9th March 2019 – Speaker Dr Bruce Vickery ‘Cracking Enigma on an Industrial Scale’
For this month’s meeting it was our pleasure to welcome Dr Bruce Vickery who presented a talk entitled ‘Cracking Enigma on an Industrial Scale’.
Bletchley Park is located near Milton Keynes, about 50 miles north west of London. During the Second World War it was home to the Government Code and Cypher School and was the centre of the country’s codebreaking efforts. One of its most important successes was the breaking of the German military’s Enigma codes.
Bruce explained the development of the Enigma family of electro-mechanical machines and how they were initially employed in commercial applications before being adopted and rapidly developed further by the German military. He described how these machines were set up and used and, critically, how procedural weaknesses, together with the capture of key documentation and hardware by allied forces, led ultimately to the successful breaking of the Enigma codes. Bruce’s talk covered some of the key people at Bletchley Park, notably Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, and concluded with how the work at Bletchley resulted directly in the design and development of one of the world’s first true computers.
Bruce’s talk was both authoritative and engaging and made a complex subject appear deceptively simple. After several questions the meeting concluded with our thanks to Bruce for yet another very fine talk.
12 January 2019 – Branch AGM and ‘Bring & Discuss’
The salient points of the AGM were as follows:
- A good year for the Branch with a full programme of meetings from September till May.
- Although the number of BHI members affiliated to the Branch continues to grow slowly year on year the number of active Branch members has approximately halved following the EU GDPR exercise in May 2018. This has not affected attendance at meetings which remains good.
- Finding speakers for the 2018/19 programme was challenging, a problem not unique to the Scotland Branch. The 2019/20 programme will therefore have to be more diverse if the number of meetings is to be maintained.
- Branch funds remain healthy, if diminishing slowly year on year as income, principally from subscriptions, is outstripped by expenses. The meeting agreed unanimously to raise the subscription to £3 per member per meeting.
- Although feedback received from members about Branch meetings is always very positive this does not unfortunately translate into a willingness to join the Branch Committee. The Committee needs new members, without which, in time, the Branch will cease to exist.
- Having resigned from the BHI, Ashley Strachan stood down as Branch Chairman. Mathew Richards and Mark Baird were elected to the positions of Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively. The rest of the Branch Committee agreed to serve for another year.
- At the last AGM it was proposed that the Branch AGM be moved to February. Circumstances dictated that this could not be implemented this year, with the AGM being held in January as usual. As these circumstances are likely to recur it was agreed unanimously to move the AGM and associated ‘Bring and Discuss’ session to September, beginning in 2020.
The ‘Bring and Discuss’ session was very well supported and dealt with a rich variety of topics from problems with wayward mantel clocks to restoration of the clocks from the Glasgow School of Art, from faults with a Jean Richard wristwatch to the art of growing bonsai trees. We were intrigued by a very unusual Heuer stopwatch and amused by an erroneous moon phase work. The contributors were thanked for making the afternoon so interesting and enjoyable.
8 December 2018 – Speaker Keith Scobie-Youngs, ‘Conservation of the Seaton Delaval Turret Clock’.
Keith began his talk with an introduction to the philosophy of conservation and how this has changed over the years. He warned that the lack of appropriate intervention could result in what he described as the conservation of neglect. This was followed by some examples of unknowingly poor intervention drawn from the early days of auto-winding when it was being introduced in to turret clocks.
The talk then moved on to the actual conservation work undertaken on the Seaton Delaval clock. Seaton Delaval Hall is located a little north of Newcastle and very near the coast. When inspected it was found to be in a very poor state, heavily corroded, in part because of its continual exposure to the sea air, and with none of the original finish left anywhere on the clock. However, it was also interesting to note that the clock showed surprisingly few signs of wear even after many years of use.
For each of the three materials used in the clock’s construction (wrought iron, brass and wood) Keith described the various techniques available to the conservator to clean and preserve them and which techniques were actually used and why. At this time, it is still unclear if the clock’s owners are happy to see it merely conserved to prevent further decay or whether some (reversible) restoration is to be undertaken to allow the clock to run again.
Keith’s talk was follows by a several more questions, after which the meeting concluded with our customary thanks to the speaker for a thoroughly absorbing afternoon.
10 November 2018 – Speakers Alastair Walker, ‘Lanark Auction Market Wall Clock’, and Ashley Strachan, ‘The Ingenuity of Japanese Clockmakers – a Look at Some of the Unique Features of Japanese Temporal Time Clocks’.
The speaker for November’s meeting had to postpone his talk which will now take place in April 2019. In his place two Branch members gave talks about very different topics.
Alastair Walker gave a brief presentation about a large wall clock that had been installed in the livestock auction market in Lanark in 1911 and which Alastair had acquired recently. The clock has an unusual winding arrangement for the weight which will be the subject of a future article or letter in the HJ.
