A to Z of Leeds: The curious custom of the Town Hall clock

We all know Leeds is a great city, right?

Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 11:45 am
Leeds Town Hall clock pictured in March 2009. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds Town Hall clock pictured in March 2009. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

There are many reasons for this bold claim, from the people who've called this place home, to the history of the region, the developments underway and the talent and creativity we see on a daily basis. Here, we go through the alphabet to give you some reasons to be proud.


A curious custom used to be associated with the Town Hall clock in Leeds and it was this: that when the clock struck 12, have-a-go heroes would try to sprint all the way round the building before the last chime.

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Steeplejacks remove the hands from the clock on Leeds Town Hall in July 2006. PIC: Tony Johnson

But according to a report in the YEP in January 1932, no-one, not even professional athletes, could manage the feat, although one anecdotal account from several years later says one man did it.

The clock was hung on January 3, 1860, two years after its opening attended by Queen Victoria.

The bell tower has 270 stone steps. It was wound mechanically twice a day until it was fitted with electrical winding gear on September 11, 1929.

A report on October 18, 1935 has at one time the chimes could be heard as far away as Pudsey, Oakwood and even Harewood Avenue (11 miles away).

The four-ton 6 ft-tall Victoria Bell was cast at Crescent Works, Cripplegate, London, where Big Ben of Westminster’s bells were made.

The clock has frequently broken down. It stopped in October 1930, January 1934 and September 1940 when its hands were replaced; July 1950 when the hands were stuck at midnight; October 1954 when the clock stopped at 8pm. In September 1969 the clock shut down for a two-week refurbishment and in September 1984 the clock hands whizzed forwards and backwards during repairs.

In March 1941, three of the clock’s opal glass panels were damaged by an air raid, then replaced by tin painted white.

In September 1943, the clock struck from 7am to 10pm for first time since 1939; it fell silent again in 1947 in deference to Infirmary patients.

In April 1945, the clock was illuminated for first time since outbreak of war. And in October 1974, metalworker Richard Coates was winched to safety from the clock tower by an RAF helicopter crew after injuring himself.



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Laura Collins