Timely memories of a fond item in our well clocked lives......
From my first day in St Francis in 1967 I remember the tick tock of the ward clock. Stanmer was my first ward and the clock was sited over the entrance door. John O'Neill, Nursing Officer, would rush in and often look back over his left shoulder and peek up at it. I used to think he was always so efficient and in a hurry - I'm sure that he was!
With moving on to the other wards and departments I encountered similar clocks - always there and always dependable.
In Stanmer Ward a member of staff from one of the ancillary departments would come to the ward at about 9am and wind the clock. This was a regular Monday morning occurence. He would find the ward step ladder, have someone hold the ward door open to prevent him being knocked off the ladder and then complete the winding. But of course, at the time, I didn't really think twice about it. Later, with the coming of the closure of the hospital I was too involved in trade union matters - the protection of nursing jobs in particular and the proper movement of patients into community or appropriate aftercare facilities - to give any thought to the fate of these timepieces. It would be several years before I again heard their fates being discussed in conversation and it was then that I felt a desire to own one. I remember that there had been auctions held in the Norman Hay Hall of the furniture and fittings which had remained at the hospital on closure but I did not attend. Having spent almost thirty years at St Francis I had little except my memories to remind me of those years.
After the September 2009 very successful Reunion I received an EMail from Stephanie Swaysland. I had known Stephanie for many years and she EMailed to say that she had an old SFH clock in an auction on a Saturday in late 2009. Well, I couldn't believe my luck. I got out to the auction at Ardingly Showground early in the morning and walked in. There, inside the door was the clock on show with a pendulum beside it and its hatch door detached but unbroken. I engaged an auction room staff member by the door in conversation and asked him why it was on show at the door for all to see, privately feeling a little aggrieved that 'my clock' should be open to such public scrutiny! He told me that it was felt that there would be considerable interest in the item and so they had decided to display it to attract attention by the door. My heart dropped! What chance would I have now of being able to buy it at a reasonable price?
Again, in conversation I told him of my connection with these clocks at St Francis and lo and behold! - he was the boyfriend of the late Ann Langhammer's daughter. Ann was an Enrolled Nurse for many years at St Francis - she had lived in 13 Hospital Villas before me when I moved in there during my RGN (SRN) training in 1970 or so. Well, I thought, what a small world it is! We shook hands and I retreated in search of a cup of tea.
It was a glorious Autumn morning and the clock was way down the list of items to be auctioned so I took the time to have a cooked English breakfast from the mobile cafe parked outside, washed down with a great mug of tea whilst keeping an ear out for the number of the items being auctioned. I was definitely not going to miss my chance at owning the clock.
Later, I took the time to examine the clock and could see that the hatch door at the bottom was broken away from the main body of the clock but the hinged piece was itself intact although it was missing a closure clasp. Then there was the pendulum which was sitting beside the hatch door. It was in good condition but , unless I would try it all together I would not know if the clock was broken. Stephanie had said that it was in working order so I had no reason to believe otherwise. I could see that the minute divisions on the clock face had been damaged between the numbers 3 and 4 and that the brass bezel on the glass door was very discoloured. What was the story attached to the damage, I wondered? There was no key but I thought there would be little difficulty in getting one or having one made. So I decided that come the worst scenario - if it didn''t work and was incapable of being made to work that I would , nevertheless, have a bit of St Francis Hospital's history to keep me company!
The item finally came up for sale and my heart skipped a faster beat. '£50 I'm offered for this item,' says the auctioneer. 'It's marked as a Haywards Heath Hospital clock in the catalogue but it is actually from the carpenter's shop at St Francis Hospital and is dated 19.9.74 and signed 'RU' - the owner can verify its beginnings! Any advance on £50 pounds.?'
I raised my card confidently with my number on it, like one those knowledgeable folk from one of the TV auction shows.
'£55', says the auctioneer in response to my bid......'£60' comes the bid from a gentleman on my left........'£65'........'£70'..... £75'.......I think to myself that someone really wants this clock apart from me........ £80......then £85..... and so it goes on and I'm beginning to think 'Where will this end?..........£90....then £95 from my opponent and as I raise my number for the £100 bid I hear nothing from my left! I wait and the auctioneer repeats my number for the second time and then drops his hammer on my £100 bid! I have the clock! I am so satisfied! I go to the desk and pay the bill. I collect the clock and lay it lovingly in the back of my car with all the bits and stare at it in disbelief. If anyone could see me now they would think 'Why is he getting so excited about an old clock?'
When I get home I eagerly assemble the bits and find that it has a fine, sturdy tick. Eventually I clean it up and plan to have the face refurbished but in the meantime my son in law says, 'Why Joe? Surely leaving it the way it is says a lot about its history and that he personally would leave it as it is. I rethink.
As I write now, it looks down on me and ticks away contentedly. I have adjusted the pendulum so that it is now keeping perfect time - 36 years later and probably having had no maintainance in the meantime. In clock terms it's a mere fledgling but it means a lot to me!
Stephanie tells me she has the key but , so far, she has not produced it. I have bought a modern key from the cobblers - it will do - but I'd like the original Stephanie, please!
The clock still needs winding just once a week! Next week I'm off to Stephensons the jewellers in Haywards Heath - whose name appears on the face - to see if they have a record of their dealings with St Francis in providing these Enfield clocks! See part 2 of the story soon. Meantime I have set the hands - for the photo - at the time for starting the pm shift - 1.15pm or just slightly later as I was often just SLIGHTLY late for duty!
Copyright exists in this article and photo and belongs to the author.