Clocks at the Canterbury Museum Christchurch N.Z.

For horologists, museums offer some incredible treasures. The Canterbury Museum is no exception. On entering, one walks a replica street scene of Christchurch retailers from the late 1800’s. The jeweller’s shop, G Coates & Co. has a superb display of clocks and pocket watches.


Giles Coates had been well trained by his father (also Giles), a reputed clockmaker from Chedworth in Gloucester England. In 1850 Giles aged 43 emigrated to NZ and set up a shop in Bridge Street Nelson. Moving to Christchurch in 1857 he opened a jeweller’s shop at 218 Colombo Street – the museum shop frontage a copy of this original building. Besides clocks and watches, Giles also sold surveying and draughting equipment, optical and silver goods, barometers and precious stones.

A wide range of clock and watch types are featured in the window. From an impressive barometer clock with four sub-dials to cover days, weeks, months and the time to skeleton, wall, mantle and calendar clocks, this is a wonderful display. I have room for only a few.

What makes this shop special is to find displayed a link to the owner - a quality 2m tall regulator made by Giles Coates of London (probably Giles senior).


English Clock Systems Ltd.

A snap dated 1950 of the ECS Showroom

This company started in 1936 as Synchro Time Systems Ltd. installing and maintaining public clocks. In 1939 they became English Clock Systems Ltd, the Industrial branch of Smiths English Clocks Ltd. manufacturing a complete range of timekeeping equipment essential for office and factory. In 1948 their Head Office and Showrooms at Speedometer House, 179 Great Portland Street, London opened.


Whilst holidaying in NZ, I came across two ECS Ltd. public clocks that bear a striking resemblance to the two hanging from the ceiling shown in the 1950 Ad. The first was a square double-sided synchronous ECS wall clock on the 1923 Bradford House building in Motueka. It was operated by a recently acquired electronic Gents Master clock.


The other found at Culverdon near Christchurch was a round ECS double-sided public clock hanging on the front of the now vacant 1929 Amuri Council building. The clock has not run for years and there is no record of the whereabouts or maker of the master.


Motueka NZ - The Rothmans Clock Tower, Motueka's Most Recognisable Landmark.

Motueka a town of 7000 people at the Northern end of the South Island of NZ is a place for seasonal workers picking apples and kiwifruit and for tourists with its beautiful beaches and National Parks. At the entry to this township is an eye-catching structure – the bright blue Rothmans Tower. Recently restored to operating order, it features a 4-dial Gent’s synchronous clock.

Harking back to the 1930’s/40’s, Motueka had a thriving tobacco industry. In 1950 the owner of the main tobacco factory Gerhard Husheer gifted to the town this clock tower. In 1955 Rothmans bought his factory and added their name to the tower. When the industry closed in 1995 as the demand for tobacco had declined, the clock tower was left to deteriorate.


Then in June 2010 this clock tower, considered by many an eye-sore, was to be bulldozed. On demolition day a Clock Tower Trust stepped in and agreed to pay $150,000 for the small parcel of land with tower. Restoration followed included painting the tower in the old Rothmans blue colour, stabilising the tower walls and wiring in a new electronic master from Germany. I was given the chance to climb this 12m tower.


Motueka unearths some more intriguing old clocks -


The main street features many old buildings. Westrupp Jewellers, who occupy Bedford House, feature a working double-sided square Smiths English Systems clock. These synchronous electric clocks were produced in Cricklewood, London from 1931 - 1955. Inside above the doorway was the master – a recently acquired Gents electronic unit from Europe.


On the Guthrie Bowron building, once the Post Office and Telephone Exchange, is a working double dial Gents Synchronous clock. The master inside was recently bought from Europe and unavailable for viewing. The original master for this clock I was told was a Gents pul-syn-etic. A signal from Wellington’s DSIR atomic clock was sent daily at 9am to the NZ Post Office network and then these Gents electric impulse clocks could re-set to the correct time.


Railway Station Tower Clock in Christchurch NZ - Preservation and Restoration - Keeping Alive the Past.


On a jeweller's shopfront in Nelson is a working double dial synchronous clock that was once hanging from the Christchurch Station's main platform.


Built in 1960 this Station lasted only 30 years as falling patronage made it uneconomic. Taken over in 1990 by Hoyts theatre and a Science Alive Interactive Museum, new life was breathed into it. In Sept. 2010 at 4.35pm a magnitude 7.1 earthquake stopped the 4 tower clocks. Cracks can be spotted in the brick work. Repairs to 3 of the clocks were made in November, but the 12.51 pm February 22 magnitude 6.3 quake in 2011 rendered the whole building unsafe. It was demolished in 2012. 

