Stop 5: The British Clock Tower

Affluent British immigrants in Buenos Aires commissioned the British Clock Tower (now called La Torre Monumental) as part of the centennial celebrations. At the inauguration on May 24, 1916, the president of Argentina, the mayor of Buenos Aires, and the British ambassador all attended. The choice of the date was deliberate, as it marked both Empire Day for the British and the day before el 25 de mayo, an Argentine holiday marking the May Revolution of 1810 that started the process of independence. At the formal laying of the cornerstone in November 1910, examples of Anglo-Argentine relations were placed in a receptacle and sealed inside the foundation. It contained letters by both the Argentine minister of the interior and the British ambassador as well as copies of the city’s two English dailies, The Standard and The Buenos Aires Herald, and English and Argentine gold, silver, and nickel coins. 

The British Clock
Source: Photograph by Benjamin Bryce

Two British and two Argentine coats of arms are carved in stone above the entryways. More subtle but also symbolic were the alternating symbols right below that coat of arms. They alternated between the Incaic sun of the Argentine flag and one of the following: the English rose, the Irish shamrock, the Welsh dragon, and the Scottish thistle.  ​

The clock measured 63 meters, and placed particular value on English materials and workmanship; made with red English facing-brick imported from an English brickwork, the entry door was made of imported oak, and the ceilings and interior were embellished with dark oak. 

The monument was functional: it kept time at the center of an area where tramways, buses, and cars brought people to and from the rail station. The biggest four railway companies in Argentina were owned by British investors and managed by British immigrants. The tower stood outside the city’s train stations, which were owned by British-owned railway companies.  

The monument aimed to represent what this group of affluent immigrants considered their gift to Argentina: economic development, and it focused on contributions relevant to the 1916 moment. Anglo-Argentines could have pulled from the early years of Argentine independence and inserted themselves into a national narrative in the ways that other groups did. They had some good examples to draw from. Britain and the Foreign Secretary George Canning did much for the United Kingdom to recognize Argentine and other Spanish American states’ independence in the 1820s. Yet this early history also included the British invasions of the Río de la Plata region in 1806 and 1807 and the British expulsion of Argentine authorities from the Islas Malvinas in 1833. The clock tower and its focus on rail, industry, and economic progress was a less contentious approach. 

The Argentine Coat of Arms
Source: Photograph by Benjamin Bryce
The British Coat of Arms
Source: Photograph by Benjamin Bryce

This and other monuments have had a long after life. During and after the Malvinas War in 1982, the Clock Tower was vandalized. A slow restoration followed, and visitors could only enter and take the elevator to the top starting in 2019. It was renamed the Torre Monumental rather than the Torre de los Ingleses (or its English name the British Clock Tower), and the Plaza Británica became Plaza Salvador María del Carril, named for a prominent politician in the mid-nineteenth century. More notably, facing the clock tower is now the national Monument to the Fallen Combatants in the Malvinas, which lists the names of all Argentine soldiers who died in the 1982 war.  

Stop 5: The British Clock Tower