1897 was a year of great celebration throughout the country as Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.

Besides the usual street celebrations in towns and cities, attention also turned to how places were going to more formally commemorate the event. In Exmouth a public meeting was called in 1897, presided over by Mr R Ley, in which a proposal was put forward for a free library on Chapel Hill. Other ideas were for a hospital, and finally making Queen’s Drive a reality as it had been talked about 10 years before when it would have cost £2000! There were also suggestions for a Charter of Incorporation, a glass pavilion with bandstand and seating and even for the purchase of a water supply for the town.

The Exmouth Journal reported on these meetings which were a cause of much amusement from the crowd, when they heard some of the public’s suggestions. One poor man proposed a clock on the sea front but only so visitors could keep an eye on the time so they would not miss their train home. This was loudly shouted down by tradespeople who naturally wanted visitors to stay in the town for as long as possible and even overnight so they would spend more money! It was also suggested that the town forms itself into The Mayor and Corporation but Mr Ley remarked that this reminded him of the man who celebrated his wife’s birthday by buying himself a present and received much applause for this comment.

A committee was then formed to consider these suggestions and the majority voted for the erection of a clock tower or the construction of Queen’s Drive. A further vote was taken and nineteen were in favour of the clock tower and six for the construction of Queen’s Drive. It was decided to erect this on the sea front but without the fountains as was originally suggested. The cost of this was estimated at £350 and The Hon Mark Rolle provided most of this sum.

The Council, not wishing to be outdone by this, went ahead with construction of Queen’s Drive – so the town benefited from both! This initially was an asphalt path about fourteen feet wide built over the sand dunes and followed roughly the same route to The Maer as the present road. However, it was for pedestrians and cycles only – vehicles being prohibited.

Messrs. Kerley and Ellis were appointed as architects and on 15th September 1897 Lady Gertrude Rolle laid the foundation stone for the new clock tower. The design was for it to be built of stone in the manner of a square plan with a tapered pyramid style roof in copper. There were to be clock faces set in sandstone panels with marble corner columns.

The mechanism was entrusted to clockmakers J W Benson of Ludgate Hill on the City of London who were clock makers to Her Majesty Queen Victoria and The Prince of Wales. They constructed it in a cast-iron frame which was marked with their name on one end and their royal appointment on the other. The clock needed winding twice a week by council workmen and this lasted until 1992 when the mechanism was changed to one that was fully electric.

In 1978 the clock tower was awarded Grade 2 Listed status. To commemorate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, work was carried out to thoroughly overhaul the clock in March 2017. The original mechanism is still in fine working order and is preserved at Exmouth Museum where the stewards wind the clock and visitors can listen to its soothing beat. When the museum is open, do come and see it and marvel at the workmanship. The clock tower still stands majestically on the sea front – forever a symbol of the town.

You can find out more about Exmouth Museum at the museum’s website www.exmouthmuseum.co.uk or you can email me at mike.menhenitt@btinternet.com.