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All hands on board to restore floral clock

Morpeth Rotary Club member Derek Robinson and Barbara Ross, of the Friends of Morpeth Floral Clock, who gave an update on plans to restore the rare feature.
Morpeth Rotary Club member Derek Robinson and Barbara Ross, of the Friends of Morpeth Floral Clock, who gave an update on plans to restore the rare feature.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Barbara Ross is well known for her work on the project to restore Morpeth’s floral clock. She visited Morpeth Rotary Club recently to receive a cheque for £200 from President Peter Scott and to give an update on progress.

The first Morpeth floral clock was installed in 1972 by Alderman Bertram Jobson, who has been Mayor of Morpeth five times, and an American from Detroit called James Fairbairn Smith.

James Smith donated the clock to the Borough of Morpeth in recognition of the civic work of Alderman Jobson.

Alderman Jobson refurbished Morpeth Town Hall in the 1950s, and when there had been calls to demolish the Clock Tower, he helped to save it. He was a good friend to Morpeth schools, including Greystoke.

The floral clock was a popular feature of the formal garden in the heyday of Carlisle Park.

By the 1990s it had become unreliable and was sent away for repair, but it had completely ceased to work by 2008. It has been in a sad, neglected state for the last ten years.

Questions were raised about the future of the clock when information began to circulate about a plan to remove it and replace it with a statue of Suffragette Emily Davison.

In 2017 a group of interested people met together and agreed to set up a committee as The Friends of Morpeth Floral Clock. Barbara saw a page about it on Facebook and joined in.

The general feeling was that a statue of Emily would be good elsewhere in the park, but not at the expense of the clock.

The number of people interested and keen to support a renovation of the floral clock grew to 1,000. Most were Morpeth residents and some had lived here, but were now in many different parts of the world.

Local councillors were approached and gave helpful information and advice.

It was found that the clock belongs to Northumberland County Council. The councillor with responsibility for environment and local services was contacted and was keen to listen.

The families of Alderman Jobson and James Smith were approached and are pleased to support a project to save the clock.

It was found that only four floral clocks survived in England, but now Blackpool clock has gone, there are only three — at Whitby, Hove and Morpeth. Members of the committee went to Whitby to see what they could find out.

A costing for a new clock was carried out and a meeting arranged with Northumberland County Council just before Christmas.

A new clock would cost £10,000. If the present clock could be repaired, it would be £3,000, carpet bedding would be £3,000, and it would be £3,000 to build the surrounds and alter the angle to make it easier to see. It would be £700 a year for winter bedding and maintenance.

Councils no longer have the money for non-essential work, but the friends were told to go back in January if they had been able to fund-raise.

They set up a constitution in early January. Barbara became chairman of the organisation, and it created a ‘Just Giving’ page on the internet and began fund-raising.

The group had a photograph, publicity and good support from the Morpeth Herald. Members appeared on BBC Look North and were on the radio twice.

There was great affection for the floral clock.

The friends group held social and sporting events, and received donations from every part of Morpeth.

Many local companies agreed to help, including Morpeth Auction House. Winn Electricals agreed to supply CCTV and fit it free. The Chamber of Trade is hoping to arrange a grant.

The Royal Horticultural Society will work with Chantry School, Newminster School and Goosehill private nursery, with a £500 grant for gardening projects.

The friends had raised £2,000 by the time of their next meeting with the county council.

Northumberland County Council agreed to fund the repair of the clock and three county councillors are supporting with their small grant scheme.

One negative comment was that it may be a waste of money as it would soon be vandalised. That was a key question on the Whitby visit. The friends were told there had been one issue of vandalism there in 12 years and it had not been local people.

Smiths of Derby, the original makers, said the clock was repairable and would be as good as new. There will be fencing and CCTV, with a new elevation and planting to reduce direct access, while the education programme will get local children involved in the design.

Fund-raising must continue to pay for annual maintenance.

A launch event at the clock is planned for June with civic heads and the public. It will move on to the Town Hall, where there will be an exhibition about the clock and Alderman Jobson.

It will be the only fully traditional floral clock in England as it will have planting even on the clock hands. It is hoped to link the project to a horticultural apprentice scheme.

Barbara answered many questions and was thanked for her enthusiastic and informative talk by her host Derek Robinson. He thought it was wonderful how the community had been brought together to renew and look after the floral clock.