Who: Singer Factory Workers
Job: Winding the Singer Clock
Archive: West Dunbartonshire Archive
Between 1884 and 1963, the Singer Clock was an iconic beacon for the town of Clydebank. It could be seen for miles around and would, as it appeared on the horizon, signal to sailors coming up the Clyde that they were nearly home. It was, for a period, the largest four-faced clock in the world and, at 200 feet high, loomed over the Singer factory and the surrounding town.
In 1905 the new clock face had a diameter of 26 feet, 5 feet larger than Big Ben, and, coupled with the 13 foot ‘Singer’ signs above each clock face, the clock was an imposing symbol reflecting the global importance of the Kilbowie plant. Before being electrified, it took four men fifteen minutes to keep it wound: a duty performed twice a week. And in 1907 it was, for the first time, illuminated by spotlight, making it an even more visible landmark.
The photograph here from the Singer Archive shows a small boy holding one of the hour hands in 1926: no mean feat given each hour hand was over 8 feet long and weighed 70lbs.
In 1928, electric bulbs were set into the hands of the clock and each ‘Singer’ sign had 100 bulbs installed: at night each letter would illuminate in sequence. With the outbreak of war in 1939 the lights were extinguished and, a few weeks later on orders from the Admiralty, the Singer signs were dismantled. They were not to return until 1949 when, on the 22nd of October, the clock was finally lit again.
By the 1960s, Singer was struggling in the face of contemporary industrial processes and competition from overseas. The existing factory was deemed unfit for purpose and plans were hatched to demolish the plant and replace it with a series of low buildings, more suited to the workings of a modern factory.
At 5pm on Friday the 15th of March, 1963, Provost F. Downie of Clydebank pressed a button which stopped the Singer Clock for the last time. The hands were moved to the 6 o’clock position and in the following weeks the clock tower was demolished. ‘The aluminium hands were melted down to create souvenir ashtrays, one of which is held in the West Dunbartonshire collection. With this, a symbol of the strength and resilience of Clydebank industry was laid to rest.
For 79 years the people of Clydebank had kept time by the Singer clock: it survived two world wars, including the Clydebank blitz, and several recessions, but ultimately fell to the stark economic conditions facing post-war British industry. 17 years later the factory itself succumbed and with it, 95 years of sewing machine manufacturing came to an end.
The Sewing Machine Collection and Singer Archive is held by West Dunbartonshire Council and is a Recognised Collection of National Significance. The collection and archive are open to the public and can be viewed by appointment. For more information, contact the archivist, Chris Cassells (Christopher.firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Curator of Technology and Access, Laura MacCalman (email@example.com).
Find out more about the Singer Collection and the Recognition Scheme in this video: