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The Clock Tower

Eastgates, at the junction of High Street, Gallowtree Gate and Haymarket.

 

The Clock Tower was "erected by public subscription, aided by the Corporation of this Borough, AD 1868, in memory of four benefactors of Leicester".

 

From the 12th century hay, straw and other agricultural produce were sold at the site where the Clock Tower now stands. Borough records of this area dated 1260 suggest that there was a mound known as 'Berehill', probably from a Saxon word for barley. In 1484 Berehill Cross stood on the mound and beneath it a set of stocks, pillory, and cage for the punishment of delinquents. Over the centuries the area acquired various names - Barrel Cross, Roundhill (corrupted to The Roundle), Gosewell Gate and Coal Hill.

 

An Assembly Room was built on the site in 1750, which was used for public dances, concerts, meetings and entertainments. When the new Assembly Rooms in Hotel Street opened in 1801, the old building was converted into separate shops and put to various other uses, including a hay and straw store and a furniture showroom. By 1867, horse-drawn traffic was causing chaos in this area.

 

The Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower was built in 1868 to form a traffic island and pedestrian refuge, and as a memorial to four local benefactors whose statues stand on the corners of the Tower. A competition held to secure the best design was won by Joseph Goddard, the 28 year old son of prominent local architect, Henry Goddard.

 

The tower is constructed of Ketton stone with a base of Mountsorrel granite, and incorporating column shafts of polished Peterhead granite and serpentine. The statues are of Portland stone, and were sculpted by a local monumental mason, Samuel Barfield, under Goddard's supervision; Barfield's fee for each statue was £37 10s 0d (£37.50). The clock was supplied by Gillett and Bland of Croydon, and the mechanism of its four dials is connected by a single guide-rod. The Clock Tower is a grade 2 listed building. 

 

The four benefactors depicted on the Clock Tower are:

 

  • Simon De Montfort (c.1208-1265). Earl of Leicester and credited with forming the first Parliament in 1265.

 

  • William Wyggeston (1467-1536), a wealthy wool merchant; twice mayor of Leicester; MP for Leicester 1504, founder of Wyggeston's Hospital.

 

  • Sir Thomas White (1492-1567). A native of Reading, he endowed various Midlands towns, including Leicester, with £40, to be used for interest free loans to young men to establish themselves in business. These funds having greatly appreciated since the 16th century, loans are still administered by local trustees.

 

  • Alderman Gabriel Newton (1683-1762), woolcomber, mayor of Leicester in 1732. After the death of his only son, he used much of his wealth to provide educational facilities for the poorer children of the town.