Preservation of two of these dials has occurred at Quake City – an interactive museum built in 2017 allowing people to see the impacts of the quakes. Two of the 2m dials can be found in the main office set to the exact time of each quake. 


This Gents NZR ‘slave’ is typical of the many small impulse wall clocks once found in the rooms/offices of NZ railway stations. 


The other two dials are now featured at Riverside Markets built in 2019. Here they have been restored to a working condition, one on the outside and one inside. Both have had new synchronous movements added.


Grace Bros Broadway in Sydney with Clock Towers.   Thanks to Christina for providing these pictures.

Two English brothers, Joseph and Albert Grace migrated from England to Sydney in 1883. They soon began to build what was to become a highly successful Australian Company. After setting up several small retail businesses, they erected a new five-storey building with a clock tower and on top a glass and steel globe bearing the company name. 

Old Grace Bros..jpg

In 1926 another building with a duplicate clock tower was added. These stores were vacated in 1992, restored, and now are used for a retail and cinema complex and for student accommodation. Visible from most parts of Sydney, these globes became famous for promoting the Grace name.


They were 4.2m in diameter, made of opal glass and supported by bronze griffens - illuminated at night by the firms privately owned and operated electricity plant. This power source also operated the large clocks. Originally the globes were filled with water to drive the hydraulic lifts. The current globes without the Grace name replaced the original ones in 1998.

The Lyttelton Time Ball in N.Z.

The very first Time Ball was erected in England in 1829 at Portsmouth. Greenwich was next in 1833. A time ball station consisted of a tower containing a regulator clock with a ball at the top that was dropped at 1pm. Ships anchored in the port used this to regulate their ships chronometer so ensuring accurate navigation.

Lyttelton, the port for Christchurch, nestling in an extinct volcanic crater, was a key launching point for Antarctic expeditions. The time ball built here in 1876, operated to 1934, and then lay disused to 1983 when a ten year restoration project brought it back to working order.  


The original clock used at this station was made by E. Dent (of Big Ben fame). At 1pm the clocks electrical system triggered the dropping of the ball. This system was used to 1916 when the clock was retired and replaced by a telegraph signal from Wellington.

The ball and hoisting mechanism was made by Siemen Brothers of Germany. It was a 1½m hollow zinc sphere along with a hand wound rack and pinion mechanism to hoist the ball up a 3m wooden mast.


From 1993, the time ball was back in action and it became an on-site interactive museum attracting many tourists. Visitors could stand very close to the ball to watch it fall. Sadly, in 2010/11 nature intervened. A series of three major earthquakes reduced it to rubble.


In 2017 work began to rebuild this station – total cost a tad over NZ$3million. It was only the tower re-built using the original local scoria blocks. Digital scanning of the tower had been done before the total collapse and so an accurate reconstruction was possible. It is now run by a computerised system which releases the ball daily at 1pm. The new time ball station was officially opened in November 2018.


The Edmunds Clock Tower in Christchurch NZ

This two-dial time only clock (the other two dials have sculptures) sits atop a 14m tower on the Avon river bank at Oxford Terrace. It was erected in 1929 with a donation of £5000 from Thomas Edmund of Edmunds baking powder fame to celebrate 50 years of business. The donated money went to the River Bank Improvement Scheme which built the clock tower, a telephone/drinking booth and a band rotunda. Halfway up the tower are the words peace, faith, hope and charity etched into the sandstone sides. It has had extensive restoration since the 2010/11 earthquakes.


Paul’s trip to NSW and Victoria uncovered many Public Clocks.

The Echuca Post Office. A town of 13,000 on the Murray river, was in the late 1800’s a key inland river port and rail junction. Today, Echuca is famous for having the world’s largest fleet of operating paddle steamers.

Here another outstanding two-storey Post Office can be seen. Built in 1879 for £12,000, it has a 20.7m bell tower. The bell weighing about 250kg, was cast by Harwood’s at Echuca and was then the largest ever cast in the Colony. The four-dial clock was made by the Joseph Brothers in Melbourne. Again, this clock has needed attention over the years leading to its conversion to electric in the 1970’s. In 2000, the clocks dials were not in sync – the problem was found to be birds nesting on the clock hands!


In 2012 major work was carried out by Stephen Young with a new drive system powered by a 12-volt battery to ensure the clock continued during power stoppages. Also the time can be changed with a remote control and the bell is linked to the clock which now strikes the correct number on the hour (previously it struck 3 times every hour).


Australia Post sold the building in 2001 - now luxury apartments with a café/restaurant. The clock still functions though it was not striking.

