10 February 2018 – Speaker Ellie Baumber, ‘The work of The Museum of Timekeeping’ at the British Horological Institute, Upton Hall. Ellie explained the many different aspects of running the museum that she is responsible for as the Museum Manager. This doesn’t just include looking after the collections, but improving access for the public, organising events and exhibitions, maintaining a sufficient number of volunteers to help run the museum and, not least, raising funds to support the work of the museum.
It was interesting to hear why the museum was given a new name and the associated branding makeover. This, and the adoption of themes for the BHI open days, is aimed at making the museum more meaningful and interesting to visitors, especially children.
The museum’s collections of horological items have never been properly catalogued, so this is a major activity currently being undertaken. Although there are around 2000 items on show, we were astounded to learn that the museum has somewhere between 8000 and 10,000 artefacts, plus around 5000 books in the library. The cataloguing includes making sure that artefacts are not only stored in known locations, but that they are stored correctly to ensure their long-term preservation.
The cataloguing of the collection and the introduction of wide-ranging administrative changes are necessary for the museum to regain its accreditation with the Arts Council. Ellie explained that accreditation is essential for attracting grant funding and support from the wider museum sector.
All the work that is being undertaken by the museum is only possible through the help of the many volunteers, who currently number about 80 and who get involved with everything from helping to catalogue the collections to stewarding at the BHI’s open days.
13 January 2018 – Branch AGM and ‘Bring & Discuss
The salient points of the AGM were as follows:
- The Branch has 131 ‘official’ members (Associates, Members and Fellows), up 7 on last year, and 26 ‘Friends of the Branch’, up 3 on last year.
- The Branch organises an annual programme of nine talks, supplemented this year by a visit to the Chippendale International School of Furniture near Haddington, East Lothian.
- Branch funds remain healthy, helped by the fact that our meeting venue is currently provided free of charge. The only regular income is from subscriptions and must be supplemented by other means from time to time (auctions, donations, etc.)
- Ashley Strachan was elected unanimously as the new Branch Chairman. Bill Mitchell retired from the Branch Committee having served on it since 1991/92 when he helped to re-establish the Branch after several years of dormancy. Our thanks to Bill for his long, unstinting service.
- The date of next year’s AGM is to be moved to February.
- The Branch Library is to come under a new custodian and the catalogue of books is to be more widely publicised.
The ‘Bring and Discuss’ session attracted contributions from several members and generated plenty of interesting discussion. Topics included:
- A small clockwork theatre automaton, built by a Branch member, with a girl on a swing accompanied by two whirling girl dancers.
- Design of a magnifying eye shield / chip guard for a watchmaker’s lathe.
- Details of a cheap, smartphone radiation tester to identify if luminous watch dials contain radium.
- Refurbishment of an old L & R Vari-Matic watch cleaning machine.
- The need for an EPP licence (prompted by Robert Ovens’ article in the October issue of the Horological Journal).
- Discussion of two unusual painted dials from longcase clocks, an unusual torsion pendulum clock and an unusual mantle clock.
- A member’s progress report on the building of a 21-inch-tall bracket clock with double fusee and automaton birds in the arch of the dial.
- Details of the construction of a home-made direct indexing jig for wheel cutting.
- Bayard carriage clock with damaged escape wheel – a plea for a replacement escape wheel!
The afternoon passed quickly and a few more items had to be deferred until the next ‘Bring and Discuss’ session.
9 December 2017 – Speaker Justin Koullapis Hon MBHI, ‘Dobson: a Longcase Clock of Sea and Land’ Justin explained how he got involved with the restoration of this painted dial longcase clock, which had been owned by the same family since it was bought new in about 1810 – 1815. It would appear the clock was made by Thomas Vurley of Wisbech (spelled Wisbeach on the dial), a maker whose name is listed in Loomes’ ‘Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World’.
Having described some of the history of the clock Justin went on to talk about its condition when he first received it. The oak case had been painted brown. The varnish on the painted dial was discoloured, but otherwise the scenes depicted were in pristine condition. The movement itself was caked in old cooking oil which had been applied over the years with a pheasant’s quill, leaving small feathers stuck to the oil throughout the movement. Despite the unusual oiling regime, or perhaps because of it, the movement was in remarkable condition for its age. Apart from typical wear in some pinion leaves and on the pallet faces the pivots were in good condition and only one pivot hole needed attention.
