Sheffield’s third Town Hall was designed by Edward William Mountford, a London architect, and opened in 1897. Its clock and tower, the face of our city, stands at the north-east corner, over 100ft high and topped with a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking.
The tower is built on a bed of concrete, 30ft square, and 25ft thick; the concrete itself resting on solid rock. At ground level the walls are about five feet thick, and when it was built the strong room for the City Accountant was located here. The dome and spire at the top of the tower are covered with copper.
It was always thought that the tower was made of ‘Stoke’ stone from Stoke Hall Quarry, near Grindleford, but restoration work in 2017 revealed that it was from a long-disused quarry at Walkley.
The Town Hall clock was the work of William Potts and Sons, Leeds, clock makers to Queen Victoria, and was constructed to strike the quarters and hours on heavy bells. However, Sheffield Corporation waited for somebody to show their public spirit and provide the bells – something that never happened – and without it the striking parts of the clock were useless.
The frame of the clock was in one solid casing, planed perfectly flat on the top and bottom surfaces. It rested upon iron girders, supported by stone corbels built into the tower wall, and provided a rigid foundation for good time-keeping.
The large main wheels for the hour and quarter parts were 22 inches and 20 inches in diameter, respectively. The hour main wheel had ten steel cams attached for lifting the hammer to strike the large bell, with the quarter wheel having suitable cams in readiness for the ‘phantom’ bells. The large gong wheel was 20 inches in diameter.
There was special arrangement for accurately discharging both the hour and quarter parts, with set dials showing both seconds and minutes, and was known as the double three-legged gravity, the invention of Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe, the man behind Big Ben’s clock, with the two seconds pendulum compensated for differences of temperature and heavy cylindrical bob.
There were four dials, each 8ft, 6 inches in diameter, formed of skeleton iron castings filled in with opal glass, originally illuminated at night by gas, with suitable reflectors behind. The hands were made of stout copper, counterpoised inside, and the motion wheels were made of hard brass, the teeth cut out of it. The bevel work was carried by light iron girders placed across the clock room, and the whole clock was enclosed in a neat wooden case to keep it clean.
It was not until 2002 that the Town Hall got bells – but nothing as elaborate as once intended. The chimes that now ring out across the city centre comes from an electronic sound-system providing hourly strikes and Westminster-style quarter chimes.
The clock tower was exposed to Sheffield’s pollution and weather for well over a hundred years and had to be restored at a cost of £86,000 in 2017. The original ironwork which had corroded within the structure was exposed and treated and indent repairs were conducted to the ornate carved capitals. Other masonry was repaired and repointed, as necessary. In addition, new rainwater pipes, asphalt floors and gutters were installed. Suitable fine sandstone providing a good match with the original stone was sourced from local suppliers based in Chesterfield.
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