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Saving time - Phillip Martin on a mission to maintain 'heritage clocks' across Jamaica

Published:Saturday | November 26, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Clock in Claremont, St Ann.
Falmouth Parish Church clock.
Clock in Black River.
May Pen town clock.
Dave Lindo, Gleaner Writer

MANDEVILLE, Manchester: AMERICAN PHILLIP Martin has been championing the cause of the need for repairing and preserving the 'heritage clocks' across Jamaica - many of which are in disrepair, having been neglected for years.

A businessman, engineer, horologist, historian and philanthropist, Martin, through his extensive research, has brought to light the deplorable conditions of some of these clocks, many needing urgent attention.

"Through my research, so far, I have identified up to 30 clocks of heritage quality, meaning that they are 50 to 60 years old and more. Some dating back to 150 years," Martin disclosed.

"The condition of some of these clocks is just atrocious, really. There is just scant regards for items which are so important to the heritage of Jamaica," Martin told The Gleaner. "The one at the Black River Parish Church, built in 1843, had the correct time but the whole structure is about to fall down. The roofs of the structure have rotted out. At any minute it can come crashing down," he said.

Martin added, "At the Falmouth Parish Church, you have the most beautiful clock structure which was built in 1796, but it's not working."

He pointed out that the mechanical engines of some of the heritage clocks have been replaced with electronically operated ones, about which he is seriously concerned. "If you take a 100-year-old clock and replace the history, you ruin the heritage," he said.

"That was the case with the clock at the St Andrew Parish Church on King Street and the one at Half-Way Tree, they were fitted with electronically run engine. Often, the electronic conversion doesn't last for a long time.

"Such is the case with the clock at the St Andrew Parish Church, which hasn't worked for over a year now. A mechanical movement can last up to 100 years and maintain the original heritage," Martin explained.

Martin has been operating a business in Four Paths, Clarendon, for 11 years, and has been living in Jamaica for two years. He first got involved in the heritage clocks in Jamaica after being disturbed by the state of the one in May Pen, Clarendon.

Having realised that the clock wasn't working, with the help of the May Pen Fire Department he gained entry to the clock when the keys for the lock couldn't be found. He power-washed the inside, fixed the ladder and replaced the hands on the clock that were missing.

"There was no identification, when the clock was made. What was inscribed on it was that it was made in the memory of World War 1," Martin said. "My research showed that it was built in memory of a Dr Robert Glaister Samuel Bell. I made several checks at the local library and couldn't get any information. I went to The Gleaner Company and went through their archives, where I got lots of information on him."

Martin has contacted the Heritage Trust seeking assistance to repair some of these clocks, but he said the agency doesn't have the money to do this. He has set up a website where he has information on the heritage clocks across the island and the present state that they are in. He is currently trying to garner funds to repair and service the clocks. "I would like the Government to sanction aids for these clocks," Martin said. "I believe countries such as USA, China, as well as corporate citizens, would be more than willing to help such a worthy cause."

Martin is also looking at playing a part in restoring heritage sites across the island. "There is so much just lying there and if not preserved will vanish. There, is urgent need to do something about this."


Martin's research showed that Dr Bell was known for his kindness to the poor. It was said that he never turned back a patient, whether or not they had money.

He died on May 12, 1904, when he was swept away by the Rio Minho River after he attempted to cross it. "Dr Bell died at the Sevens crossing between May Pen and Longsville after visiting a patient, Christine Coastworth, at Lucky Valley. He was warned not to cross the river because it had overflowed its banks but he insisted, and he and his carriage were washed away on his way back," Martin disclosed.

Dr Bell was 49 years old when he died. In 1907, the parish council commissioned the building of the Bell Memorial Clock in May Pen.