I spoke in my previous chapter about one of the big things that happened to me whilst on the Comrades Committee in 1979 was the “finding” of Noel Burree who had finished second in 1931 but I also was fortunate enough to have “found” something else as well during my year on the committee.
We have just a few weeks to go the 90th Comrades and I am sure that a lot of runners will be visiting the museum at Comrades House and if you had no plans to do so, change your mind and don’t miss it.
The clock presented to Arthur Newton by the Natal Witness in the early twenties is now on display in the Comrades Museum has had an interesting journey since being presented to the great man but not very many people know the story of that clock and how it eventually ended up in the Comrades Museum.
Photo courtesy of movies.org
Newton was a farmer in the Harding area in southern KZN and at some time – and it seems nobody is sure when – after winning it, he presented the clock to the Harding Town Board so that the clock could be on permanent display in the Harding Town Hall.
As far as we know it was there for many years until the Town Hall was destroyed by fire in the late sixties and one of the very few things saved from the fire was the Arthur Newton clock.
Whilst the Town Hall was being rebuilt the clock was simply put on top of a filing cabinet in the office of the Town Clerk and after the Town Hall was completed the clock was overlooked and left on top of the filing cabinet for around 10 years.
During the seventies I had been appointed as District Manager of the then, SA Eagle Insurance Co and part of my “district” included Harding and as SA Eagle were the insurers of the Harding Town Board it was my job to visit the Town Clerk on a routine basis.
On one of these visits, the Town Clerk was called away from his office for a short while and I spotted the clock on top of the filing cabinet and decided to take a look at it. There were files and papers scattered around the base but I was able to see an inscription plate on the base and when I moved the papers was thrilled to see what the clock was.
When the Town Clerk returned to his office I asked him if he knew exactly what the clock was and he shrugged his shoulders and said it had been there for years and he had no idea at all. By this time the clock was not working and whether it stopped during the rescue from the fire, again nobody knows.
As he had no idea where the clock had come from or its history, and didn’t really seem to care, I asked him if I could have the clock as I was a member of the Comrades Marathon Committee (which he knew anyway) and was given an immediate answer of “NO, it belongs to us”. After some begging and pleading he agreed that it could be “lent” to Comrades so I left with the precious clock in my car. Some years later the Harding Town Board eventually gave the clock to Comrades.
When I got back to Pietermaritzburg, I had absolutely no idea what to do with the clock and spoke to Mick Winn who was both Collegians Harriers and Comrades Chairman at the time and he too had no idea, so the clock was put on top of the safe in my office as this was long before the establishment of any sort of Comrades Museum.
What I did do however, was to see the editor of the Natal Witness as it was they who had originally presented the clock to Arthur Newton way back in the twenties and I told them about my find. They were very excited and sent a photographer round to my office to take photographs of the clock (with the prettiest girl in my office looking at the clock) and the story appeared in “The Witness” the following day. At the same time I spoke to a friend of mine, Rod Webbstock, who was a watchmaker in Pietermaritzburg to ask him if he thought he could get it going again and what it would cost to do so.
Armed with an approximate cost I then went back to the editor of “The Witness” and suggested to him that it might be a good idea, as they had originally presented the clock that they should pay for it to be repaired. Without hesitation they agreed so the clock went off to Rod Webbstock’s workshop and he started working on it and eventually he got the clock working again. Whilst it was working it never kept accurate time though and stopped working when it felt like it and had to be persuaded to start up again.
After the repair it was returned to my office and spent quite a time sitting on the safe in the corner of my office. I was transferred away from Pietermaritzburg in August 1979 after that 1979 Comrades when I was on the organising committee and not knowing what to do with the clock I gave it to Mick Winn and he put it in his office at the pharmacy. There was still no museum. So it was relegated to once again spending its days on top of a cabinet.
Sometime later the Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg gave a small corner of the museum to Comrades for the start of the Comrades Museum and the clock was one of the items that went there from Mick.
Later with the establishment of the CMA and the purchase of what is now Comrades House and the establishment of the Comrades Museum the clock found its new permanent home and it still stands there. Unfortunately the clock stopped working again in the years that followed between its repair by Rod Webbstock and the establishment of the Comrades Museum in Comrades House. On one of my recent visits to the Comrades museum I was told that the organisers have found somebody they think can repair it.
I look forward to seeing the clock returned to its former glory but if you visit the Comrades Museum at any time be sure to take a look at Arthur Newton’s missing clock. It’s had a very interesting life and if you get there before Comrades, I’m sure that Arthur Newton would be thrilled if you stop at Arthur’s Seat just before Drummond to give the customary greeting of “Morning Arthur” and put a flower in the seat, that you spend an extra few seconds there telling him you have seen his clock.