Shrigley, Van Morrison and that Clock!

The Martin Memorial Clock Tower – beloved monument or ‘a decrepit eyesore?’

Back in September, 2020, Janette and I did a drive around the Lecale District, an area of outstanding natural beauty, not too far from where we live in Co.Down.  I did three blog posts about that area, and in the first of those pieces, I mentioned Van Morrison’s song, “Coney Island.” (Is it really a song?), in which Mr Morrison, one of our native sons, mentions many of the local places of interest in this part of Northen Ireland.  But one of the lines of the song intrigued me.  For Mr Morrison writes of driving through Shrigley to take photographs before he travelled on down to Killyleagh.

The Martin Memorial Clock Tower, Shrigley

Drove through Shrigley taking pictures / And on to Killyleagh / Stopped off for Sunday papers at the Lecale District,  / Just before Coney Island

Van Morrison – Coney Island

 I puzzled over what on earth was worth photographing in Shrigley?  (Mr Morrison pronounces it like ‘Shiggly’ – probably a childhood memory!).  One of my Facebook friends reminded me about the Shrigley Clock, so last Saturday, I decided to make amends to the good villagers of Shrigley, and photograph their much loved, though long defunct clock-tower.

The tower was built to commemorate the altruistic work of the local mill owner, John Martin, a native of  Pott Shrigley in Cheshire, who in 1824 built a six story cotton mill, with more looms than any other mill in Ireland at the time. Around the mill he built a village, with houses for his workers. In 1871 a clock tower and drinking fountain was erected to be the centre-piece of the village. It was said that at one time no-one in Shrigley needed a watch or a clock, for everyone in the village could look out their window and see the time, courtesy of the clock tower.

The Martin Monument with the modern housing of Shrigley in the background.

In the 1960’s, in an act of architectural vandalism typical of that era, instead of preserving the historical context of the site, the old industrial village of the Victorian age was demolished, and replaced with modern social housing, making Shrigley little more than a housing estate on the fringe of Killyleagh. All that remains is the clock tower, broken, abused, littered, overgrown with vegetation, and no longer functioning. Described elsewhere as ‘a decrepit eyesore.’

The condition of the monument is well illustrated in these images:-

The four upper pillars of the tower have gargoyles, and even these are damaged:

It was a cold, dry cloudy Saturday morning when I visited Shrigley, and I was welcomed by one of the workers from a nearby plastics factory, who, noticing my interest in the tower, came out to chat. He remarked that working all day under the shadow of the tower he hardly was aware of it any more! It’s so easy to take these historical follies for granted. If no-one in authority takes an interest in it soon, it will crumble further into decay, and no doubt be demolished on the grounds of ‘health and safety.’

The ornate weather vane on the top of the clock tower. Which way now for this neglected piece of Co.Down’s history?

I had the Fujifilm X-T4, and two lenses, the 16-55mm f/2.8 and the 55-200mm f3.5-4.8. I set the camera film simulation to Pro Neg. Std.

The cotton manufacture is carried on upon a very extensive scale. Some large mills were built upon a copious stream, in 1824, by Messrs. Martin and Co., and were greatly enlarged in 1828: in these works are 13,798 spindles, employing 186 persons, and 244 power-looms attended by 156 persons, constantly engaged in weaving printers’ cloths for the Manchester market; and connected with this manufactory are more than 2000 hand-looms in the neighbouring districts. The buildings, which are very spacious and six stories high, are lighted with gas made on the premises, and the proprietors have erected a steam-engine of power.

Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland