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Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire

Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire

Upton Hall, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, has been the home of the British Horological Institute’s museum collection of timepieces of all shapes and sizes since the early 1970s, but it has only recently opened to the public:  http://bhi.co.uk/museum/museum-events.

It’s a fascinating place, currently open only on Fridays and for occasional special events, though the adjacent Clock House Café & Tea Room in the grounds is open seven days a week and well worth a visit:  http://clockhousecafe.co.uk/about.

Upton was an ecclesiastical estate, attached to Southwell Minster, in the Middle Ages, and there was a hall in the village from the 1580s at least.

The Hall itself is an attractively quirky building, redesigned by the architect William John Donthorn (1799-1859) for the banker Thomas Wright (1773-1845).  The garden front, with its tetrastyle portico, is more impressive than the austere entrance, and the splendid central staircase hall is top-lit by a leaded dome.

A later owner, the Newark brewer John Warwick, extended the house, adding the west wing containing a ballroom, a billiard room and a suite of six bedrooms with dressing rooms, after he bought it in 1895.

It was purchased in 1936 Sir Albert Ball, the son of a trading plumber who had risen to wealth as an estate agent and land dealer and became Lord Mayor of Nottingham.  He sold it on to the Catholic order of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost for use as a novitiate house for trainee priests.

A post-war vicar, Rev Frank West, describes how, when he took over, one of the churchwardens declared, “over the road is The Holy Ghost, but you won’t get much help from that.”  (In fact, Frank West found, social relations were entirely amicable:  each group of adherents supported the other’s annual fête.)

Frank West arrived in the village just in time to be isolated by the vicious winter of 1947.  By chance he discovered a cache of seventeenth-century parish papers, and his researches, carried out while confined to his new vicarage by the weather, produced one of the best-written village histories in the language:  Rude Forefathers:  Upton-by-Southwell, 1600-1660 (1949;  Cromwell Press 1989).

George Lillywhite, A Tickle to Leg:  the history of Upton-by-Southwell and its cricketers, 1855-1901 (Morley’s 1996) follows in the same tradition, turning the quest for sporting archives into a portrait of a village community.

Upton’s most famous son appears to be Professor James Tennant (1808-1881), the mineralogist who was responsible for the cutting of the Koh-i-nor diamond.

Most people drive through Upton village on the A612 in not much more than a minute without any idea of its quiet history.

It’s a pity to miss the Clock House Café and the Hall full of clocks, and I hope that increased footfall will encourage the BHI to open their Museum more often.

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