The Old Clock of Kirkcudbright

The history of the old Tolbooth clock with it's single hand and two faces. Written by a past curator of the Stewartry Museum in 1897. 

The Old Clock of Kirkcudbright. By Mr John McKie.

This quaint horological machine, whose working parts were originally all of malleable iron, exhibits excellent workmanship in the forging of its wheels and in the cutting of their teeth, but when it was made minutes were not held to be of such account as they are in the present day; consequently it had no minute hand — one to indicate the hours being then considered sufficient. It had two dials — one facing east, and the other north — that could be seen from any part of High Street, which at that time comprehended the whole town. There is no authentic record when or where it was made. There is a tradition that it came from Holland, and may, in all likelihood, have been presented to the burgh by William Maclellan, the first Provost, an ancestor of the Lords Kirkcudbright. The first authentic notice of the town clock, or, as it was then quaintly styled, the "knok," is to be found in the earliest existing records of the Town Council, and is dated 1576, wherein, after a narrative of the election of magistrates and office-bearers, it is set forth that one, John Hall is appointed keeper of the "knok," and subsequently he and others continue to be made custodiers of the old timepiece from year to year. The following excerpt from the Council minutes shows the existence of a curious regulation, namely, that every burgh was bound to maintain and uphold a town clock; and from the same excerpt it will be seen that, in 1642, the question was not one of erecting a new clock, but of transferring the old one to a new 

"Att Kirkcudbright, the ffourt day of January, the yeir of God JmVIC, ffourtie twa years (1642). The qlk day the Proveist, Baillies and Counsell of the Burgh of Kirkcudbryt, with advyse and consent of the remanent burgess and communitie of the said burgh. Having takin to thair serious consideracun the los and want of thair ‘knok' throw the falt of ane steiple and bel hous to put thair knok and bellis in (the auld tolbuith qlk of befor keepit thair knok and bel being now ruinous and decaiyit), and of haveing takin to thair consideraun the necessitie of ane steiple and bel hous to keip their knok and bel, qlk is ane speciall ornament belanging to every burgh; and qlk they are bund be the antient lawes of the burrows of this kingdome to mantein and uphauld and lykewayes they takeing to thair serious consideraun the decay of thair comon guid and that it is superspendit upon the comon effaires of this burgh. Thairfoir the said Proveist, Baillies and Counsell of the said burgh with advyse and consent of the remanent burgess and comunitie of the said burgh. Have all in ane voice cheirfullie and voluntarily offered theimselff is to be stentit in their guids for buying of ane piece of grund qr it may be maist and best convenientlie had for biggin of the said bell hous and steiple and for fournishing of materialls and paying of workmen to big the saym and for that effect they by yir pnts do nominate and appoynt certain members of the Counsell, or the maist pairt of theme to convene wt the magrats of the said burgh qu soevir they should be requyrt for setting of the foresaid stent. Quha being conveint and haveing acceptit the foirsaid charge upon them. Have all in ane voyce (qa war pret) maid and set down the stent efter. Spcit to be payit by the haill burgess and inhabitants to the said burgh to William Halliday and Geo. Callander or any ane of thame. Collectors appoyntit for uplifting of the said stent and qa ar obleigt to be comptable thairfoir to the Proveist, Baillies and Counsell of the said burgh in manir efter mentionat."

The steeple was shortly afterwards built, and the "knok" and bells placed therein, where its single hand continued to point out the fleeting hours till 1723, in which year a serious fire occurred in the steeple, by which much damage was done to the clock and bells. In those days there was no watch or clock maker resident in Kirkcudbright, and the clock was sent to Ringford, to a blacksmith named Law, who was noted for his ability in the art of cleaning clocks and watches. It lay in the Ringford smithy for six months before being thoroughly overhauled. It was then restored to its old quarters, and for more than a hundred years continued to be the only standard by which the time in the district was regulated; but after the two-handed clock was put into the parish church, the old timekeeper came to be looked upon with less reverence, and its occasional erratic movements became more noticeable, which had previously passed undetected, but were now brought into prominence by the steadier action of its new neighbour. It, however, kept moving on with wonderful regularity under the doctoring care of several tradesmen, among others, F. Walker, A. Millar, W. Law, and J. McSkimming, until this the diamond jubilee of Her Most Giacious Majesty, when Provost Cowan, much to his honour, has commissioned Mr McSkimming to replace it with a splendid new illuminated-dial clock; and, by resolution of the Council, the "Auld Knok" now finds a fitting resting place in the Stewartry Museum.

External Links