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Thurso clock repaired in time for 2020


By David G Scott


HOGMANAY revellers in Thurso's Sir John's Square can now take in the bells at the end of the month with the repair of the town clock finally being completed on Tuesday.

Community activist Alexander Glasgow witnessed a lightning strike in the town centre on August 5 and quickly realised it was the source of the problem for the clock on St Peter’s and St Andrew’s Church in Princes Street – which was stuck in time at five minutes to seven.

The moment lightning hit the church was captured in video footage. This frame grab from the footage clearly shows the strike on the tower.Picture: Ali Elder
The moment lightning hit the church was captured in video footage. This frame grab from the footage clearly shows the strike on the tower.Picture: Ali Elder

On that same evening, Ali Elder was sitting with his wife in his van filming the storm over Thurso when he just happened to capture the same lightning strike as witnessed by Mr Glasgow.

"My wife and I were sitting up at Harold's Tower, at Thurso East, filming the lightning and got a couple of strikes," Mr Elder said.

It was only when his wife Lynn mentioned to him that the town clock had stopped while they were parked up that he checked the video and found the exact moment lightning struck the tower. He then took that frame grab of the video and made a still image from it.

Since that moment in August, the town clock – gifted to the people of Thurso by Sir Tollemache Sinclair in the 19th century – ceased to operate along with the bell.

The clock at St Peter's and St Andrew's Church in Thurso stopped after being hit by lightning on the evening of August 5 this year.Picture: Alexander Glasgow
The clock at St Peter's and St Andrew's Church in Thurso stopped after being hit by lightning on the evening of August 5 this year.Picture: Alexander Glasgow

The Rev David Malcolm, minister at the church, said this led to the unfortunate circumstance on Remembrance Sunday when the 11am silence could not be timed against the clock. The problem of getting it repaired was compounded by the fact that ownership of the clock – and hence responsibility for it – could not easily be established.

"The clock itself doesn't belong to the church," Mr Malcolm explained. "It was donated to the community along with the gardens in Sir John's Square.

"When there were problems with the clock in the 1980s, Dounreay apprentices completely rebuilt the mechanism as a gift to the community."

He said that when he contacted Highland Council regarding the issue of responsibility he was told that it was not a straightforward question to answer.

"When someone gifts something to the community, who do they actually gift it to? Who has ownership of the item? That was the grey area that we fell into with the clock," said the minister.

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

He said that a regional daily newspaper had "erroneously" reported that the reason the clock was never repaired was because the "church could not afford it".

He went on: "That was a lot of rubbish and I don't know where they got that. Myself and the council were actually in a dialogue to resolve the matter."

Eventually, it was decided that the church would cover the electrical costs of running the clock while the council would take responsibility for upkeep of the mechanism.

Mr Malcolm said he had been asked many times by local people when the clock would be repaired.

"It really demonstrated how important the clock was to the town and how people felt really sentimental about it."

With the clock up and running now, Mr Malcolm said he wanted to send out a debt of gratitude to Highland Council for helping resolve the matter and repairing the clock.

"I'm really pleased it'll be back up and running for the New Year celebrations."

Thurso community activist Alexander Glasgow who pushed to have the clock repaired.Picture: DGS
Thurso community activist Alexander Glasgow who pushed to have the clock repaired.Picture: DGS

Mr Glasgow said that he had also pushed to resolve the matter but it was Mr Malcolm's "perseverance" with the council that settled it eventually.

He said: "I understand their [the council's] electricians replaced the damaged equipment and paid for by the ward discretionary fund – ownership will be accepted by Highland Council now."

He added that he was delighted "the bongs" will sound at Hogmanay.

Mr Glasgow had previously drawn parallels with the fictional town clock featuring in the 1985 science fiction comedy blockbuster Back to the Future – which was also inactivated by lightning and stuck at 10.04.

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.Picture: Alexander Glasgow
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.Picture: Alexander Glasgow

Joking aside, he pointed out that the Thurso library clock was also out of action now.

"It appears to be the result of a power cut and I raised this with ward councillors who tell me it's being taken forward by the relevant department."

Back to the Future or stay in the past?



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