Justin explained his desire to adopt a conservative approach to cleaning the clock and described how he undertook the cleaning of the case and movement, and the repair of worn parts. The merits, or otherwise, of some more unusual cleaning solutions was discussed.
This talk provided an important reminder that even the humblest clock may be associated with an interesting history and may be of considerable importance and value to its owner. There were several questions for Justin during the discussion that followed his talk, after which the meeting concluded with our customary thanks to the speaker.
11 November 2017 – Speaker Bruce Vickery, ‘Design of the Mk 1 Speaking Clock’ Bruce began by explaining that the story of the Mark 1 speaking clock is as much about the people involved as it is about the technology used. We were told about Ethel Cain ‘The Girl with the Golden Voice’ and Eugene Wender who invented the electro-optical device that was chosen to record and playback Ethel Cain’s voice. Both Cain and Wender felt that they should have received royalties for their involvement with the speaking clock.
Bruce outlined the technology used in the Mark 1 speaking clock and identified Eric Alfred Speight as probably being the clock’s chief designer, along with William Gordon Radley, almost certainly Speight’s line manager. Speight and Radley patented the pendulum they had designed to provide accurate and consistent timing for the clock mechanism.
An important aspect of Bruce’s work is to establish just how many Mark 1 speaking clocks were built and where they are now. It appears that five clocks were built, one prototype, clocks 1 and 2 for Holborn, and clocks 1 and 2 for Liverpool. The whereabouts of only three of these clocks is known. It is believed that the one at Upton Hall is Holborn clock 1, the Birmingham Museum of Technology has Liverpool clock 1, and the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh, has Liverpool clock 2.
This talk provided a useful overview of the technology used in the Mark 1 speaking clock and a rare insight into some of the people involved with it.
14 October 2017 – Speaker Sid Lines MBHI, ‘Screw Threads’
Sid took us through a brief history of screw threads, how they were made in the past and how they are made today. With the ultimate objective of repairing or replacing damaged clock screws he quickly moved on to the practicalities of identifying screw threads and replicating old screws if a correct like for like replacement is not available. This opened a lively, but interesting discussion on the different priorities of conservation versus restoration, clearly a topic that deserves to be covered at a future Branch meeting.
Sid had brought along a large number of vintage tools used in forming old screw threads and odd-sized taps. Many of these tools had to be refurbished before they could be used and Sid explained the techniques he uses to do this as well as how to make new taps. Included were many practical hints and tips drawn from Sid’s own considerable experience.
09 September 2017 – Speaker Richard Stuart, ‘Making the Magnificent and Elusive William Gray Lantern Clock’
Richard explained how his very longstanding interest in making a verge lantern clock came to fruition when he eventually bought a partially completed kit of a William Gray replica lantern clock, together with a CD ROM of the drawings for the missing parts. He soon found, however, that the kit was less complete than he thought, that several of the existing parts were defective or wrong, and that the ‘drawings’ were no more than scans of sketches on scraps of graph paper. Thus began a trail of detective work that would have impressed the great Conan Doyle himself.
Richard’s talk took us through the origins of the design of this clock and through the many individuals and companies involved in making the kits over the years. He also explained that many customers who had bought the kit soon found that when they had finished and assembled the clock it required further adjustment, stripping and cleaning before it would run.
This was a fascinating talk, as much for its insight into the trials and tribulations of the companies involved in making these replica clock kits, as for the details of the clock itself.
13 May 2017 – Speaker Michael Start, ‘A Talk on Automata’. Michael’s talk took place at the House of Automata Scotland, 38 Buckingham Terrace, EH4 3AP.
27 April 2017 – A guided tour of the clocks at Dumfries House, Cumnock, Ayrshire, KA18 2NJ.
8 April 2017 – Speaker Ian Shinnie, ‘Alexander Bain, His Clocks’. Known as ‘the father of electric clocks’ Bain was born on 10 October 1810 in Watten near Wick in the north east of Scotland, served an apprenticeship there and later worked in Edinburgh and London. His famous first patent for the electrically maintained pendulum clock was dated 1840 and he subsequently filed further patents on electric clocks, the electric telegraph and facsimile (fax) equipment.
Ian has studied all of the existing Bain electric pendulum clocks and has identified a total of nineteen so far. These he has grouped into three distinct periods. It was interesting to compare the technical details and case styles of all of these clocks together.
Sadly, despite his inventiveness, Bain eventually went bankrupt after protracted litigation and died in 1877. There is a memorial to him in Watten and fortunately his clocks live on and can be seen at the Science Museum, the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and one now running in the electric clock collection at Upton Hall.
