LINKING THE PAST WITH THE FUTURE CROYDON REPORTS ISSUE 39-June 2002 Croydon Council, Magazine Article Stuart Moses
When time was finally called on a 160-year-old historic landmark in Thornton heath in 1997, Croydon Council stepped in to save the timely piece and give it a new lease of life in a local school. We are talking about one of the four clocks which towered above the factory of renowned Croydon clockmakers Gillett & Johnston before its demolition five years ago. Originally keeping time for residents and passers-by in Union Road and nearby Whitehorse Road, it now keeps the pupils of Westwood High School for Girls, Upper Norwood, punctual for their lessons.
The clock is over three metres in diameter and weighs around 200kg (440 Ib). In its new home, the clock face encompasses bothfirst and second floors in the New Building. But behind its 19th century face hides 21st century technology - a radio link to a time-check signal in Rugby. Surrounded by beautitully crafted panels with words in gold leaf, celebrating images of time in many languages, the project brings together Croydon's past, present and future through creative art, language and technology.
After demolition of the Gillett & Johnston factory in 1997 the four clock faces were put into storage and preserved. schools and other public organisations were invited to bid to have one of the faces | installed at their premises; Westwood High became the chosen venue. ee
Sculptress Gudrun Nielsen was commissioned to work with pupils in creating an artistic backdrop for the clock face. Well qualified for the project, she Is a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and has had work exhibited at the Royal College of Art.
During special lessons, Gudrun shared her expertise with the pupils. Working with the former head of art, Janet Sutcliffe, they organised an assignment for year eight classes to create a fabric wall-hanging. Additionally the design technology department started a clock project for year 10 students, which takes place every year.
Westwood High wanted to celebrate the men and women who worked for Gillett & Johnston, casting bells, designing carillons and making clocks. In war-time, plane wings, shells and armaments were also produced at the factory. During World War | the factory employed an extra 1,200 women to make fuses. Many also worked there during World War II. One of these was Mrs Goshawk, a local woman who wrote the school a letter of support when she heard about the project.
The school has received much local support. Lord Weatherill, former Croydon MP and speaker of the House of Commons, also phoned to offer help in contacting members of the family who owned the factory. By involving the community It Is hoped that the pupils’ understanding of the locality and of the working life of their predecessors will be understood.
Headteacher Mrs Margaret Hedley said: “The clock face project brings together Croydon’s history and its future. It links creative arts, languages and technology and Its installation is perfect timing. Not only will the work of art, with its multi-lingual panels be
completed by the fifth anniversary of Its removal from the famous Gillett & Johnson factory, but also it coincides with 's new designation as a Specialist Language College. It will be lovely to think that five years after it was originally taken down from the Gillett & Johnston building it will once again be keeping time and linking Thornton Heath's past with its future. | know that pupils, staff and the community will be able to enjoy both its physical beauty and what It represents for years to come.”
The school will officially unveil the clock face in Its new surroundings In July. Anyone interested in being part of this celebration, be they ex-employees, clock enthusiasts, local historians or artists, should contact the school. Local residents can view the clock later this year when the school takes part in the Open Door European Heritage Weekend. Special visits can also be arranged; contact the school for more details.