The following article, describing the building of Gatehouse Town Clock in 1871, appeared in the Galloway News of 10th February 1922.

Gatehouse ClockTower from an Old PostcardGatehouse Town Clock

by J. Stewart.

One of the most conspicuous objects in the “wee town of Gatehouse” is the clock tower, which, standing 55 feet high and in a prominent position at the head of the town, keeps watch and ward over its destinies. Natives regard it with peculiar pride for beneath its shadow have they not gathered in connection with events solemn and joyous in local and national history? And visitors from far and near take more than a passing interest in it because of its quaint appearance and its striking resemblance to a gigantic grandfather clock.

The idea of a clock for the town was first mooted by Andrew Finlay, a watchmaker, whose place of business was that house next door to the Union Bank on its upper side. He was eccentric in many ways and woe betide the man or woman who attempted to persuade him to open his shop before the dinner hour. His eccentricity notwithstanding, he took a keen and active interest in burgh affairs and being elected a councillor in 1852, became a junior bailie in 1854 and senior bailie in 1855.

When he died he left the magistrates and council of Gatehouse the sum of £30 for the purpose of erecting a town clock within the burgh. The matter was duly considered, and after setting aside a commencement of a fund towards the object the sum of £10, which had been received from Sir William Maxwell, as an expression of his feelings for the kind attention of the people of Gatehouse on the occasion of his daughter’s marriage to Sir William Gordon, to be expended in any way the Provost and magistrates might think proper, they appointed Messrs McKean and Cairns to look out for a site and find out the probable cost of a clock, and Mr McTaggart to endeavour to raise a subscription towards the same. Towards the end of 1867, they reported progress but it was of such a nature that the council felt that if matters were to be expedited and brought to a satisfactory conclusion, a new and stronger committee was a clamant necessity.

Accordingly they appointed a mew committee consisting of the Provost, Messrs McKean, Wylie, and McAdam, and co-opted Messrs Murray Stewart, Menzies, Campbell, McLean and Hall, the two latter being Andrew Finlay’s trustees. A draft circular explaining the object was sent out to natives and friends without the bounds, and Provost McTaggart and Messrs McAdam and Menzies called upon the inhabitants of the district. On April 9th 1868, when £140 had been received, it was decided to ask the road trustees to allow the clock to be erected in the Square between the Bank of Scotland and the Murray Arms. New developments, however, took place a month later. As some felt that such a sum was quite inadequate to provide a building worthy of the town on that site Mr Murray Stewart tabled a proposal to purchase Charles McMinn’s property – the Market Cross – and hand it over to the committee for the purpose.

The fat was in the fire immediately. The battle of the sites had begun. The committee was displaced by another, with Mr Murray Stewart as chairman and Mr Glover as secretary. The battle still raged and peace was not restored until the 4th of February 1869, when Mr Pilkington, an Edinburgh architect, and Mr Faed, the artist, strongly recommended as the best, the site at the head of the town.
Meantime the collectors had not been idle and had gathered in the sum of £313. They were further exhorted to duty and at the end of the year the Council not only paid over Sir William Maxwell’s £10, but also arranged a concert, which was a great success and which contributed materially to the funds.

It was not until the 28th of September 1970, that the way was made clear for the erection of a clock and tower in the town, the financial aspect being a great stumbling block. On that date, however, Mr Murray Stewart sent a letter to the clock committee in the following terms :- “I propose to withdraw my subscription of £50 and on condition that the tower is erected to my satisfaction and is proceeded with immediately, I will provide a suitable clock to be placed in it which I expect will cost from £100 to £120.” By this public spirited act of benevolence the committee were able to go ahead with the project and before the year ended working plans were prepared by Mr Pilkington free of charge, and estimates advertised for. When these came in they were found to be as follows :-

Robert Hume, Gatehouse ...... £435
D & D McCulloch, Whithorn ......... £1093
John Cairns, Gatehouse ....... £436 10s

These, however, were too high for the sum (£300) at the disposal of the committee and the plans were modified accordingly. A use was found for local stone in the structure instead of all granite as was originally proposed. Estimates were again called for and Mr John Cairns, proving the successful competitor, was entrusted with the work. But he did not live to see it finished – a strange coincidence when one considers that it had been prophesised that those employed on the job would be denied the pleasure of seeing its completion.

The prophesy, notwithstanding, the tower was built and the clock arrived. It was made by Messrs Gillet and Bland at Croydon,  Surrey, and its movements are similar to those on the clock on the Houses of Parliament. The bell weighs 3½ cwts. and the dials are 3 feet 6 inches in diameter. After being duly placed in position the ceremony of setting it agoing was performed by Mrs Murray Stewart on Saturday 30th September 1871. Nearly all of Gatehouse turned out, amongst those present being Mr Murray Stewart, Provost McKean, Bailies McLean and McAdam, Councillors McHaffie, Hornsby, McLean and Belford, ex-Provost Campbell, Mr McTaggart, Mr H.D. Glover and Mr Pilkington, architect.

A cord attached to the pendulum was handed to Mrs Murray Stewart, who was sitting in her carriage, and that lady giving it a sharp pull at five minutes to twelve set the clock agoing and amid hearty cheers declared the tower opened. Thereafter the Gatehouse Brass band played “God save the Queen” and the proceeding terminated.

After the inauguration of the water supply into Gatehouse, Mr Murray Stewart with his kindly forethought and usual generosity provided the tower with a drinking fountain and a watering trough. Both were made of granite. On the inscription of the former are the words “He sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the hills” and on the latter “A righteous man regardeth the life of the beast.” They have been of incalculable boon to tired man and weary beast. Drinking of their waters those have found refreshment and strength.

Long may the tower stand, the clock wag and the water run, to tell posterity of the public spirit of their predecessors. Fine illustrations those of that branch of learning called civics which is now being taught in our public schools. Gatehouse needs more than lip service to it natural beauties and attractions. It needs men who will do something with their wealth with which they have been blessed or their native place and improve the amenities of life in this remote corner of Galloway. A cottage hospital, a trained nurse, a public recreation ground, a club etc. would make the place more comfortable wherein to dwell and add to the zest of living. Who will be the benefactors?