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Monday, 25 May 2015

The town where time stood still

MILLOM’S Market Square clock has been stuck at 20 to eight since before Christmas but it is not the first occasion where the hands of time have been frozen for several months.

The last time was just over 50 years ago, when the town faced major expense to restore the clock tower before it fell down.

It resulted in a reconstruction project which lowered the tower by a good 20 feet, meaning it could no longer be seen from all over the town.

First news of the problem was announced in the Evening Mail of November 26, 1958, which noted: “One of Millom’s most prominent landmarks – the rural council’s clock tower – is in danger of becoming a leaning tower.

“So workmen have propped up the 70ft tower with strong wooden supports until the council decides what action to take.

“The trouble with the building, which is more than 70 years old, is that in common with other structures in the town it has no proper foundations. It is built directly on surface sand.

“The council can do one of three things. It can pull down the tower altogether; it can reduce the tower to about half its present height; or it can stiffen and strengthen the present structure.

“But the latter scheme would probably involve an expenditure of about £10,000. Before the council makes a decision the opinion of Millom parish council is being sought.

“Mr J Hankey, surveyor and chief public health inspector to the council, will lose his office if the tower is pulled down.

“He said today: ‘Vibration from passing traffic has probably caused the tower to sink on its foundations. The slate stonework is deteriorating rapidly’.”

Immediate safety precautions have been taken following the examination of the tower.

“A report said: ‘It cannot be over-emphasised that this stonework is in a very critical condition and is a grave danger to the public’.”

Newspapers next took up the story on January 25, 1960 – more than a year after the tower was ready to fall down at any minute.

It noted: “Millom people are becoming used to seeing one of the town’s oldest and most prominent landmarks enmeshed in a web of scaffolding.

“The landmark is, of course, the 75ft high, 70-year-old rural district council clock tower in Millom Market Square.

“Preliminary work – the erection of the scaffolding and the building of wooden shelters and tunnels leading to the council offices and a factory housed beneath the tower – began on January 4.

“In November 1958 it was found that the structure was in danger of becoming ‘the leaning tower of Millom’. It was then propped up with wooden struts.

“In February 1959 the rural district council approved a plan to repair the clock tower at a cost of almost £7,000.

“Part of the existing tower will be taken down and the structure will be built up to the roof level of the main council building and will be surmounted by a copper dome and clock.

“An application was made to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in September of last year for sanction for a loan needed to carry out the work.

“The scaffolding erection is not quite finished, a spokesman for the contractors said, but when completed the tower will be practically ready for demolition.

“About 20 men will be employed and it is expected it will take about five months to complete.”