One thing it takes time to adjust to when you move is the sound signature of a new place. I associate our old home in Brighton with raucous laughing seagulls and pipes that chugged when the washing machine was filling up. Through December and January our Briarcourt soundtrack opened with dramatic crescendos of westerly wind thrusting through the trees; but now Spring is upon us, we're treated to the busy chattering of birds. Some days it's like a feathered version of Club Tropicana in our garden. But whatever the season, the rhythm of each day is anchored by the steady predictability of the Lindley Clocktower chimes.
The clocktower stands on the corner of the high street and we can see its face from our living room, so it helps us feel connected with the village. However, on sleepless nights, the chimes underline that very specific sense of loneliness that comes from believing you're the only person in the world who is lying in bed wide awake.
We've learnt that Briarcourt has a special connection with the clocktower - both buildings came into being through Edgar Wood's family connections with the Sykes family. Lindley Clocktower was commissioned by James Nield Sykes - Edgar Wood's uncle and Herbert Higginson Sykes' great-uncle.
Built 8 years after Briarcourt, it's a study in beautiful art nouveau styling.
One popular tale goes that James Sykes commissioned the clocktower so that his mill-workers couldn't have any excuses for turning up late to work. However, even if this contains a grain of truth, it's certainly not the whole story. James Sykes is known to have used his wealth and influence for the greater good, donating recreation ground to the Lindley community and ploughing money into maintaining and improving its methodist chapel. His philanthropic reputation spread across Huddersfield and in 1895 he was rewarded for his civic-mindedness by becoming only the fourth person to be granted the freedom of the town (John Sykes, Herbert's father and Briarcourt benefactor, followed in his footsteps 18 years later). However, in spite of this wider recognition, Lindley was clearly where James Sykes' soul belonged, and the clocktower was his gift to its people and a monument to a deep personal pride in his community.
Touchingly, these feelings seem to have been reciprocated. It is said that curtains were drawn and blinds lowered throughout the village on the day of James Sykes' funeral, where he was fondly remembered as '....a fine type of rough and ready Yorkshireman, bluntly outspoken and not squeamish in his choice of words.....No more generous heart ever beat'.*
Much of the symbolism depicted in the clocktower's sculptures connects to ageing and the tyranny of time, and I wonder how much these themes exercised James Sykes' thinking when the tower was commissioned. He would have heard the first chimes ring out on Chrismas Eve 1902. A little over two months later, aged 77, he died.
At least he heard his bells.
* Thanks to Christopher, Clare and Barry for sharing research about James Nield Sykes with us.