Original clockmakers are hired for Thornton Heath restoration

Six months after an attack by vandals set fire to Thornton Heath’s landmark clocktower, the council has begun work to restore it to its former glory – remarkably, using the same  firm which had made the original clock more than a century ago to replace its destroyed mechanism and clock faces.

Burnt out: the Clocktower at Thornton Heath after an early morning fire gutted the landmark

Thornton Heath Clocktower was erected in 1900 at a cost of £300 – about £48,000 today allowing for inflation. Half of the original cost was paid for out of public subscription.

After standing proudly for 122 years, including surviving Nazi bombing raids during the Blitz, the clock was destroyed and the tower gutted by fire one morning in September last year.

The restoration work in 2023 is to be paid for by the council’s insurers, though no one at the Town Hall is saying what the bill might be.

“Croydon firm Gillett and Johnson,” the press release from the council propaganda department stated, getting the company’s name and location both wrong, “will replace the mechanism along with the four bespoke clock faces, which were all damaged beyond repair.”

The correct name of the company engaged to carry out the restoration work is Gillett and Johnston (Croydon) Ltd, although the parenthetical reference is historical, and the company no longer trades from Croydon premises.

William Gillett founded the company in Kent in the early 19th Century, moving in 1844 to establish their clockmakers and bell foundry works at Union Road, Thornton Heath, where the business would trade for the next 113 years.

World leaders: Gillett and Johnston were known around the globe for their clocks and bell foundry in Thornton Heath, where they were based until 1957

They left Croydon in the late 1950s, so to describe them as a “Croydon firm”, as Mayor Jason Perry and his professional propagandists at the council have done, is deliberately misleading.

The company was hugely successful in the 1920s and 1930s; between 1844 and 1950, more than 14,000 tower clocks were made at the works. One particularly fine example can be seen at the top of Croydon Town Hall. The company lists among its more recent commissions Khartoum University in Sudan, St John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong, the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and the Sandringham Estate.

A successor company to Gillett and Johnston now has operations in Kent and at Bletchingley, Surrey, and the restoration of the Thornton Heath Clocktower has been entrusted to them.

As part of the project, the Clocktower’s stonework is to be cleaned and repaired and the electrical elements replaced, the council says.

“The wooden roof and ornate copper covering will be rebuilt and a new fireproof door will be fitted to prevent a repeat occurrence,” the council said.

The clocktower site used to be known as Walker’s Green, and in 1899 it was suggested as a location for the clocktower by a Councillor Addison, who wrote to Croydon Corporation.

In the council’s press release this week – six months after the arson attack – they unwittingly highlighted how much swifter their Victorian predecessors were to take actions: “Within two weeks of receiving Addison’s letter, plans for the tower had been drawn up by the deputy borough engineer and were approved by the Corporation, which also agreed to meet half the cost of the project.” Thems our italics.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Business, Croydon Council, History, Thornton Heath and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply