Islington Council, supported with a grant of almost £2million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has fully restored and repaired the historic clock tower and part of the original market railings. For the first time in the tower’s history, it will now open regularly to the public for free.
The 164-year-old clock tower officially opened its doors with a day of animation, art, theatre, exercise, exhibitions, tower tours and food and drink. A new learning and community centre, the Cally Clock Tower Centre, with a café, public toilets and dedicated volunteer room, also welcomed its first visitors.
About 600 local residents, visitors, guests and councillors took part in a historic day for the clock tower, which was built in 1855 as the centrepiece of a new cattle market to replace Smithfield.
After speeches and ribbon-cutting ceremony, visitors with booked tours climbed the 220 steps to the top of the tower for panoramic views of London’s skyline. On the ground, people had the chance to get involved in a range of sports, including a nod to the site’s past with Victorian-themed playground games.
The learning centre hosted workshops on the turret clock and an exhibition for guests detailing the history of the site and the stages of the restoration project. Throughout the day, the landmark site’s history was brought to life with interactive performances by drama company Past Pleasures.
Caledonian Park was formerly part of Copenhagen Fields, where 185 years ago – in 1834 – a petition and mass march on Parliament began in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six farm labourers from Dorset who were transported to Australia for protesting against very low wages. Eventually the protest helped to bring about a pardon for the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and the beginning of the Trade Union movement. This history is commemorated with a mural in the new park café.
Cllr Claudia Webbe, executive member for environment and transport said: “Islington Council has made significant investment of time and resources to revitalise the clock tower, the centrepiece of Caledonian Park, and create a new centre to be a welcoming, cultural and vibrant space for local people and visitors to explore the rich history of our borough. The council’s enthusiasm, hard work and commitment will leave a lasting legacy for generations to come that I have no doubt will continue to inspire on each return visit. Our vision would not have been made possible without our successful grant application and funding award from The National Heritage Lottery so a huge thanks to them for trusting and believing in our cause.
“The opening was just the start – there is a rich programme of activities with events, talks and tours so more local people can experience everything the site has to offer. I would like to say a huge thanks to the many local volunteers who are taking an active part in the clock tower’s future with everything from clock-winding to gardening. And with the tower now opening regularly I would encourage everyone no matter their age or background to come down and enjoy the next phase of the clock tower’s life.”
Stuart Hobley, Area Director for London & South, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, Caledonian Clock Tower has been restored and its fascinating heritage made available for everyone to enjoy for free for the first time. We’re delighted to see the project reach such an exciting milestone.”
As part of its ongoing investment in high-quality parks, open spaces and the clock tower, Islington Council has committed to fund the project for the next 20 years.
Please visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/opening-event-clock-tower-tours-tickets-62004124004 to book a free tour for upcoming weekends and tour days.
Check the website for regular updates: www.callypark.london