11 March 2017 – Speaker Dr Roger Kinns, ‘The Story of Time Balls in New Zealand’. Roger, who is Treasurer of the Maudslay Society, has studied various time balls including those in London, Edinburgh and Deal, for which the apparatus were all supplied by Maudslay, Sons and Field. During a visit to new Zealand Roger saw the time ball in Christchurch but found that there was little information on other time balls in the country, so he set about to research the subject. It turns out that there were several: Wellington and Auckland 1864 (both eventually replaced by time lights), Dunedin (Port Chalmers) 1867, and Christchurch (Lyttelton) 1876.
Although supplied by Siemens Brothers in 1874, it seems that the Lyttelton time ball apparatus was in fact made by Maudslay in 1873, a replica of that supplied to Sydney.
Roger showed dramatic photographs of the handsome Christchurch time ball building, before and after the disastrous earthquakes of 2011 which caused its complete collapse, but gave the good news that the damaged mechanism and rather dented ball survived in a damaged but recoverable condition. We all hope that the Christchurch time ball can be rebuilt in the future.
11 February 2017 – Speaker Richard Thomson, ‘Making a 3D-Printed Flying Ball Clock’. Richard began by contrasting conventional subtractive machining, such as milling, against 3D printing which is an additive process, and explained how computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacture (CAM) procedures naturally led to 3D printing. He outlined the different types of 3D printing machine which differ greatly in precision and cost.
With laptop and projector Richard gave a live demonstration of CAD, quickly drawing and visualising a sample component in three dimensions, ready for the 3D printing process. He uses 3D printing to make prototype and small-batch mechanical parts and passed round a variety of samples, some of which were remarkably complicated and surprisingly strong. We inspected the flying-ball clock and gathered round to see the printer in operation. Richard made the clock as an initial exercise and it works well with no lubrication. It took the machine a week, working 24 hours a day, to print all the components. While 3D printing is generally a slow process, apparently a huge machine in China prints ten concrete houses a day!
14 January 2017, Branch AGM and ‘Bring & Discuss’.
With the AGM business quickly dealt with (the committee was re elected and the Branch is in a healthy financial position) the meeting got on with the main event, a bring-and-discuss session. As always a wide range of subjects was covered with several short presentations and demonstrations. These included:
- Progress on a large astronomical clock, now at an advanced stage.
- A tensator spring powering two automaton figures.
- A daisy-wheel motion-work model.
- A Japanese ‘karakuri’ automaton in the form of a tea-serving doll.
- A simple but ingenious hand-held motorised pin-chuck designed to assist pivot filing by those with limited hand function.
- A lathe steady for fine drilling.
- A detailed study of the wheel cutting in a skeleton clock.
- An early military airborne TV camera, found on eBay
- A fine collection of chronometers and watches.
- Movement stands made from sections of plastic pipe.
- Cleaning tarnished silver by immersion in hot baking soda solution in an aluminium tray.
- Measurements showing that even a 0.001inch sway could stop a long case clock.
- Finally a painted glass sign, about 20cm square, advertising membership of the Scottish Association of Watchmakers and Jewellers.
No one knew about this so can any reader possibly cast light on it?
10 December 2016, Ashley Strachan, ‘Edo Period Horological Journeys in Japan’
Keith Scobie-Youngs talk on ‘London Turret Clockmakers of the 18th Century’ will be re-scheduled for inclusion in the Branch’s 2017/18 programme.
12 November 2016, John Redfern of Redfern Animations, ‘Animating Time’. Branch members were delighted to welcome John Redfern who gave a spectacular talk entitled ‘Animating Time’. John is an experienced restorer of fine clocks and watches who has also developed advanced techniques of filming and animation. He began his talk by describing the need to produce accurate CAD records of his work on rare clocks, which then led him to rendering and animation. With his specially equipped film studio and workshops he has perfected methods of lighting, photography, filming and 3-D modelling which merge to produce spectacular moving images of his work. Using computer graphics he can peel away parts so others can be seen in motion and show the finest details which would otherwise be missed. In discussion John explained some of his lighting techniques and his special modelling software. If you missed the talk you can still see some of these amazing animations on John’s website http://redfernanimation.com/ which is certainly well worth a visit.
