In 1810, the Council of Municipal Burgers decided that a monument to the prosperity and prominence of Crouch End was required - something which would stand forever, and exemplify the spirit of Crouch End for generations to come. The main ideas they considered were a giant mechanical herring, a bronze statue of a fisherman crouched over a river, and a replica of a locally built Lugger which on the hour would set its sails and tack into the wind, thus telling the hour and the wind direction at the same time. Unable to agree on a decision, they took the problem to the Squire. Sir Simeon, after catching the whiff of the Bishop's ale on their breath (the meetings were invariably held at the Herringbone Arms), decided that although the basic idea of a monument was a worthy one, the proffered recommendations were somewhat less than practical, and sent the Burgers back to the tavern to resume their meeting.
The thought of a lasting monument continued to haunt Sir Simeon, and eventually he came to the conclusion that the only fitting testament would be a stone clock tower, emblazoned with the arms of the borough on each of its four faces. He tabled his proposal at the next meeting of the Municipal Burgers, and after two rounds of voting and three rounds of ale it was carried unanimously.
Sir Simeon was appointed Chief Executor of the project, and he travelled throughout the country visiting the leading clock-makers of the day, but none of the submitted plans met with his vision of a fitting edifice to the life force of the area. Eventually, through his extensive European trade network, he was approached by a representative of an old-established Swiss firm, who presented a design which fired his imagination. The tower was to be carved from solid rock hewn from a local Alp, and fitted with the finest Swiss clock movements known to the modern world.
Fishermen of Crouch EndThe transportation of the tower from Switzerland and its subsequent erection were a major challenge to the engineering skills of the day, so Sir Simeon once again turned to his Son-in-law Harold - architect of the great Herring Gates - to oversee the operation. The construction of the tower itself took five years, but when complete it was loaded with great effort onto four specially constructed barges and floated down the Rhine to Antwerp.
The barges were then spliced together to form a sea-going platform, which was towed across the North Sea by three of Crouch End's most experienced captains and, after many battles with the storms and tides, arrived safely in the Thames at the entrance to the Channel. It was here that the ingenuity of the team was first challenged, as the sea-going platform was too wide to fit between the banks, and another solution to the transport of the tower had to be found.
The answer devised by Harold was simple but ingenious, and worthy of comparison with all the innovations for which Crouch End was famous. He arranged for three pairs of massive bladders to be inflated underneath the tower which, when the barges were dismantled, allowed it to float easily in the water, and be towed upstream without incident by teams of packhorses working in rotation.
The last, and most spectacular, stage in this strange journey was that from the Channel down what is now Tottenham Lane to the tower's final position, where a great cavity had been prepared to receive it. Harold had constructed a railway from the bank to the foundations, and its design was a wonder to all who saw it. It rose in elevation - gradually at first, then steeper and steeper until at its summit the height was greater than that of the tower - then descended almost vertically to end in the prepared foundations. Multitudes of onlookers from all over London and even further afield had gathered to see the final journey of the tower from the Channel to its resting place. Many bets were placed and taken on the outcome of the operation, as many doubted that the tower could be raised to the top of the track, and if it did get there surely it would be smashed to pieces as it fell from the zenith into the hole. They had reckoned without the fertile imagination of the young engineer. A pressure pipe many miles long had been laid from the highest point of the River Crouch to provide the kinetic energy to propel the tower along the track. It moved slowly at first, but soon gathered pace, only to slow again as it reached the top. There it slowed almost to a standstill and the waiting crowd held its breath, but Harold's calculations had been exact, and the tower almost imperceptibly slewed over and began its drop into its foundations. As it inched slowly into the vertical section, it was automatically clamped to hydraulic rams which steadily lowered the great mass, the displaced water from the rams being ejected from ten nozzles placed in a circle around the site. Each of the nozzles projected a fountain of water a hundred feet into the air, and the watching crowd, undaunted by the torrential soaking they received, cheered to the echo as the Clock Tower settled majestically into its foundations.
The Clock Tower is, of course still standing in its original site today, and although in a mindless act of municipal vandalism the facia was recarved in 1896, a faint outline of the original Crouch End coat of arms is just discernible on the north face in certain lighting conditions. The summer of 1831 was particularly hot and sunny, notable both for the excellence of the ale, said to surpass even that of 1799, and the Spring spawning of the Freshwater Herring, which exceeded all records in recent memory. The abundance of the catch - and the quantity of the Bishops Ale quaffed in the taverns - led to an air of enthusiasm and optimism verging on euphoria. Against this background of plenty and merriment, however, a few of the Burghers were filled with a strange foreboding. To these prescient few, who presumably included a romantic dalliance with a handsome Traveller among their ancestry, some of the stories told by the handful of old miners who still worked the shafts and tunnels under the Muswell Hills had a nagging consistency, and above all the ring of truth. The miners told of hearing low - almost human - moans and groans echoing around the passages, and on occasions feeling regular vibrations like the footsteps of some great beast through the walls and floors of the lower levels. The tales invoked much hilarity in the tap-rooms of the taverns, and many a pleasant summer evening was spent listening to them, but as the miners were famous for their tall tales and strange stories of the dark places in the workings, none of the listeners took them seriously. The rumours, however, persisted and the level of the disturbances increased to the point where the groans could be clearly heard in the town on quiet evenings, but still the general populace took no notice, although Mothers would tell their naughty children that if they did not behave, the "Hobgoblin of the Mines" would come out at night and swallow then up. The first portent of the onset of disaster occurred at Two O'clock on the afternoon of the Twenty-second of August. At the exact moment of high tide the great Herring Gates were, as usual, closed, but to the consternation of the waiting fishermen, not a single fish - stunned or otherwise - could be found. Their puzzlement was further enhanced by the report of the Captain of a local ketch who arrived at the gates on the high tide. He told of encountering a huge shoal of Herring swimming downstream at a speed so great that at times his ketch was actually forced backwards against the wind and tide. The fishermen had, however, only a few moments to reflect upon the desertion of the shoal when the earth beneath them shook with such violence that the Herring Gates broke loose from their foundations and, with a ponderous grace, fell slowly into the channel. In the mines under the Muswell hills, the vast honeycomb of tunnels had crumpled under the oppressive weight of overlying rock and buildings and had catastrophically collapsed, causing the River Crouch - which had for centuries been the fountainhead all the prosperity of Crouch End - to fall down a newly formed chasm into the bowels of the earth, never to re-appear. Every building in the area was reduced to rubble save the Clock Tower and the Pickling Factory, the tower because it was carved from solid stone, and the factory because of the excellence of its architecture. Unfortunately, although the superstructure of the factory withstood the force of the earthquake, in the basement a huge vat of pickling acid was toppled by the tremors, and its corrosive contents engulfed a stack of barrel timbers which, soaked in pitch as was the custom, immediately ignited, and the factory - both symbol and foundation of the prosperity of Crouch End in latter days - was enveloped in flame and burnt to the ground.