A history of Dundee’s Wellgate ‘nursery rhyme’ clock

The Wellgate clock. Picture: CC-by-sa/2.0 - Copyright: william - geograph.org.uk/p/1972359
The Wellgate clock. Picture: CC-by-sa/2.0 - Copyright: william - geograph.org.uk/p/1972359
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DUNDEE’S iconic Wellgate Centre clock has kept local kids enthralled and entranced for generations.

Situated on the top floor, the clock has been a feature of the city shopping centre for almost 40 years.

It was assembled by Suffolk clockmakers Haward Horological Ltd and installed in 1978, the year the shopping centre opened.

Every hour the Wellgate clock bursts into life: a door opens, objects move, figures become animated and the chimes ring out to a familiar tune from all our childhoods.

At the stroke of midday, the clock is at its most lively, with several doors opening and all twelve nursery rhymes playing in succession.

The clock’s colourful figures include a waking lion, a galloping unicorn and a fiddling cat. All of them nods to famous nursery rhymes, they were the brainchild of designer Mr Charles Anderson who was responsible for a similar clock at the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness.

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In the early days, people gathered round in their droves, waiting patiently for the big hand to trigger the colourful, cacophonous melee.

As a city centre landmark, the clock has served as a meeting place for friends and even couples embarking on their first date.

But for young children, its target audience, the mesmerising timepiece has long offered a welcome interlude to mum and dad’s weekend retail rituals.

Writing on the Lost Dundee Facebook page, one follower posted: “When mum took me shopping it was a nightmare, ‘cause every time we’d walk through the Wellgate I’d want to stop and wait for it to go off - even if we had to wait half an hour to see it”.

Another follower of Lost Dundee, Dianne Robertson, posted: “I remember when you couldn’t get near to the front to watch the clock, crowds of people who waited patiently to see every action it did at 12 noon - wonderful memories.”

Even today the clock remains a must-see attraction for the city’s little ones, while parents love it for its ‘timeless’ appeal.

“The clock is very much an integral part of the centre and you still see children waiting to see it strike the hour when the characters come out,” says Marion Crerar, Marketing and Commercial Manager at Wellgate Shopping Centre,

“It’s a refreshing change for them as well in the digital age. Something traditional.”

As it approaches its big four-O, the Wellgate clock requires service on a regular basis. Ian Haward, Managing Director at Haward Horolgical, the Felixstowe-based firm which designed its mechanism, said the clock is not working properly at the moment but should be getting serviced in the coming months.

“We were last up there in November 2016. The clock is due for a service and we should be coming up there fairly soon,” Mr Haward said.

The relentless march of time means the iconic Wellgate nursery rhyme clock requires regular maintenance, but hopefully, with the help of Mr Haward and co, it will continue to tick-tock well into the future.

The Wellgate Clock, a poem by Anna MacDonald

Crowds gather in anticipation

Showing their appreciation

The footman grinds the hurdy gurdy

In tuneful animation

A monkey turns to look around

Two bluebirds take their station - Almost midday

Precisely then - the clock becomes alive

Unicorn gallops and nods his head

To the cat’s fiddling jive

***

Lion wakes and with his tail

Strikes midday hour

Releasing enchantment

With hypnotising power

***

Twelve pairs of doors

Sequel through

A dozen childhood scenes

A wonderland of magic

Fantasy of dreams

***

Little Bo Peep seeks advice

Pop goes the weasel - buying rice

Simple Simon - lank and lean

Pussy cat, pussy cat - where have you been

Little Miss Muffet

Pat-a-cake

Little Jack Horner

Is baby awake?

Tom, Tom, the Piper’s son

Contrary Mary’s garden’s fun

Little Tommy Tucker sings for you

As we wave goodbye to Lavender Blue

***

Crowds disperse in exaltation

Nostalgic, sweet appreciation