Stonehaven Clock Tower


Building owner/client:

Aberdeenshire Council

Architect or lead designer:

David Chouman

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

North East Scotland Preservation Trust

Project Description

The Clock Tower in Stonehaven is a Category B-listed structure located in the Old town near the harbour. Erected in 1790 the property is a single-bay square tower rising through 4 floors and terminating with a lead-clad spire. The Tower is an important landmark within the Old Town, forms part of the historic skyline of the harbour area, and has significant importance to the historical development of Stonehaven, which continues today through its use as part of the world famous annual Hogmanay Stonehaven Fireballs Festival. In recent years the building had fallen into disrepair and required substantial renovation works to bring it back into a safe and sustainable use. In considering the various constraints afforded by the Tower’s restricted floorplan, siting, access opportunities, limited adaptability for alternative uses and configuration; the preferred restoration option was to sustain and enhance its role in providing an attractive facility for both the local community and tourists. As such the Tower underwent an extensive programme of sympathetic internal and external repairs to consolidate and enhance its original role of providing a public service. Previously the Tower was underused and lay vacant and ignored for the majority of the year until its incorporation in the Annual Fireballs celebrations when the Tower was illuminated and the bells rang out at midnight. The overall vision for the Tower was to maintain it externally in its current form as a prominent feature of the High Street of Stonehaven, with appropriate repairs and restoration to the facades. Externally the only addition was an all abilities access ramp to the ground floor. Internally much of the timber flooring and steep stairs were beyond repair, and the spaces on the middle two internal levels were of no practical use because of their very limited size. Following discussions with Historic Scotland it was agreed that the middle two floors could be removed allowing the bells and clock mechanisms to be viewed from the ground floor. A new system of access ladders and narrow platforms were installed to allow access for maintenance only, to the top level, bells, clock mechanism and external walkways. Internally, on the ground floor, an interpretative display was installed, providing historical information on the Tower itself and the history of the Fireballs ceremony, a video of the actual Fireballs Ceremony, a walking trail around the Old Town and an interactive computer screen showing a 360 degree panorama from the top of the Tower. The restoration works included [total cost £250,000]: repairs to bellcote and weathervane, new lead roof and flashings; new timber balustrade and matching railings for all abilities access; repointing of external and internal walls; replacement of displaced/damaged sandstone blocks; timber window and door repairs and repainting; replacement of existing bell cradle with new hardwood cradle; full restoration of historic barometer and repairs to bells and reinstatement of chiming mechanism for clock. All works were carried out in consultation with and support of the local Heritage Group, Fireballs Association, Tolbooth Museum Group and Town Team Tourism Group.

Supporting Statement

Once the principle of restoration had been established, and budget identified, a high quality scheme was prepared, befitting the significance of the building and its prominent location , and aimed at minimising maintenance on the property. Externally the building has changed little but has been fully restored and is now an attractive focal point in the street scape. Following discussions with Historic Scotland it was agreed that a number of ladders and intermediate platforms giving access to the upper level, [which were in a hazardous condition] could be stripped out as they were of little historic interest having been altered many times over the years. These were replaced with a series of new platforms and access ladders, which to maximise the appreciation of the property’s internal soaring composition, were constructed in “open” metalwork, to occupy minimal internal space and minimise visual obstruction to the stripped out volume. The provision of an unmanned [and free] facility still provided the challenge of day to day management which could not be undertaken by the Council because of revenue shortfalls. Due to the partnership links forged during the project, the community group that run the nearby Tollbooth museum agreed to take on the management of the Tower funded by sponsorship and the income from sale of the Town Trail leaflets. The Category B listed Tower was constructed by public subscription in 1790 and occupies a prominent site within the Town, and within the Stonehaven Conservation Area. Directly to the west of the entrance door to the Tower lies the 17th Century Market Cross itself a Category B listed structure. The Tower had suffered from lack of appropriate maintenance over recent years because it was not considered a priority as it was not an “operational” building as such. Community pressure on the “sad” state of the building in such a prominent position in the Town driven by the Environment team within the Planning Service resulted in funding being identified to restore the Tower and identify a productive and sustainable use for the property. The community were involved from the outset, and throughout the process. Consultation took place on proposals and several community ideas were incorporated into the final design. The local Heritage Group funded and organised the restoration of the historic barometer, various groups contributed information and material for the interpretative displays and Town Trail leaflet. Finally the facility itself is being operated by a local group. The town has benefitted by the creation of a new visitor facility attracting nearly 7000 visitors between April and December 2015, raising income for the Fireballs Association from a donations box and the Tollbooth Group from sponsorship and sale of Town Trail leaflets. Main challenges faced by the project were more extensive timber rot in main structure of bellcote which only became apparent on stripping out and required complicated technical solutions to resolve. Main contractor went into liquidation before end of contract, and this is still being dealt with, but project was completed with only a short delay.