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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Street Names of Stornoway (part 2 of many)

13 03 2009

Churchill Drive: Named, as you would expect, after Winston Churchill, Britain’s famous wartime Prime Minister. Churchill also had a strong connection with Stornoway and was a familiar face in the pubs of the town.

Shortly after Churchill retired from the army (where he served as a Cavalry officer), he moved to Stornoway to take up a job on a fishing boat. Churchill had his sights set firmly on becoming First Lord of the Admiralty and felt that a few years working on a Stornoway trawler would provide him with the necessary experience. His Cavalry officer training also came in very handy when he helped out in his spare time with Kenny Henderson (a local coach-hire) as a coachman and stable hand.

His famous wartime statement was also developed in Stornoway following a fracas outside the Star Inn, where the crew of his trawler fell out with the crew of a boat from Fraserburgh. ‘We will fight them on South Beach!’ he was said to have exclaimed, whilst running out of the Star with a pint glass.

Queensland Road: This street was given an Australian sounding name as it was originally a penal colony for wrong doers from the town.

Kennedy Terrace: Named after well known Gaelic singer Calum Kennedy, although many people think it was named after his first cousin, John F. Kennedy, one time President of the United States.

JFK used to come over to Lewis regularly to visit cousin Calum and, unknown to many, was a fluent Gaelic speaker. JFK even sang with the Lochs Gaelic Choir at the 1955 Mod. Rumours persist to this day that he was assassinated by members of the Point Gaelic Choir for criticising their winning ‘puirt a beal’ Calum Kennedy himself used to have a loom-shed at the weavers colony at Kennedy Terrace, where JFK would help fill the bobbans.

Readers will no doubt recall Calum Kennedy’s world famous song ‘Lovely Stornoway’. We are privileged to be able to bring you a translation of the long lost ‘final verse’ which may or may not have contributed to the JFK ‘Rudhach hitman’ conspiracy theory.

‘Make your way to Stornoway,but don’t go further than Broadbay, the Point Choir just cause dismay, in lovely Stornoway’