A Brief History of St Day Town Clock
Maps and surveys dated 1772/7 describe the Market Square area of St Day in Cornwall as ‘St Day Green’. In 1797 the first market buildings were erected and these, together with what may be railings can be seen on maps of this era. Lysons, writing in 1814, recorded that: “a market on Saturdays, for ‘butchers’ meat and other provisions’, was established a few years ago by Mr Williams for the accommodation of the miners”. By 1826 more buildings had been added, forming a quadrangle of building surrounding an open market place, which at that time was known as ‘Harvey’s court’. The market place was an enclosed area, later described as being “protected by iron railings”.
In 1831 a "neat stone tower, with a lock-house", the Town Clock we know today, was erected in the market place at an expense of £400. Although there is no mention of the clock, it seems likely that it was part of the original design. The clock was certainly in place by 1845 as William Francis refers to it in his lengthy poem ‘Gwennap’.
The market was a lively place. In 1844 the constables had to ask magistrates to impose closing times for the market: 10pm in summer, 9pm in winter. The following year a “mob of 500 people” threatened a bailiff trying to repossess the goods of stall-holder. In 1851 Elizabeth Evans was given six months hard labour for stealing a pair of shoes from William Mill’s stall in St Day Market.
By 1851 the clock was in disrepair. Richard Harvey was refusing permission for anyone to enter the tower to fix it and an anonymous poem was published in West Briton pleading for access.
To add to the tower’s woes, around 1855 the cupola was damaged by a lightening strike. In the 1850-60s the town clock and bell remained "a long time idle”. A letter in the local press on the state of St Day in 1869 refers to “a clock tower, built in humble imitation of one not a great way off, but whose clock has been sadly attended to, judging from the mournful tones from time to time in the county papers”. The other clock tower ‘not a great way off’ refers to Redruth Town Clock, built a few years earlier than St Day’s.
The situation was not resolved until Richard Harvey died in 1870. The lease of the market buildings reverted to one of the Lords of the Manor, Mr Chichester. The following year a public meeting was held at the Temperance Hall where it was decided to restore clock. Mr Chichester granted access and contributed to the fund. St Day carpenter John Letcher replaced the cupola, and the clock was restored by local clock and watchmakers, John Veale and Edward Newton. The St Day Clock Committee was formed, later becoming the St Day Clock and Lamp Committee.
Meanwhile the market itself had it up and downs. Robert Keast, a butcher from Illogan was fined at Penryn petty sessions in 1870 for ‘unjust scales’ at St Day Market. In 1877 there were complaints that the market still trading until midnight. But in 1881 a visitor to St Day described: “the deserted market-stalls on which the weather-stained clock-tower looks down, - regretfully one would say but that the clock’s hands are regilded and gleam hopefully…”. By 1882 trade had revived. Writing in 1889 Herbert Thomas recalled: “On Saturday nights the streets were impassable… The two market-houses were packed full of the commodities in demand for housewives”, then notes further decline: “The streets were empty indeed… Even the old town clock’s striking seemed like a funeral knell in a churchyard as the sound reverberated over the desolate place.” However, he reported that things had improved in recent years. In 1891 the Market Toll book recorded an “annual clock subscription of £1.1s per annum”.
By 1897 the older parts of the market place had fallen out of use. The roofs had gone on “the old Market House at St Day, which adjoins the present one” and the area was being encroached upon. There were concerns about saving the site for the inhabitants, with the parish council (at that time Gwennap PC) debating who owned the old market-house. That year the St Day Lamp and Clock Committee reported a £5 deficit. Despite this the market area was used in the Queen’s jubilee celebrations, with the old potato market referred to as ‘Victoria Square’. Nonetheless the decline continued. In 1906 an editorial in The Cornishman noted: “St Day was an important mining town and market town when Redruth and Camborne were struggling villages. Now the grass grows in St Day market house, and the stalls are rotten and unused.” By 1909 the market area was described as long disused, it gates “old and in disrepair”. Gwennap Parish Council declined to adopt it as open space for residents.
While the market declined around it, the Town Clock tower was revived. £100 was raised for its restoration around 1905. Mr T.R. Tripp collected from St Day miners in South Africa, including Edward Dunn and Arthur Strauss who sent a guinea. Donations and support came from the Williams family of Scorrier. It is probable that St Day was given the cupola and bell from the modified Redruth clock tower at this time.
In 1918 the St Day Town Clock became the venue for Remembrance Day, and the following year fundraising began for the war memorial. The sale of the roof and doors of the Market Square shed contributed to the fundraising. Major John Williams of Scorrier House led the project and the Williams family paid for the granite and woodwork. Mrs John Williams designed the structure, which was built by local builder Mr Sandoe, with J.H. Arthur & R. Tripp as clerks of works.
By the 1930s the St Day Community Council was responsible for the maintenance of clock and paid £5 a year to have the clock “wound-up and oiled periodically”. Around 1933 W.J Mills offered £125 “to ensure preservation of the clock”, and paid for the building of the ornamental walls and the planting around the tower. Shortly after that responsibility for the building passed to Gwennap Parish Council.
Around 1946 the Second World War tablet was added to the war memorial. By this time responsibility for maintenance of the clock had passed to Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council. The clock mechanism was found to be ‘beyond repair’ and replacement with an electric one recommended. In February 1948 Herbert Thomas (the newspaper proprietor born in St Day) presented the town with the electric clock at a cost £265.
Thing appears to have ticked along quite happily for some year after that, (but if anyone has any stories about the clock or tower in later years, please do get in touch). We know that Vivian Vanstone has responsibility for restarting the clock as necessary around 1980. In 1986 the wrought-iron gates were added to war memorial by St Day Parish Council to protect it from vandalism.
By 1991 the tower was in need of repair again. The cupola was lifted off by helicopter and the pillars replaced. In 2001 it was lifted off again, this time by crane, for further repairs. At that time the building was in the care of Kerrier District Council, with responsibility passing to Cornwall Council in 2009.
In 2014 ownership of the Town Clock and War Memorial Building passed from Cornwall Council to St Day Parish Council and the current works began. This has included extensive renovation work on the building, including having new windows fitted, the clock faces restored, stonework repaired and repointed, and the clock motor reconditioned and updated.