20 June 2024

‘It’s more than just a clock – it’s what it stands for’

by Rebecca Hannant

The group behind plans to restore Withernsea’s war memorial clock has urged local people to “know the facts” after some took to social media to criticise the project and question the funding shortfall that was announced last week.

Work has now begun on the Second World War clock at St Nicholas Church, with experts Smith of Derby removing the inner workings and three of the four sets of hands.

In recent months the project has received several donations including £25,000 from Withernsea Big Local and £5,000 from the War Memorial Trust, as well as from individuals across the Withernsea community.

However, because there is a shortfall of £5,000, the organisers decided to have just the inner workings and hands restored. The clock faces will be left in their current condition unless the additional funds can be raised.

A plea on social media for help to plug the funding gap met with a mixed reaction, with some people likening the project to the doomed pier project, whose organising group disbanded last year before any construction work could take place.

All recorded donations were offered to be returned, but money raised from bucket collections that could not be traced back to donors has been put into other local causes.

The collapse of the pier project has left some residents wary of giving their money to similar local causes.

However, Darrin Stevens, organiser of the war memorial clock appeal, was keen to stress that work had actually started and the project was moving forward successfully despite the funding shortfall.

He said that the cost of the restoration related to the highly specialised work that needs to be carried out. Smith of Derby are experts in the restoration of antique clocks that are often found at the top of historical buildings.

Darrin added that the project could proceed in two ways – the current allocation of funds will ensure the hands and inner workings are restored and new technology will also allow the clock to self-adjust. However, if the additional £5,000 was raised, it would pay for a full restoration including the clock faces.

He said: “Bits are being made, cleaned and swapped out. But we’re also future-proofing the clock for the next 80 years. The fewer people who interfere with the clock as in maintenance, winding, etc, the less damage will be caused to the clock.

“In 1947, the people of Withernsea used top quality, they didn’t penny-pinch, and I am not going to penny-pinch, either.”

Some people questioned the need to restore the clock – as well as who owns it.

In response to this, Darrin said: “People don’t know who owns the clock. I think this is the problem here. The people of Withernsea own the clock, not the town council and not the church. The church clock was paid for by the Withernsea people in 1945.”

In 1945, a letter was sent to the people of the town by Rev Passmore.

Darrin added: “From this letter, the people of Withernsea raised £532 in two weeks (the equivalent of £29,000 in today’s money) to remember the people and families who were killed in the Second World War. From the original donation list in 1945, it was mostly women who gave up to £10, which is equivalent to a week’s wages today.

“My grandad served in the war. I’ve got friends who are 101 years old who were Spitfire pilots, but they’re not going to be here for much longer.

“I lost a friend a couple of years ago who was 94 years old. He was a sergeant in the tank regiment of the Scots Guards. You’ve got the sister of Edith Cavell working in this town during that period. Don’t tell me that we should not remember.”

The clock, made by Charles Potts, is one of the last of its kind remaining in the area. It is hoped that it will be repaired in time for the 80th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 2025.

Darrin added: “People can criticise as much as they like, but they must understand that for some people who still live here, that’s their uncles, their fathers, their brothers. It’s more than just a plaque and it’s more than just a clock. It’s what it stands for.

“I would say that, until you know the facts and the bigger picture, come and talk to us, rather than just putting it out there that you think we’re bad project managers, or we don’t know what we’re doing.”

Withernsea Town Council issued a statement in response to some of the comments on social media, saying it was the “custodian trustee” of the clock trust and remained ultimately responsible for the restoration and fundraising.

The statement said: “Further to our previous published information and to address some speculation on social media, we feel we need to clarify the situation regarding the renovation work to the Town War Memorial Clock. Withernsea Town Council remains the custodian trustee of the Withernsea Town War Memorial Clock Trust.

“In 2022 a working group was set up to look at a major project to renovate the Town War Memorial Clock on St Nicholas Church. The town council has applied for, and obtained, grant funding from Withernsea Big Local’s Investing in Withernsea Fund, the War Memorial Trust, the town council, and other local organisations have kindly contributed.

“In addition, there are regular fundraising events in St Nicholas Church and donations from members of the public.

“The town council remains responsible for the project and the finances. The working group members have worked hard to bring this project to a reality.”

A second project called Time to Reflect will also run alongside the restoration. This will include a public display of historical documents detailing the origins of the clock and those who donated in 1945.

A doll’s house view has also been created of the clock including the clock room and the bell tower. For the first time, the public will be able to go online and be taken on a 360-degree tour of the clock’s inner workings.

To support the clock restoration, donations can be sent to the Withernsea Town War Memorial Clock Trust, sort code 30-12-86, account number 21212460.

The Friends of St Nicholas will also open the church next week and invite the public to come along and discuss the ongoing project.