The Glen Innes Town Hall

A charming NSW country town 360km SW of Brisbane. It was the centre of a mining boom in the late 19th century based on nearby tin deposits. Today the main street has 30 heritage listed buildings including the Town Hall built in 1887 by a local – Henry Kendrick. His was the lowest of five tenders at £2975, but with plans altered during construction costing more, he went broke. He was finally paid £2761.


The clock is a real treasure. Made in England by the renowned Dent clockmaking company famous for London’s Big Ben, it was installed in 1890. Not surprisingly it has run without any major issues for over 120 years. In August this year (2019), the Council decided the mechanism needed its first complete overhaul. The two options were – to computerise it for $28,800 or retain it in original form at a cost of $49,650. 


With history so valued here, it is not surprising the second option was voted for. Over 4 months, horologist Tim Tracey will remove the entire mechanism, fix the chimes, re-hang the bells, replace cables, and clean the mechanism. The clock will then need winding every 10 days and manually reset for daylight savings. The dial has two hairline cracks which hopefully will be repaired.

Inside the main office, Paul found this elegant Ansonia c1885 ‘Kobe’ model wall clock. The name on the dial reads E J Marcus, Glen Innes. Research reveals he was a local watchmaker and jeweller in the late 19thC. The clock has had the original decorated lower glass replaced with clear glass possibly to show off the pendulum. Thanks Paul for these worthy snaps.


The Forbes Post Office.

The historic town of Forbes is just 32km from Parkes. Here Paul found quote, “one of the most attractive Post Office buildings I have ever seen” – also one of the few still owned and operated by Australia Post.

The town today has a population of just over 8500 – a far cry from the 30,000+ residents during the gold rush times of the 1860’s. This might explain the grandeur of the building, designed by James Barnet and built from 1879 to 1881 by P. Vaughan. It was added to the NSW Heritage Register in 2000 and to the Commonwealth Heritage Register in 2004. Interestingly J Barnet, the Colonial Architect, was responsible for building 169 Post and Telegraph Offices in NSW in a variety of architectural styles. This Post Office was featured on a stamp series in 1982 which depicted one PO from each State in Australia. It was also

portrayed as the “Parkes PO” in the

2000 movie “The Dish”.

This PO was costed at £3000, but after much debate it was decided to add the clock tower, so a further £1500 was needed. The tower has a French styled copper roof topped with a wrought iron weather vane. Housed within this is a white background 4 dial clock with a bell below striking on the hour. The clock mechanism was electrified in 1982 which eliminated the manual winding. As with most clocks of this age, maintenance and sourcing parts can be challenging. The latest repair job on the clock was in 2017 where a new controller was shipped from Belgium allowing the time to be set via a GPS remote. The article in the link below, “Clock rings out” has a video playing the striking bell at 9 o’clock.


The Precision Sundial at Parkes NSW.

At Parkes, just 40km East of Bogan Gate, is a rather complex sundial. Paul discovered this in the garden near the famous CSIRO Radio Telescope, ‘the Dish’ (which helped distribute TV images to the world of the moon landing in 1969).

Sundials are the oldest known devices used to measure time. There are many types – the most common being the vertical, equatorial and horizontal. The horizontal (often called garden sundial), has a flat plate or dial that has been marked with the hours of the day, and a gnomon or raised straight edge that casts a shadow onto the dial to read the time.

The Parkes horizontal sundial was designed to eliminate the errors found with most sundials (which can err as much as 16 mins) by using wavy time markers set at 10minute intervals for each month of the year. Astronomers call this “the Equation of Time”. Paul photographed this in August – so the time shown is 10.55am.


Bogan Gate War Memorial Clock Tower

Bogan Gate is a small NSW town 1000km SW of Brisbane with about 200 people. The origin of the towns name dates back to the 1880’s when it was the ‘gateway’ between two large sheep and cattle stations. The word ‘Bogan’ is derived from the Aboriginal word meaning the birthplace of a great leader from the local tribe.                                                                                                                           

In the middle of the main street a 6.6m. clock tower dedicated to the memory of those who served in WW1. Built in 1922, at a cost of £590, the sandstone tower with a lightning conductor on top, sits on a pedestal of granite. The 4-dial, 60cm diameter clocks were built by Synchronome Electrical Co. of Australasia Ltd. for an extra £150. They were originally controlled by a master in the Commercial Bank next door and Illuminated by a gas lamp. After installation, Prouds Ltd. of Sydney had to send a mechanic for £25/10/- to correct some early teething problems. Under each dial in order is written - The Great War, 1914-18, Liberty and Australia. Today the dials have had protective perspex covers added and a solar panel for lighting. Paul reports that though the clock was operational one dial was out of sync with the others.


