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History Victoria Tower, which is also known locally as ‘the Docker’s Clock’, is a Grade II listed Gothic Revival clock tower located alongside Sailsbury Dock in Liverpool. It was designed by Jesse Hartley, an eminent engineer who was responsible for the construction of a large number of the docks and warehouses along the River Mersey. Hartley’s design was inspired by the castle architecture of the Rhine region in Central Europe; this is why the structure was built using irregular blocks of grey granite and why it has embrasures that have been cut into the tower’s walls. The tower was built between 1847 and 1848, to commemorate the opening of Sailsbury Dock. It was also constructed to aid ships using the port. It allowed them to set the correct time as they sailed out into the Irish sea (the time ball was apparently controlled by a signal from the Liverpool Observatory) and was equipped with a bell to warn vessels of impending meteorological changes such as high tide and fog. A navigation light encased inside an ornamental structure was originally planned for the roof of the tower; however, a 9 metre flagpole was installed instead when it was agreed that the structure would not function as a lighthouse. An additional lesser known feature of the tower is that the bottom three levels of the structure served as a flat for the Pier Master. These floors were boarded and designed to be much more comfortable than the rest of the building. On account of the decline in shipping along the Mersey, the condition of Victoria Tower has deteriorated significantly, primarily due to water and wind damage. In addition to these problems, the tower has become overgrown with vegetation over the years, and is now also infested with a large number of pigeons. Although it was announced in 2010 that the clock tower, along with several other historic buildings around the area, would be repaired and fully restored as part of a £5.5 billion restoration programme, no work has yet been initiated. Our Version of Events It was getting late on in the evening and we were all keen to get back to our digs for the night to drink beer and play poker, but we also wanted to have a quick wander over to Victoria Tower. We’ve stared at it enough times from the other side of the water, so it seemed about time we paid it a visit. Plenty of fucking around certainly ensued trying to figure out which part of the dock we had to trespass on to get to it; as we were to discover, it’s situated on a piece of land that’s tricky to get to if you’re not very familiar with the area. But, in the end we figured out where we needed to be; right on the other side of a drive-thru movie night. We entered through the main gates of one of the dockyards and wandered towards a small congregation of cars. The plan had been to blend in, but having left the car behind this was very difficult. Fortunately, however, the film was a decent one: Die Hard 1. And we’d entered at the good bit – the scene on the rooftop where Alan is making a last-bid attempt to get rid of Bruce. At this stage in the film Bruce’s vest top was well and truly green. Using the film to our advantage we crept through the cars. We passed a blue Ford Fiesta first, where, much to our delight, the couple inside seemed distracted enough without the film. It looked as though the woman in the passenger seat had dropped her revels somewhere on the driver’s side and was frantically looking for them. She had her head positioned over the driver in a very unusual position. The driver seemed to be helping to force her head down a bit lower too. There must have been an orange flavoured one in his lap or something. A red Volkswagen Golf had to be passed next. The passengers in this one didn’t seem to be focused on the film either though. A rather large flabby woman in her late 50s was pressed up against the windscreen, with both enormous breasts, a cheek and two plump lips firmly plastered against the glass. To our horror she was bouncing up and down a bit, so her folds sounded a bit like window wipers in turbo mode during a heavy downpour. Slightly scarred, psychologically, we made it to the other side of the dockyard. From here to the tower the journey was much less eventful. We had to make haste, however, since the tall palisade gates at the entrance would be closing soon – as soon as the movie was finished. Nothing like a bit of time pressure to spur you on. Unfortunately, though, when we did finally reach the door to the tower we quickly discovered that it was locked up tight. A bit frustrated that we’d already used up some of our gambling and drinking time, we decided to get the ball sacks out and climb our way inside instead. A tiny barred gate wasn’t stopping us from getting into the tower! It was around the halfway mark that we decided the climbing part of the plan was a bad idea. It was a chilly night and much more difficult that we’d first imagined. Hartley didn’t think it through when he designed overhanging ledges on the tower, which are now caked in a fine layer of slippery moss and pigeons’ cloacal secretions. Nevertheless, we’d watched the classic Stallone movie Cliffhanger three nights previously, so we knew we should probably just man the fuck up and get the