The Town Hall Clock Of Stornoway

29 01 2010

We’ve mentioned the Town Hall on several occasions, but have never really gone in to any great detail about the fine late-Egyptian style clock tower and its Norse style water powered clock. Keen eyed readers of the previous blog entry about John Buchan’s rip-roaring novel ‘The 39 Step We Gaylee’s’, may have wondered why the clock was chiming the tune ‘Lovely Stornoway’. Hopefully this explains why.

When the Town Hall was under construction in 1905, the residents of the town decided that the clock should play a cheery melody as it struck the hour. After much debate it was agreed that the popular song Lovely Stornoway should be the song of choice.  The town fathers were sure this would instil civic pride in the citizens as they went about their daily business.

(Readers will recall how Calum Kennedy made ‘Lovely Stornoway’ famous when he won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1960. Readers may also be interested in new version of the song as performed by yon Iain Shaw cove which can be found at this weblink here).

Lovely Stornoway remained the chiming tune until the outbreak of the First World War. Caught up in patriotic fervour, the townies agreed that a new, uplifting and encouraging tune should be composed. After a competition to select the best tune, a song by local band ‘Island Steam Train’ (a forerunner of popular 1970/80’s band Island Express) was chosen. Their song, ‘Fleek Off You Bosche Bleggards’ then blasted out every day, on the hour, as the War progressed. The song also became popular in the trenches with the Seaforth Highlanders and the Ross Battery, where it was sung with great gusto along with other popular war songs such as ‘We’ll Hang Out Our Bobbans On The Siegfried Line’ and ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning Underneath the Illegal Whiskey Still’.

Sadly the Town Hall burnt down in 1918 after an unfortunate double booking of the Hall by the Stornoway Candle Makers Guild and the Society of Paraffin Lamp Collectors. Sadly, the poor townies were without an hourly chime for nearly a decade.

On the official reopening of the Town Hall in 1919, ‘Lovely Stornoway’ once again became the official clock chime. This remained the case for the interwar years.

On the outbreak of the Second World War the tune was once again changed to ‘Fleek Off You Bosche Bleggards (1940 Glen Millar Remix)’ and remained so until VE Day. Lovely Stornoway then resumed its duties for several more years.

In the mid 1950’s, following the birth of rock’n’roll, the tune was (very appropriately) changed to Bill Holy and His Curam’s Rock Around The Clock’. This tune lasted for several years until Lovely Stornoway once again got voted in by the Town Council.

In 1973 the Town Hall tune became ‘Freebird’ by US rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. This song had become the unofficial Stornoway national anthem following its release on the album ‘Pronounced…’ in 1972. A Bye-Law passed in 1975 made it compulsory for ‘Freebird’ to be played as the last song at every disco/school social, and at least twice at every Wedding Dance held within the Burgh limits.

Public outrage occurred in 1977 when some local punks (B*mber and M*lcy Sm*th from local band The Rong) climbed the clock tower and replaced Freebird with the Sex Pistol’s ‘Anarchy In The UK’ to coincide with the Queens birthday. It was a whole week before the Comhairle electricians could remove the punk anthem. The letters page in the Gazette was 2 pages long in the following weeks, full of indignant letters. (Not from outraged citizens or Ministers, but from Lynyrd Skynyrd fans). It was suggested that this stunt led to all sorts of anarchy breaking out amoungst the youth of the town and ultimately led to the collapse of society when the swing parks were no longer locked up on Sundays.

But eventually, Freebird had to be replaced. The tune was 14 minutes long and so it was nearly quarter past the hour before it stopped chiming. This meant Council meetings kept getting interrupted or motions being passed without councillors hearing the details. This of course led to a number of interesting policy decisions in the late 70’s including the erection of the new Comhairle offices on a bog, and introducing peat as legal tender.

In the 1980’s, as the Town Hall fell into decline, the chime alternated between the ‘Big Ben’ chimes and ‘broken/not working’. This remains the case to this day, but perhaps the current proposals to ‘do up’ the Town Hall will see a new tune emerge for the new decade.

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Xmas Lights

9 11 2008

We’re fast approaching the time of year when towns and villages across the land will be turning their attention to switching on their Xmas lights. Stornoway is no different and has partaken in this festive ceremony for many, many years.

Usually, a local celebrity (and occasionally a national celebrity) is invited to switch on the lights in a short ceremony involving carols, speeches and fireworks.  There are normally street-stalls, fairground rides and collection tins for local charities.

The first recorded ‘switching on’ ceremony is recorded as having taken place in 1786. In early December of that year, well known outlaw, murderer and generally nasty person Mac In Stronich became the first celebrity to turn on the Xmas lights.

However, it wasn’t so much ‘a turning on the Xmas lights ceremony’ as more a sort of ‘torching the town as an act of revenge’ event, following a disagreement over the terms of a protection racket that Mac In Stronich was running. Still, the cheery glow of a row of Stornoway’s shops being set ablaze caught the imagination of the towns-folks and they decided it would be nice to have a similar event the next year, although preferably not involving so much murder and pillage.

Needless to say, Mac In Stronich was not invited, nor indeed told about, the ceremony. When he found out about the Xmas lights he took a massive huff and decided to decorate his secret hide-out in yon cave at the mouth of the Creed with his own Xmas lights. However, the bright lights were quickly spotted by the authorities and Mac In Stronich was swiftly apprehended.

From that year onwards, the Xmas Lights Ceremony has become an important part of Stornoway’s social and civic calender. Only twice more did the ceremony result in the accidental burning down of the town, once in 1812 when a holiday making (and incognito) Napoleon took a strop at losing at a hoopla stall and ordered a French Man-of-War in the harbour (disguised as ‘an east coast boat’ to confuse the locals) to fire into the cauldron of rum punch outside ‘Engies Horse-Fodder Shoppe’.

The second time was in 1875 when Albert, the Prince Consort (Queen Victoria’s cove) accidentally (allegedly) knocked over an oil lamp in the Star Inn during a game of domino’s, which set off the Xmas fireworks whilst they were still in their boxes under the bar.