ONE FACE – or more to the point, four – has watched over the city for decades, and with the exception of the Bargate, is likely the best-known landmark in Southampton.

It's brilliant, beaming face has kept a watchful over Southampton and its developments for the best part of a century. And it's a face that shone like a beacon of hope during Southampton's darkest days.

When the 156ft clock tower rose majestically from the new Civic Centre complex during the early 1930s, the ominous storm clouds of war were already gathering in Europe. And when Hitler's bombers brought fire and death to Britain in 1940, the town – surveyed by the towering white landmark – received a dreadful pounding.

Yet while the historic and commercial heart of Southampton was largely erased by the Luftwaffe, the clock tower stood as defiant as the townsfolk.

All four dials of the clock were smashed though, and the south face mechanism was wrecked. Ordinary glass, specially treated with an oil transparent solution, enabled the north, east and west faces to be put right temporarily but the south dial wore a blank look throughout the conflict.

Then, two years after the war, the clock was plunged into darkness as a fuel crisis forced electricity cuts, prompting predictable anger from residents.

Civic Ce ntre clock tower under construction..

Civic Centre clock tower under construction.

It was left to the Daily Echo to comment: “There are many who would like to see the clock face glow again. There was a certain friendliness about their moon-like faces, and it is suggested that it should be simple enough to cut out a few street lamps and restore the beacon that can be seen from all over the town and from many miles beyond its bounds.”

A few months later it, at last, became possible to obtain the special opal glass from Belgium needed for the 11-foot dials and so craftsmen climbed the 215 internal stairs and began the difficult task of replacing the diamond and square pieces into the frame of the clock face.

By the end of 1947, the 54 lamps that illuminated the dials were switched on and Southampton was bathed again in the tower’s light.

It was around this time that the local council asked Daily Echo readers to come up with a suitable name for the clock, and suggestions came flooding in. Nominations included naming the tower after General Daniel Beak or Seaman Jack Mantle, two Southampton men who had been awarded the VC.

Civic Centre Clock

Civic Centre Clock.

Other names put forward included Big Tim, Long Echo and Tall Tester. However, the council came up with its own name instead – the somewhat unimaginative Civic Centre Clock.

The tower first made an appearance in Southampton's skyline during the early 1930s when it was nicknamed Kimber's Chimney by locals after the Mayor at the time, Sydney Kimber.

Sidney and architect Ernest Barry Webber tied a balloon at the proposed height and made sure it could be seen from various points across the city.

During the decades which followed, a succession of workmen have clambered the 215 internal stairs to attend the clock and its 11ft dials.

Civic Centre Clock

Civic Centre Clock.

George Mountjoy, who toiled up the staircase with his oil can at least twice a week to ensure that the mechanism was in pristine working order, told the Daily Echo in 1976: “It keeps pretty good time at the moment – it is about six seconds fast. The weather has a lot to do with it – in fact it has stopped twice because of strong winds.”