Northern Ireland

Making tracks - Portrush set to lose historic railway clock

The owner of the 1892 Sharman D. Neill clock has been unable to secure a location for it within the Coleraine area Image copyright Barry Torrens
Image caption The owner of the 1892 Sharman D. Neill clock has been unable to secure a location for it within the Coleraine area

It stood on the platform of Portrush railway station during the reign of Queen Victoria, two world wars, the partition of Ireland and the worst days of the Troubles.

But now a grandfather clock - thought to be the tallest free-standing one in the world - is destined to be moved away from its North Coast home of 124 years, as its owner claims the local council have expressed no interest in keeping it.

In April, Barry Torrens offered the 1892 Sharman D Neill timepiece to the Causeway and Glens Borough Council on permanent loan with no fee, but six months later, he says their "apparent indifference" has led him to offer it elsewhere.

It is understood a heritage railway association immediately expressed an interest on hearing of its availability this week.

"I had really wanted to keep it within the Coleraine borough, but I'm just exasperated at this stage," said Mr Torrens.

Image copyright Barry Torrens
Image caption The clock was dismantled and removed from Barry's Arcade in Portrush earlier this year

In a statement, the Causeway and Glens Borough Council said: "Council officers are liaising with the owner of Portrush railway clock to arrange the transfer to Coleraine Town Hall."

However, Mr Torrens claimed he had had no such conversation with the council.

"I've given them six months to take it with absolutely no charge, as I just want it to have a good home in the area, but I contacted them in September to see what - if anything - was happening, and they didn't even bother to reply, so I felt I needed to move on," he said.

Mr Torrens first offered it to the council in 2008, after purchasing it from an international antiques dealer who was about to ship to a buyer in the US.

However, he claims that they also declined to take it then, so he loaned it to Barry's Amusements in Portrush instead.

Image copyright Barry Torrens
Image caption Barry Torrens first offered it to the council in 2008, after purchasing it from an international antiques dealer who was about to ship to a buyer in the US

His only conditions were that it would always display the correct time and would be kept on public display in the area.

When Barry's needed to create space earlier this year, they returned it to Mr Torrens, who has kept it in storage ever since.

The clock was commissioned for the platform of Portrush railway station in 1892 and was manufactured by Sharman D Neill, a renowned Belfast clock-maker of the Victorian era.

The 18ft (5'5m) clock - with a current estimated value of £30,000 - stood between the platforms until about 1975.

"It stood there through so many historic events that shaped our lives today," said Mr Torrens.

"The end of Queen Victoria's reign, the sinking of the Titanic, the wars, the partition of Ireland - not to mention the Troubles.

Fond memories

"When I first bought it, older people in the town were so keen to tell me about their memories of it," he said.

"One man in his 70s told me about leaving Portrush for World War Two and as the train was pulling away from the platform, the clock was the last image he had of his town, and he vividly remembered the exact time and kept that memory with him through the war, wondering would he ever see it again.

"Other people told me about how that was the meeting place for them when they were courting teenagers."

Even the graffiti on the inside of the timepiece holds historical interest.

"There's an inscription from 1898 from someone called Pongo James Granger," said Mr Torrens.

"Pongo was an old slang word for a soldier, but he seemed to be in charge of it or have some connection to it.

"Then there's more graffiti from 1932, where someone wrote: 'In loving memory of Pongo James Granger - may he rest in peace.'

"And maybe this 'pongo' wasn't universally popular, as someone else has written: 'May he roast!'"

Now Mr Torrens says he is determined to find a place for the clock where it will receive the appreciation that he believes it deserves.

"Whether I loan it for free or sell it, I just want to be sure that it has a good home," he said.

"I thought that would be in this area, but I'm now at the stage where I'm willing to look elsewhere.

"I think it's a shame for it to leave the North West and particularly if it left Northern Ireland, but I refuse to let it continue to sit there in dark storage - it deserves to be admired."