Glasgow. Picture: DGS
Thurso community activist Alexander Glasgow. Picture: DGS

Mr Glasgow drew parallels with the 1985 science fiction comedy blockbuster Back to the Future in which a town hall clock has been inactivated by lightning and is stuck at 10.04.

The film involves time travellers harnessing the power of a lightning strike to send them back to their present day after they get stuck in 1955 when the clock originally stopped. Marty McFly and Doc Brown need the power to speed their DeLorean car's "flux capacitor" which is central to its ability to time travel.

"At least if a time traveller was stuck in Thurso last weekend, they'd know how where to generate the 1.21 gigawatts necessary to power their flux capacitor," Mr Glasgow said.

A jocular graphic by Alexander Glasgow based on comedy scifi classic Back to the Future in which the town clock sticks after being hit by lightning.
A jocular graphic by Alexander Glasgow based on comedy scifi classic Back to the Future in which the town clock sticks after being hit by lightning.

Joking aside, he said there is a "pressing issue" with regard to who actually is responsible for the maintenance of the clock. Achscrabster man Bill Brown (no relation to Doc Brown from the film) had kept the 1836-dated mechanism in working order and regularly wound it up until the mechanical clock went over to electrical control two years ago.

Speaking at the time of the changeover in July 2017 Mr Brown said: “This system will be the most modern available, will keep correct time, even automatically changing the hour in spring and autumn. The strike on the bell will also be retained, so there will be no difference felt by the townspeople.”

Bill Brown regularly wound up the clock mechanism for many years until it went electric two years ago. Picture: DGS
Bill Brown regularly wound up the clock mechanism for many years until it went electric two years ago. Picture: DGS

However, Mr Glasgow thinks that the older mechanism would probably have survived the lightning strike.

"I think the motherboard for the electrical system needs replaced after being burnt out by the lightning strike but there is a question as to who is responsible for replacing it," he said.

"The clock was gifted to the people of Thurso and it was historically the town council who looked after it. Highland Council inherited the work of the town council but, though technically responsible, they don't seem to be interested in doing anything about the clock."

He went on to say that alternative ways of sourcing funding to replace the system's motherboard are being looked into.

St Peter’s and St Andrew’s Church was opened in 1833 and the clock and gardens in front of the church were a gift from Sir Tollemache Sinclair.



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