08 October 2016, Dr Bruce Vickery, Charles Piazzi Smyth’. Charles Piazzi Smyth was appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1846, based at the Calton Hill Observatory. Born in Naples in 1819 he was called Piazzi after an Italian astronomer friend of his father. He was assistant astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope Observatory and became the Second Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1846 after the death of the first, Thomas James Henderson.
The principle purposes of the observatory on Calton Hill in Edinburgh were to produce and update celestial atlases and also to provide a time service for mariners. Initially Piazzi Smyth began to process and publish some 30,000 observations made by his predecessor but he also took on a large variety of other tasks including the first demonstration of Newton’s prediction that telescopes work better at high altitude to avoid some atmospheric effects, introduction of the Edinburgh time ball and time gun system, long term study of the sun’s motion, the analysis of meteorological observations and pyramidology. This involved detailed measurements of the Egyptian pyramids and the search for numerical coincidences which bizarrely he saw as scientific proof of the existence of God. He died in 1900 and is buried in Ripon in an appropriately pyramid-shaped tomb.
10 September 2016, John Hunter (Editor of Clocks Magazine). The talk given was ‘Clockmaking in Scotland’ not ‘Writing About Clocks’ as advertised. After a brief history of the publication and his involvement, John’s main subject was Clockmaking in Scotland 1462 to 1900. Among the early makers he covered were Robert Creitch of Leith, David Kay of Crail, William Smith, Nicholas Foucanote, Cornelius Yates, Humphry Mills (perhaps the first maker of domestic clocks in Scotland), John Smith of Pittenweem and Michael Shearer, the first Black Forest clockmaker to arrive in Scotland. This led us to the later makers James Ritchie and his son Andrew (hence James Ritchie &Son), Alexander Bain the pioneer of electric horology who sadly fell out with his rival Charles Wheatstone and eventually went bankrupt, and finally Frederick James Ritchie (James’ son) who further developed the electric clock including the sympathetic pendulum system in Edinburgh.
14 May 2016, Alan Midleton, BHI President’s Visit. Alan gave a talk entitled ‘A Horological Whodunnit’. Alan Midleton explained the analysis of his intriguing year-going longcase clock. This clock appeared in the 1982 Tom Robinson book ‘The Longcase Clock’ and subsequently came up for sale. The unusual movement is early, perhaps in the style of Ahasuerus Fromanteel (circa 1607 – 1693) but the case is later, married to the movement in the 1960s. The talk touched a huge range of subjects, including penny-whistle compensation, nuclear power, the design of hour-hand tails and the effects of spiders on clock performance! This was a really interesting talk and we look forward to Alan’s next visit – to the new Scotland Branch of the BHI!
Before the start of the usual proceedings a special Branch Committee meeting was held at which the results of the recent ballot of BHI East and West of Scotland Branch member was reviewed. Of the total membership in Scotland 57% voted in favour of forming a single Scotland Branch of the BHI. In fact, 99% of all votes received were in favour. The Branch Committee resolved to go ahead with the proposal and the Chairman was tasked with progressing this with Upton Hall.
9 Apr 2016, David Penney, ‘The Faking of English Watches’. Well known as an illustrator, writer, consultant and editor of Antiquarian Horology, David Penney described the faking of English watches as the ‘elephant in the room’ of horology.
Because of their popularity English and particularly London watches suffered from faking throughout the nineteenth century and large numbers of superficially English watches are not what they seem to be. The talk began with a definition of a fake, David’s favourite being ‘got up in order to deceive’. David went on to consider the signature on the dial of many watches in this light. He noted that the signature on most north American watches is usually the manufacturer’s while on English watches it is that of the retailer, but not normally put there to deceive. In the nineteenth century many so called Dutch fakes were made, and confusingly most of these were apparently made in Switzerland. Examples of these were provided, illustrated with David’s customary superb photographs, and illustrated a bewildering combination of cases, hallmarks, signatures and unconvincing copies of the English style which sold in large numbers abroad.
The talk was fascinating, quite disturbing and made the audience appreciate even more the attraction of collecting electric pendulum clocks!
12 Mar 2016, Michael Bennett-Levy, ‘Restoring the Grand Orrery from Dumfries House and Introduction to Engine and Ornamental Turning Lathes’. Michael’s talk and the tour of his workshops took place at his home near Musselburgh, from where he runs his ‘Early Technology’ business.
The video shown during the talk is available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7gtrtKPJVY)
For those of you who would like to know a little more about engine turning a DVD is available from BD Video Productions ‘Engine Turning by Martin Matthews’. (http://www.bdvideos.co.uk/site/)