TWENTY years ago, a 24ft chair appeared on a roadside grass verge between Northallerton and Darlington with a word “Why?” etched on top of it.

Officials from North Yorkshire County Council pondered the existential meaning of the chair. "It looks as if it has just been dropped there,” said a spokesman. “We don't know what it is supposed to represent or how it got there.”

The spokesman speculated that it might have something to do with the approaching summer solstice, but before busloads of druids could descend on the A167 near Great Smeaton, the council decided the chair was a traffic hazard and so took it away.

Two months later during the summer of 2003, a 30ft grandfather clock arose in a nearby field. It was made of telegraph poles and weighed about two-and-a-half tons.

It still stands, looking a little weathered nowadays, on Black Man’s Corner to the north of Smeaton, where the B1263 heads west off the A167 to the Cowtons and Scorton.

The grandfather clock as it looks today beside the A167

The grandfather clock as it looks today beside the A167

After recent articles here about Sample’s saddlery, which was a landmark for two centuries in the centre of Smeaton during the coaching era, reader Paul Reid asked what this more modern landmark signified in the field. Many thanks to all who responded.

The clock was put up by farmer and furniture maker Neale Richmond, who lives on a farm nearby. “I had a fetish for making oversized furniture,” says Neale. “I placed the chair in a layby and left it to see what might happen, and the council came and took it away, and so I put the clock inside the field.”

At the time, Neale was trying to raise his value in an auction which was a fundraiser for East Cowton village hall. He made a smaller version of the clock to sell in aid of the village hall.

If a 30ft grandfather clock wasn’t eye-catching enough, four years later, Neale’s uncle, Harry Sissen, climbed to the top of it dressed in a bright red parrot costume. Mr Sissen had been convicted in 1998 of smuggling rare parrots into the country, a charge which to this day that he vehemently denies. His birds had been confiscated by Customs and Excise, and Mr Sissen was demanding their return from the top of the clock.

The Sissen family have owned land on the corner since the 1950s and Harry, now 83, remembers that the grandfather clock was erected on the base of an old windmill. It drew water out of a borehole and fed the neighbouring property, now known as Plantation House but previously called the Black Man Inn – just like the pubs, smithy and saddlery in Smeaton, it served travellers in the coaching age on the Great North Road.

The old coaching inn at Black Mans Corners as it can be seen on Google StreetView

The old coaching inn at Black Man's Corners as it can be seen on Google StreetView

The inn was in the middle of a notorious series of corners – Black Man’s Corners – at the bottom of a damp dip. In the gloaming, as the mist rose off the wetland, a ghostly figure of a man in black would appear beside the Great North Road and lure travellers to a terrible fate as they took one of the Black Man’s Corners too fast.

It has to be said that the Sissens have not had any spooky encounters with roadside renegades, although they do agree that the corner field can be surprisingly damp. In 1973, the reputation of Black Man’s Corners was such that the highways authorities agreed to straighten out the dead man’s curves. They parked their heavy plant in the field overnight and were amazed next morning to find that it had sunk into an underground watercourse.

It must have been this watercourse that the old windmill drew the water from.

Fortunately, they did such a good job in restoring the field that it provides a stable footing for Neale’s 30ft, two-and-a-half ton grandfather clock which still stands proud as a landmark after 20 years.

“It did work briefly,” says Neale. “Maybe now I know it is a genuine landmark, I might fix it…”