How Midland Town Hall should have looked
This is a story about a very Australian approach to life. The one where we have a complete disregard for expertise and just adopt the ‘she’ll be right, mate’ attitude. Only, in this case, she wasn’t right at all. Welcome to Midland Town Hall.
As you can see from their design above, architects Hamilton and Upton planned a single clock face right over the main entrance. Had they had the money and completed the building, the citizens of Midland would now have one of the greatest town halls in Western Australia. But they didn’t have the cash, so the design had to be trimmed back, and one of the losses was the clock.
After WWI every local area collected money for a memorial to the fallen. Many places decided not to put up a statue, but to erect something useful for the district and call it Memorial Something-or-Other. So WA is full of Memorial Halls and Memorial Gates and the like. In Midland they decided they needed a clock, so people knew when to catch their train. And not just any clock. But a really big and heavy clock, with four faces.
(There is a local myth that the clock was a rejected one intended for Midland Post Office—even the Heritage Council repeats this story—but there is no truth to this at all.)
In early 1923, the Memorial Committee asked the council to build them a tower to hold their clock. But when the council realised how much it would cost for a good tower, they proposed simply knocking the top off the Town Hall dome and sticking the clock there. Unfortunately, the architects told the council the brickwork wouldn’t take the weight, since it was never designed to have a clock on top of it.
Like any good council should, they ignored the architects and turned to a local builder, who told them he could put the clock on top of the dome really cheaply, and he was sure the Town Hall would be fine. Plus, he didn’t even ask for any money for himself, which saved council a bit more. And so the skilled architects were ignored, and plans quickly knocked up.
And so the top of the dome was cut off and the clock placed on top, completely disfiguring the look of the Town Hall, since it doesn’t fit and to this day looks like a job done by cowboy builders. Which it was.
Who could possibly think this was a good idea?
One problem was that the clock hardly ever worked, so people kept missing their trains anyway. It required constant maintenance, for which there was no budget, so a local man agreed to look after it, for free, to the best of his ability. Which doesn’t seem to have been a great success, but at least it occasionally told the right time.
A couple of years after the clock had been installed large cracks started appearing in the Town Hall’s brickwork. Some were so large you could actually put your finger between the bits of brick. Guess what? The architects had been right all along and 5.5 tonnes of clock, casing and steel struts were ripping the building apart.
So another architect had to be called in, the great Edwin Summerhayes. His report was damning. There was no structural support for the clock, it had been badly installed anyway, and it desperately needed a framework put in to carry the weight down to the foundations. Since this would destroy the Mayoral Chambers, Summerhayes said the only solution was to remove the clock and put it in its own tower, just like the Memorial Committee had originally requested. Failing to do so, risked the whole building falling down.
Everyone agreed that the clock would have to come down, but no one was willing to pay for it to do so. Instead, the council decided to drop the matter and just hope no one was killed by falling brickwork. And that’s exactly what happened. More money was spent over the next couple of decades patching up the dome and Town Hall than it would have cost to move the clock. But that’s how councils often work (or don’t work).
Today, the clock still ruins the look of a beautiful town hall. Just to save a bit of cash.