Gibb memorial, Blackheath
The Gibb memorial at sunset earlier this month (at 4.30pm, not 7.05pm)

853’s special correspondent MERCURY MAN turns back the clock to revisit one of his best-known campaigns – to fix Greenwich borough’s public timepieces.

Public clocks not working. Thought I’d get straight to the point because the Ed’s been complaining upstairs that he’s fed up with me going on more digressions than Holden Caulfield.

Mercury Man logo

I tried to explain in measured tones that my readers are a sharp and insightful bunch more than capable of… – sorry. Public clocks not working.

The offenders this time are the four clocks on the Gibb Memorial shelter on Blackheath, at the junction of Maze Hill and Charlton Way. You can’t miss it; where the buses turn right towards the Standard. (Andrew Gibb? He was a local ship repairer who lived in Westcombe Park and left £1,200 for the water fountain when he died in 1908.)

They’re spookily out of order. Go past upstairs on the 202 any time of day and they all show 20 to three at 10 past four. Check it yourself. Maybe for you it’ll be 5 to five at a quarter past six.

One thing they won’t be is right. And on this evidence no-one at Greenwich Council is all that bothered. How can they be if the clocks have been crocked for yonks?

So, just like in 1999, I’m gonna get ’em working or taken down. See if I don’t. And I’m already in overdrive!

Mercury newspaper, 1997
Back in time: Mercury Man campaigning on clocks in the 1990s

Tapping into admittedly dishevelled resources, I came across a former ward councilor, Alex Grant. He’s a thoroughly decent cove and, if he doesn’t mind me saying so, a bit of a clever clogs like Emond Elephant – being involved in restoring the shelter back in about 2003.

I’d heard Alex had removed to Northamptonshire – Oudle, in fact – but I actually had to track him down, if you can believe it, to a small town outside Malmo in Sweden, enjoying meatballs served with lingonberry jam with his teacher wife, Liz (I’d go into even more fascinating detail but I can sense Ed’s lurking grimace with parentheses of his own (Quite right – Ed.)).

Drying his hair after a quick sauna, Alex started by recalling the clock tower fiasco of 1999. “I remember excuses over some of the clocks being easier to get working than others because of different mechanisms,” he said, passing the lingonberry jam.

“But it was ridiculous that we could not get the clocks working for the Millennium. It took the dream team of John Fahy and the good old Mercury to get it sorted.”

Gibb memorial plaque
The memorial was restored in 2003

As for the Gibb Memorial, Alex added: “This was a great project to be involved in, as it was a pleasant surprise that for once the lottery paid out, the council match funding did manage to materialise and the local groups were very generous.

“The shelter had become so dilapidated it was propped up with scaffolding and its demolition was seriously considered. It is a crying shame if its clocks are no longer working. Go to it, MercMan!”

Gibb memorial clock
What’s the time again?

I went to it. I soon found Gillett & Johnston, the bespoke firm that maintained the said clocks for many years. They’re in Croydon and more than willing to give a free estimate to repair the clocks.

Even better, you might say, there’s a spiffing Greenwich Council budget programme whereby each ward has been able to splash out £30,000 on worthy schemes proposed by the community.

Mercury Man logo

Up till recently most wards, including Blackheath Westcombe, had a good few bob left in their kitties, so I’ll leave it to you to contact the relevant councilors – Brighty, Morrissey, Parker – to time their intervention and end the horological horror story.

Got a tale for Mercury Man? (Or a tip for the 3.40pm at Kempton?) Leave a comment below or email mercuryman.853[at]

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