climb done. Each of us had more than a t-shirt on too, so I don’t know what we were complaining about. We reached the top just as Alan was hanging off the side of Nakatomi Plaza. Everyone gathered at the top of the tower and peered through the crenels as Alan was plummeting to the ground; we were glad we’d made it in time to see the best scene in the film. You know what they say after all, it’s not really Christmas until Hans Gruber falls from a building. A few minutes were spent taking shots from the roof, but it was very a windy evening so the tripods ended up taking quite a battering. In the end we had to make do with the few usable nightscape shots we’d managed to take. Some luck was on our side, though, since some thoughtful chavs, who I presume were wearing Burberry check, had smashed the lock off the hatch. This made getting inside the tower much easier. An explosion of pigeony disease-ridden gas erupted as we lifted the lid. It smelt like thousands of them were down there, slowly drowning in their own shit and piss. For some reason we decided to crack on anyway, as you do. So, we climbed down the several broken rungs we could see into the depths of the festering pit of doom. A very sketchy bendy ladder came next. It was clearly some sort of improvisation to make up for the lack of staircase. At the bottom the situation didn’t improve either, as we found ourselves literally knee deep in shit and rotting carcasses. Pigeon pie was definitely off the menu later that evening. We hastily plodded on, racing down the rusted spiral staircases, trying our best not to disturb the crusted layers of poo. After all, you can’t leave an explore until you’ve seen absolutely everything there is to see. We didn’t hang about inside the tower for long after reaching the bottom, especially since we’d recently discovered that you can catch Chlamydia psittaci from contaminated bird droppings. That’s right, you can catch ‘the clam’ while urbexing! Although, having said that, this type is definitely a lot worse than the kind you’ll get from having ‘protected’ sex with a resealable sandwich bag. Anyway, back to the story. We managed to get back out onto the street just as the credits of the film were rolling down the screen. Thank fuck too, because climbing the fence would have been shit! After that we headed back to the car and, for most of us, this signified the end of the night where the rest of the evening would be spent drinking beer and playing several games of poker and pigeon toss (it sounds like a dirty game, but we assure you it’s quite innocent). Explored with Ford Mayhem, Rizla Rider, Husky and Soul. 1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8: 9: 10: 11: 12: 13: 14: 15: 16: 17:
History “As centre manager I am delighted that after substantial investigations to secure the clock tower, we now have in place the ability to demolish Churchill House and leave the clock tower as a freestanding, fully operational structure” (Bryan Haldane, centre manager). For the many out there who do not know, Newton Aycliffe is a town in County Durham. It is said to be the oldest town in the north of England, and the original residential areas were built around the utopian vision of Lord William Beveridge. In the aftermath of WWII, the style and design of the town was meant to tackle Britain’s ‘Five Giants’: poverty, disease, homelessness, ignorance and unemployment. The government had intended that the whole of Britain would be based on the Newton Aycliffe design; they called it the ‘Welfare State’. Contrary to the ‘streets in the skies’ projects, in cities such as Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield, Lord Beveridge’s new development involved creating the perfect town in the countryside. Free education, fresh air, a National Health Service, council housing and full employment were promised to all those living in Newton Aycliffe; according to Lord Beveridge, this was going to be a new, balanced and fair world. The moors situated between Aycliffe Industrial estate, a crucial munitions area during the war, and the small village of Middridge were selected because there was plenty of farmland to build on. Lord Beveridge was so confident that this utopian project would be successful, he moved there himself. His house was located at the top of Pease Way (near the town centre). The first house was officially opened on Tuesday 9th November, 1948; this was one of 3,000 dwellings. As the growth and development of the town depended on the industrial estate, the Development Corporation were limited in terms of the number of houses they were permitted to build; they were not allowed to construct more than was necessary to match the growth in employment in the area. Although a village green was planned for the town centre, the idea became lost as shopping facilities began to appear. The proposals suggested that at least fifty shops would be situated in the town centre. There were also discussions for the development of a town hall, however, this too was never built. Instead, Churchill House was constructed in the centre of the town, along with a 77ft clock tower. The Development Corporation made this building their headquarters. As facilities gradually appeared around it, the clock tower soon became the focal point of the