The Tenterfield Post Office Clock

This snap from Paul's collection shows a beautiful two-storied Victorian Italianate Post Office building in Tenterfield, NSW, 275 km SW of Brisbane. Built in 1881/92 and designed by James Barnett it was heritage listed in 1999. Except for the bells the 4-dial clock with 1.2m diameter dials was built by R Smith of Oxford St. Sydney. The clock features a double three-legged gravity escapement (after Sir E. Beckett) with a 11 second beat - the maintaining power being identical with that of the great clock at Parliament Buildings, Westminster, London. The total cost was only £300 – that was £50 less than that of an imported one!


Smith’s work on clocks is worth mentioning as his projects were an outstanding achievement for the colony. He constructed turret clocks for 4 Post Offices - Tenterfield, Redfern, Ballina and Kempsey. Each clock weighed round 5cwt. with varied width dials (5 to 6 ft). The frame was of cast iron with steel pinions and arbours, the going train driven by a 3cwt weight, the striking train a 6cwt weight and a compensated pendulum weighing 3cwt. Only the 4cwt bells were imported. He also built a model of the Strasburg clock, a 2½ year job, on display today in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

The Armidale Court House Clock in NSW


This elegant building boasts a 140 year old 4-dial clock. The Classical Revival styled structure has its origins in 1860 as a simple brick building. In 1870, architect J Barnett added wings, a portico and then in 1878 a bell tower with clock. In 1897 new alterations by W Vernon moved the portico forward and erected over it a new tower for the  clock to be placed costing £140.                                                              

As with most of these early public clocks frequent complaints re accurate time keeping was always an issue. In 1917 the Council proposed plans for a new clock and tower to be erected as a WW1 soldiers memorial. In 1919 local jewellers Himmelboch Bros checked the clock out and diagnosed a badly worn escapement. Prouds from Sydney suggested a £50 solution - a synchronome clock with the master in the Council Chamber. 


How-ever the clock had to wait to 1927 when J B Waterhouse a jeweller in Singleton 300 km away was given the job of full restoration (cost £21) after he had repaired a similar clock in Singleton built by Thwaites and Reed of London. Forward to 2018 - the Council planned to auction this historic building. But local anger over this decision cancelled the sale and in 2019 it was nominated for State Heritage listing. Today (June 2019) it stands unoccupied and fenced off. The clock and chimes still operate. Thanks to Paul for sending in these snaps.

Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower in Christchurch NZ – a Survivor.

This 30m structure made up of a combination of limestone and local volcanic stone features ornate wrought iron, coloured glass and a 4-dial clock. Skidmore and Sons of Coventry England built the iron work tower while John Moore and Sons of Clerkenwell London made the clock. It was shipped in 142 boxes in 1859 to Christchurch destined to sit on top of the Provincial Council buildings. The iron tower when assembled was found to be too heavy and so it was dismantled in 1864 and stored in sheds nearby and the clock put in another tower in Armagh Street where it could only be heard – not seen! The tower was reassembled in 1879 and it stood in the city Council yards for the next 18 years.






To commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee the clock was sent back to England to have chimes installed and on its return was reunited with the tower and both were erected on a stone base at the corner of Litchfield and Manchester Streets in 1897. Due to traffic congestion it was moved to the present site (corner of Victoria and Montreal Streets) in 1930. In 1977/78 the tower was cleaned and the clock given new chimes. In 2010/11 both the clock and tower required major repair and restoration after earthquake damage. In 2014 it was revealed in its original glory – a reminder of the incredible detailed workmanship put into early buildings - a true survivor.

Arts Centre Clock Tower Christchurch, N.Z.


It was a privilege to be allowed up this tower to view the clock - part of today's Art Centre, which covers a city block and was originally used by Christchurch University. Designed by architect Benjamin Mountfort and built of limestone and basalt from the Port Hills, the two dial clock tower has bells and an impressive entrance - a tiled floor with beautiful stained glass windows and a divided staircase. From here, through a locked door, one climbs up two flights of narrow wooden stairs to reach the clock. Made by Gillett & Bland of Croydon, England in 1877 (same firm as the Ipswich and Sandgate clocks) it has been repaired since the 2010/11 earth-quakes. A small electric motor has been installed to wind up the two weights every 4 hours.

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War Memorial Clock Tower Blenheim NZ

This tower clock located in Blenheim NZ, was constructed in 1928 as a memorial to 419 locals who died in the First World War. The clock was made in Wellington and the 5 bell set was cast in England. It is 16m tall and constructed of stone sourced locally. However interestingly the outer dial and the tower dome is made from Australian sandstone which symbolised Australian and NZ co-operation during the war. 'Lest We Forget".

war mem4.JPG