Roland Hoggard - Clock Man
Interview by Sally Kindberg for Cityguide Magazine
Dent, London clockmakers who had premises at the Royal Exchange in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, supplied luxury timepieces to the rich and famous, including the Duke of Wellington, Tsar Nicholas II, and Winston Churchill. Dent is also responsible for some remarkable architectural clocks – at Big Ben, Balmoral Castle, the Moscow Post Office - and at St Pancras Station.
The present platform clock, decorated with slate numerals and 23 carat gold leaf, hangs impressively at the end of Barlow’s train shed in refurbished and reinvented St Pancras International Railway Station. It isn’t the original Victorian Dent one though – it’s a copy.
In the 1960s, St Pancras’s neo-gothic style fell out of favour, and there were plans to pull it down. The poet Sir John Betjeman successfully campaigned to help save the buildings from demolition. In the 1970s, the original platform clock was sold to an American collector – for £250,000, according to Dent’s website. Workmen started to take down the clock, but dropped it, smashing it into pieces.
Railway worker Roland Hoggard, close to retirement, whose twin passions were clocks and trains, bought the smashed pieces for £25. He packed them into boxes, loaded them onto a parcel barrow, and and bit by bit transported the clock fragments in his guards van from London to his home in Thurgarton, Nottinghamshire. It took over a week to get all them all home.
St Pancras station has always had a special place in my heart. Its previously sooty splendour was a portal to Nottingham, where I grew up. After I left to try and make my fortune in London, I travelled back there regularly by train to visit members of my family. When I heard about Roland and the clock, I decided to visit him (and the clock) on my next trip to the Midlands, in the spring of 2010.
Thurgarton was once the site of a 12th century Augustinian priory. It’s a small, pretty village, eleven miles north-east of Nottingham, bisected by a main road, with traffic whizzing down a slight hill. He lives in Priory Farm, a jumble of farm buildings next to the Coach & Horses Inn, on the main road.
We sat drinking Typhoo in a low-ceilinged room with an uneven red and white tiled floor. There were clocks everywhere, pictures of trains – and birthday cards. Roland had just celebrated his 94th birthday, but looked younger. “I was born in a Zeppelin raid,” he told me,”Very sickly - the doctor said I wouldn’t last long. But here I am.” Roland smiled, his eyes twinkling. His father was a signalman at Sutton-in-Ashfield during WW1, and his mother used to push Roland in his pram to the signal box to wave to his father. When he was fourteen he started on the railways as a messenger-boy, and ended up working as a guard. “I lived the railways.” Roland said proudly.
Outside, amongst outhouses built on or around the original 12th century priory farm, beyond some bramble-covered railway sleepers, was the magnificent clock-face, 18 feet in diameter, set into the end of a barn, which Roland once used to store a steam engine. It took him a year and a half to restore the clock.
While St Pancras was undergoing its recent refurbishment, Dent representatives visited Roland in Thurgarton to take moulds of the clock-face, and samples of materials. They aimed to copy their original clock-face as closely as possible, for example using slate from the original quarry to match that used for its numerals.
One of Roland’s prized possessions is a framed invitation asking him to the re- opening of St Pancras Station in 2007. He was sent first-class train tickets, and travelled to London wearing a bow-tie borrowed from a neighbour, in case he met the Queen at the opening ceremony. “The security men put my walking stick through a scanner!” Roland told me. “I got tea and biscuits while I waited for the Queen. Needed ear plugs, the brass band was so loud. The Queen was an hour late - I saw her, but she didn’t see me,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I was glad to get home afterwards. It’s busier there than it used to be.”
|«Curator of Historic Buildings at the Tower of London
||» Profiles Correspondent for Cityguide Magazine|
|All content © S. Kindberg unless otherwise credited - All Rights Reserved|