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St. Ann’s Bay: Older than London’s 153 year-old Big Ben, the St. Ann’s Bay clock, built in 1814, is ticking again.
For eight years, the hands on the three-faced clock stood still, and it was then residents realized how much they depended on this landmark for their daily time management.
Five years ago the St. Ann’s Bay Improvement Committee was formed with “Rally Round The Clock” as their first major fundraising project. With an $850,000 repair tab, the committee was determined to have the clock working in time for its 200th anniversary in 2014.
Major donations by the Local Government, Parish Council, Berger Paints, and those given by residents, as well as numerous fundraising by the Committee, still saw a shortfall of $280,000. A successful application to the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) Foundation took care of the shortfall.
Saffrey Brown, General Manager of the JNBS Foundation said it was important that the cultural preservation of historical landmarks such as the St. Ann’s Bay clock be supported.
“We had to support the effort of this Committee to ensure that such a significant edifice continues to be functional for the people of St. Ann’s Bay,” Miss Brown stated, yesterday as she met with Committee members by the clock.
A sentiment supported by Ms. Jennifer Martin, board member of the Foundation who was so intrigued by the history of the clock that she has agreed to assist in getting some additional information on its transfer from England to its current home.
“We have to preserve these important landmarks as we have lost the one (clock) in Ocho Rios to fire,” Ms. Martin stated.
Built by the famous clock marker John Whitehurst 11 of Derby, the clock was donated by the Moulton Barrett family to the town.
“It is believed that it was taken from one of their estates in England as it was not new,” Mrs. Cynthia Graham, President of the Committee stated on what her research has unearthed to date.
Distinct etchings on the clock has the “1814” manufactured date and the “Whitehurst” and “Derby” identity of the maker and place, respectively.
“This is the Rolls Royce of clocks,” Ms. Graham proudly stated, adding that there is a poem written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Ode to the St. Ann’s Bay Clock.” The Committee is trying to get a copy of the original, which is part of a private collection here in Jamaica, she pointed out.
This towering 20 feet clock, located at the corner of Main and Market Streets, as an annex to the busy market, across from the Baptist Church was no accident of history. Ms. Graham pointed out that the spot is where slaves from Drax Hall in the East and Seville in the West and all surrounding communities used to meet to barter and sell their wares as well as go to church.
The clock still stands as the focal point for this bustling town and “under the clock” continues to be the meeting place for residents of the birthplace of National Hero Marcus Mosiah Gravey, whose childhood home on upper Market Street has a clear view of its northern face.
The St. Ann’s Bay clock is known for keeping accurate time as it is wound weekly by the town’s time keeper, Mr. Philip Martin. Lights on each face make for easy readings at nights.
Vendors, Denise White, Sandra Lugg and Sonia Towers, in the upper section of the market, who literally sell under the clock (the entrance is in the market), are happy that the clock is working but disappointed that it is not striking. “When the clock was repaired it would make this loud bong! bong! sound and we would know the time,” said Towers. “Now we have to go outside and look up or ask someone on the outside to give us the time,” added Lugg.
White grew up with the sound of the clock and learned from early to count the “bongs” to know the time, without looking up. “Not everybody can read the time but you can always count, that is why we need the striking sound,” she added.
For Mr. Dennis Hickings, Chairman of the St. Ann’s Bay Heritage Committee, the clock is one of the most important heritage monuments in the parish and that is why it is featured on the front page of their brochure. “We miss the chime everyone, even the fishermen, would know what time it is when they are at sea as the sound travels far.”
On Emancipation Day, August 1, 1838, when the clock struck midnight, the slaves from surrounding estates took their shackles and branding items and buried them in the cemetery of the neighbouring Baptist church. And again, in 1962 at the stroke of midnight, the British Union Jack was lowered and the back, green and gold of independent Jamaica rose on the flag staff across from the clock.
One Million dollars
Will the clock strike again? That is the million dollar question. The price tag to get the intricate rope cable dual mechanism functional is estimated to cost over a million dollars. The other question is why is the clock not listed as one of Jamaica’s national heritage sites?