Keeping time: the Town Hall clock

BY CATHERINE TURNER @mscatherinet

Before the wristwatch there was the town clock. It was the centrepiece of community life, heralding every quarter-hour.
Sydney Town Hall’s clock was installed at the top of the building in 1884, just prior to the boom of the wristwatch at the dawn of the 20th century. More than 130 years later the chimes of the clock can still be heard above the din of the traffic noise.

The walk to the top of the clock tower is a long spiral of circular staircases. Their timber frames gradually become creakier and more flexible the further you ascend.
The tower itself, the oldest clock tower in Australia, was completed more than 10 years before the clock was installed. At the time it boasted some of the best views in Sydney. It sits at almost 60 metres above the street on the site of the first European cemetery in Sydney.

As the clock was a source of civic pride the Aldermen of Sydney sought a well-regarded clock maker to provide Sydney with its timepiece. British company Gillett, Bland & Co, who had installed clocks in Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and the Royal Courts, were chosen.

In 1912 the proprietor of the hotel that once stood opposite Town Hall complained that the noise of the clock was damaging his business, preventing his patrons from getting a good night’s sleep.
Chimes ring out every fifteen minutes and a bell is sounded every hour. Each of the four clock faces on the tower point north, south, east and west. Originally the clock faces were lit by gas burners with eight burners lighting each face.

 
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