town. The idea was to create a simple landmark that would be visible from a number of approaching roads, including Pease Way. While the tower, which has never been altered, is not listed, it has been spared amid recent town centre redevelopment plans due to public interest in the structure. By the late 1970s, the utopian vision of a ‘classless town’ was considered archaic. Consequently, the town centre was sold and private contractors were allowed to build new housing estates across Newton Aycliffe. The sale of the town centre also began to include the sale of surrounding council houses. In recent years the town centre has been undergoing a further largescale £2 million redevelopment plan. A number of the original buildings have been demolished, making way for an area that is more open, accessible and profitable. The demolition of Churchill House was halted in 2014, however, following an investigation into the structural integrity of the building and clock tower. The clock tower is to remain in situ, helping to give the town a whole new image that combines the old with the new; therefore, an enquiry into the integrity of the clock, which is to be left as a “freestanding fully operational structure” was necessary. Our Version of Events Newton Aycliffe clock tower is a site we’ve had our eyes on for quite some time now. It’s always been on our list as something that’s a little special, as quite a few of us grew up around here, and ever since there were discussions around demolishing it we decided we wanted to get ourselves up and make the most of it before the opportunity disappeared, perhaps forever. Our wait had been painstakingly slow of course. As most locals will attest, any suggested development in Newton Aycliffe takes years to actually begin, and even longer to complete. Recently, however, as many local folk will have noticed, work on the clock tower has finally begun. In our eagerness to climb the tower, we found we arrived far too early. The clock tower is very visible during the day, just as the developers had intended it to be, so we milled around the town centre for a while. Eventually, after a long wait, six chicken mini-fillets and several slices of pizza, the sun started to fall beneath the horizon. It was time to try out luck with an ascent to the top. It still wasn’t quite as dark as we would have liked when we set off, but we decided to make a start anyway. Trying our best to avoid the many cameras situated in the town centre, we found a point that appeared to be less watched than anywhere else. From there, gaining access was fairly straightforward. Five minutes later, we found ourselves on the roof of Churchill House. Despite the relative simplicity of the clock, the views it offered were quite spectacular. Perhaps this was our nostalgia for the place though; aside from the bells, the tower itself isn’t especially spectacular at all. As darkness still hadn’t quite set in, we waited a few more moments, trying our best to hide in the shadows. After all, we wanted to see the lights of Newton Aycliffe in all their glory. The last dash up the interior staircase of the tower was good. It brought back some old memories as the lower levels of the staircase were used to access other buildings back in the day. As these buildings have either been demolished, or are in the process of being stripped, all the old doorways are now bricked up, except from the entrance door at the base of the tower. The hatch into the clock itself creaked as we opened it. Years of dust exploded into the air. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we took in our surroundings. We could see old gears positioned in the centre of the small room, and four individuals control boxes that controlled the four faces of the clock. A second ladder took us to another hatch, and this led up to the bell tower which is outside. When we first imagined what it would be like up on top of the tower, we envisaged that the whole platform, including the bells, would be covered in pigeon shit. In actual fact, there was barely a drop up there. Instead, we were greeted by five spotless bells and a clean floor. They looked far more imposing from up top; down at the bottom of the tower you can’t really appreciate them as much. Up here we could see every detail: their original inscriptions, and the marks and colours from being weathered over the years. All in all, we spent a lot longer up the tower than we’d anticipated. It was only when we spotted a large police presence gathering outside the nearby police station, which we had a good view of from where we were sat, that we decided we’d pushed our luck far enough. The clock tower is still very visible and we didn’t doubt that human silhouettes would be particularly noticeable to anyone who happened to be looking up. It didn’t take long to get down to the ground, back inside the town centre once again. Feeling good we’d pulled it off, it was agreed that the very long wait had been worth it. Explored with Ford Mayhem, Box and Husky. We also want to say a special thanks to our ‘informant’ who kept an eye on the tower for the past year or so. Newton Aycliffe Clock Tower - Redevelopment in Progress The Clock Tower 'Back in the Day' 1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8: 9: 10: 11: 12: 13: