Biggleswade Town Hall and the Drum Clock
A private company built the Town Hall with its massive Doric Columns in 1844 at a cost of £800 on the site of the old Vicarage Garden. The architect was John Wing of Bedford and the builder, William Twelvetrees of Biggleswade. There was an inscription below the balustrade ANN: SEP: VICTORIAE REGINAE (In the seventh year of Queen Victoria’s reign).
The County Assizes were held here on occasions with a lock-up, presumably for those awaiting trial at the courts. Biggleswade Magistrates met here until 1927 when a new Courthouse opened in Saffron Road. The Town Hall Company Ltd was set up in 1876; they enlarged the building in 1888 at a cost of £900. It was used extensively for balls, concerts and other public entertainments. Biggleswade Urban District Councillors met here when the local authority was set up in 1896. Albert Chevalier, the celebrated cockney music hall entertainer, appeared regularly at concerts for over 20 years from 1891. Animated pictures, then a novelty, were shown here in 1901.
The Directors of The Town Hall Company Ltd. put the building up for auction in 1922. They were never able to pay a large dividend and when the company was wound up they found just enough money to pay shareholders. The purchaser was Mr E. R. Smith and it appears to have continued as the Town Hall until 1927 when it was sold to Mr J Rowe who opened a Motor Service Station with seven petrol pumps. In 1935, Arthur Cooper converted it into a modern dance hall named Chick’s Café Dansant with Percy Page as Manager and Master of Ceremonies. John James Bird later took over the enterprise and became insolvent in 1939.
Horace Gale, (1908-1998) who ran a cycle and radio store nearby at 10, Stratton Street, needed larger premises and purchased the Town Hall in 1939. He converted it into The Town Hall Stores with a shop and spacious showroom selling cycles radios and electrical goods. From 1965, Horace Gale Ltd traded in a large range of electrical goods until 2000 when the business relocated to 1a Market Square as “Gales”.
The Drum Clock was made in 1884 by clockmakers Richard Cawse (the father of Charles Penrose, the laughing policeman) and John Robert Jefferies. It was fixed on the original Post Office at 53 High Street, but belonged to the town of Biggleswade. A new postmaster was appointed in 1898 and asked the Urban District Council to move the clock as it was close to his principal bedroom and could only be reached for winding and maintenance with his permission. The clock was moved to the Town Hall and has been at the there ever since, much appreciated by the townspeople. In 1993 it was badly damaged by vandals and subsequently repaired by clockmaker Peter Fletcher at a cost of £2,500 borne by the Town Council.
The new owners of the old Town Hall, ASK Restaurants sympathetically restored the listed building opening in time for Christmas 2002. The Town Clock is illuminated and maintained by Peter Fletcher.
The clock originally bore the name JEFFERIES/BIGGLESWADE on the setting dial, but after Richard Cawse objected it was at first suggested that CAWSE should appear on one dial and JEFFERIES on the other, but eventually all names were removed.
Biggleswade Chronicle 25/2/1898 At the Council Meeting after some discussion, Caleb Soundy proposed that “the clock be with permission put up at the Town hall and that application be made for an illuminated clock at the Post Office window”. Doulby brothers, builders, tendered £2.15s for taking down the clock and £7.10s for putting it up at the Town Hall. Mr G J Webb, watchmaker, was to fix the clock for £4.10s or less and promised to regulate it to within half a minute .The cost for looking after the clock for the next year was 32.10s. On 1st April 1898 they reported that the clock was in course of removal. It has been there ever since.
Richard Cawse goldsmith, jeweller, watch and clock maker was at 3 High Street from 1870 to 1894. When he first came to Biggleswade, he was apprenticed to John Robert Jefferies who was at 25 High Street 1869-1890. George Webb traded there 1895-1903. Doulby Brothers were builders and undertakers in Hitchin Street.