Those of you who are old enough to have been around may well remember the Memorial Clock writes Tom McCann.
Commissioned after Prince Albert’s death from typhoid in 1861, the Albert Memorial clock tower was designed by Liverpudlian Edward Heffer.
There had been a contest to find a designer and Heffer beat off competition from 38 others to win not just the commission but a ten guinea prize as well.
Work on it began in 1862, first on the tower itself, with Thomas Ross, the town’s Mayor, laying the first stone within which a bottle was placed containing a parchment, while a 21 gun salute was carried out for the Prince on the beach nearby. The statue of the Prince would be installed the following year and in 1864 with the installation of the clock and dials the tower was finally complete.
It stood for more than a century before eventually being demolished in 1973 as the town modernised and roads were continuously developed around it. Its presence was reportedly leading to a traffic problems in the area.
The issue was brought to a head when arsonists set fire to the clock’s woodwork in the early hours of April 28th 1973. The clock was damaged and the surrounding stone cracked. Two months later another smaller fire broke out and after this one it was said there were serious faults in the structure; this time there was little opposition to the plans to demolish it.
At a Hastings Council meeting in October 1973 the decision was taken to demolish the memorial as soon as possible with the demolition starting in November that year and taking two weeks to complete.
There had been two decades of debate over its future with the first suggestion that the tower should be demolished going back to 1952.
But what happened to the remains of the tower?
During demolition, contractors weren’t told about the parchment bottle. This was destroyed and then disposed of as if it was just any old rubbish found in the rubble. The statue of Prince Albert survived, however.
Bought for £50 by Edith Skelton who lived in Hastings. Some reports suggest she had wanted to ship the statue to Canada but changed her mind and donated it to the mini floral hall greenhouse in Alexandra Park, remaining there until its closure in the 90s.
After this it was kept in storage in the greenhouse in which it deteriorated with it until 2015 when a group of local historians were granted permission to install the statue at the Town Hall.
This move was funded by Kelly Stirling, the great, great grand-daughter of the statue’s sculptor who lives in California. She had found a box of old papers and photographs which prompted her to find out more and she came to Hastings to see the statue in Alexandra Park in 2014.
Hastings Museum now reportedly take care of a number of the tower’s artefacts, with the weather vane, the drinking fountain bowl and assorted clock pieces in its collection; outside of the museum two of the lanterns from the tower are on display.
Reports are conflicting, however, with some sources saying the whereabouts of the weather vane and drinking fountain bowel currently unknown. Indeed, the clock faces, bells and mechanism were also reportedly stolen after the tower’s destruction.
Planning permission was requested and even granted to rebuild the tower in the 90s, although this was later withdrawn.