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Keeping Time

Clock Tower at the Hawthorn Arts Centre, 360 Burwood Road

The clock at the Hawthorn Arts Centre (360 Burwood Road) was first set in motion at 3pm on Saturday, 5 August 1911 by Acting-Mayoress Miss Gibney. Now over a century old, the clock still remains a significant local reference point and defining feature of the Glenferrie skyline.

The Hawthorn Arts Centre, named the Hawthorn Town Hall until 2013, was built in 1888. The original structure included council chambers, a post office, police station, and hosted an array of different community events. A clock was first proposed in 1862 for the original town hall, but it was almost 50 years later that the clock was installed in the redesigned building, around the same time that the post office was relocated east of the town hall to the building which is now Access Health & Community.

The large Second Empire style clock was manufactured and installed by clockmaker Mr. F Zeigler who, four years earlier (1907), made and installed the Flinders Street Station clock. Hawthorn’s clock was installed for £500 (equivalent to $69,663 today) and was a gravity powered clock with a dial diameter of six feet, nine inches and 11-inch numerals. It worked by the slow drop of heavy weights which would have to be wound twice a week to fall again. Lit at night by eight 30-candle powered lamps, the accompanying bell, manufactured in England, was reported to be so quiet it could hardly be heard from across Burwood Road, intentionally done in an effort to not wake local residents.

Turning the hands of the clock

The clockmaker, Mr. F Zeigler maintained the clock presumably until he passed away, though winding of the clock would have been within the duties of the town hall keepers. In 1957, Hawthorn City Council accepted a quote from Ingrams Bright Pty Ltd (Ingrams Time Systems) to repair the clock for £30 and continue all clock maintenance for a 12-month period for £27. That year, Ingrams converted the clock from gravity powered to hipp movement and have maintained the clock ever since. The conversion introduced electricity to the clock to keep the pendulum mechanism swinging, meaning manual winding was no longer required and the time could be kept more accurately. Though records do not state exactly why the clock was converted, it is possible that it was due to the effort of the regular winding or damage and poor maintenance where replacement was the most cost-saving measure.

The clock is now run by a stepper motor, which provides computer numerical control and gives the hands a continuous and smooth motion, similar to a gravity clock, instead of the rushed motion of a hipp movement clock. The clock is also connected to a GPS which allows for the displayed time to be split-second accurate. Despite the upgrades throughout the years, the clock does stop working on average twice a year, typically due to power failures. When the clock is out of time, the Hawthorn Arts Centre often receives many calls and visits from locals letting them know. In these instances the issue is rectified and if necessary, replacement parts are fitted. Sometimes the clock can remain out of time or stopped until a specialised technician is available.

Gears behind the clock face.

The clock’s original Second Empire style facade and original arms have remained the same since 1911 with some cosmetic repairs, including replacement of the glass on the clock face, removal of rust, replacement of steelwork, and fresh coats of paint.

In 2020, the clock tower itself underwent restoration and refurbishment works conducted by Ivy Construction. The 2019-20 council budget allocated $200,000 for the works, which were contracted for $264,000 and included restoration of “windows, clock faces, slate roof, cast iron balustrade, and tower original orbs”.

There have been many changes behind the scenes of the Hawthorn Arts Centre clock, which remains an important part of Glenferrie’s history and a helping hand to passersby.

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