Ashley Strachan gave a talk on the ingenuity of Japanese clockmakers which looked at some of the unique features incorporated into Japanese temporal time clocks, or wadokei. He began with a historical background to Japanese timekeeping and clock development and went on to describe Japanese hours (which are very different to the hours seen on European clock dials) and Japanese temporal time.
The earliest Japanese clocks were developed from single foliot Dutch lantern clocks which had to be adapted to traditional Japanese timekeeping. For example, some Japanese clocks used a double foliot arrangement, one to account for daytime timekeeping and the other for night time timekeeping, a changeover taking place at dusk and dawn respectively. Single foliot clocks were also used in which case variable hour markers were introduced to allow for the different lengths of day and night time hours. Ashley went on to describe several other variations in Japanese temporal timekeeping and the associated clock design features. No one was surprised when Ashley explained that the complexity of Japanese clocks required a large number of clock ‘doctors’ to oversee their frequent adjustments. He concluded with a review of his own collection of Japanese clocks.
Alastair and Ashley were thanked warmly for their contributions and for stepping in with their talks at the last minute.
13 October 2018 – Speaker Paul Shufflebotham, Chairman Coventry Watch Museum, ‘The Coventry Watch Industry’.
Paul began with a brief history of the Coventry Watch Museum, from its beginnings in 1987 to the present day. He explained that the museum is actually located in the old watchmaking quarter of the city, sited in some of the original buildings.
Both watch making and case making were undertaken in Coventry. Paul took us through the history of the industry from the mid eighteenth century, though its heyday, when it was the third largest watchmaking centre in the country after London and Liverpool, until its terminal decline in the mid twentieth century. What made this talk exceptional was that it covered the social history associated with the industry as well as the products that were made.
One Coventry watchmaker that Paul focussed on was Bahne Bonniksen, who towards the end of the nineteenth century invented the Karrusel watch which became a huge success both for Bonniksen and the English watch trade.
Paul’s talk was wonderfully illustrated with old photographs of factory buildings, work areas, people, watches and cases. The whole talk provided a thoroughly thought-provoking insight into life and work in the Coventry watch industry. Paul was thanked warmly for his talk and for bringing to everyone’s attention this gem of a museum.
15 September 2018 – Visit to Lucas Clocks, 5 Quayside Street, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6EJ
We were welcomed by Lucas Marijnissen to his new workshop in Leith, Edinburgh. As well as the opportunity to explore his new premises Lucas gave members a talk on the effects of different cleaning agents available for brass and steel clock components, including a review of ammoniated cleaning fluids.
After completing his education in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Lucas worked for several years as a mechanical engineer, spending his spare time indulging his passion for collecting clocks and repairing them in his own workshop. In 2004, he took the decision to focus completely on horology, attending courses at ‘De vakschool’, Schoonhoven in the Netherlands and West Dean College in the UK. He opened his first workshop in Edinburgh in 2010.
For his review Lucas selected nine different cleaning agents to test on three different brass samples plus one zinc sample. The material samples were immersed in each cleaning agent initially for 12 hours, then for a further 12 hours. The results varied from no effect on the material surfaces, through minor corrosion to significant corrosion. Unsurprisingly, the conclusion was that ammoniated products can have a harmful effect on brass.
In the discussion that followed the relevance of the length of time that the samples were immersed in each cleaning agent was questioned. It was also noted that the BHI’s book ‘The Conservation of Clocks and Watches’ provides guidance on the use of ammoniated cleaning fluids and ultrasonic tanks.
Cleaning agents as a topic is every bit as controversial to horologists as lubrication. Lucas provided and interesting insight in to what agents are available and the potential problems with their use. He was thanked warmly for his talk and for hosting this Branch meeting at his workshop.
16 May 2018 – Visit to the Chippendale International School of Furniture, Gifford, Haddington, East Lothian, EH41 4JA.
On the afternoon of Wednesday 16 May a group of 30 members and friends of the Branch were joined by their wives and partners on a visit to the Chippendale International School of Furniture located near Haddington in East Lothian, about 40 minutes drive from the centre of Edinburgh.
Founded in 1985, the School of Furniture ranks amongst the world’s top furniture making and design schools, and each year welcomes up to 25 students on the 30-week professional course to learn the best of traditional and modern furniture making. The School also runs introductory and intermediate courses for DIY enthusiasts who want to learn more about woodwork.
Students learn a wide range of skills, not least being how to run a successful business. The School itself recognises that furniture making and restoration are not in themselves sufficient to sustain a business and have diversified into designing and making bespoke kitchens, and what were described as shepherd’s huts. Don’t think, however, that these are just ordinary garden sheds, because each one will set you back about £12,000!
After the formal tour of the School visitors were allowed to walk through the extensive workshops and chat to individual students about their projects. The quality of the students’ work on display was stunning.
One the students at the School talks about her projects to Ashley and Laurina Strachan.
12 May 2018 – Branch auction, and a bring & discuss session.
The auction disposed of a small number of items belonging to one of our late members and raised £147. It was a diverse collection, ranging from a Reynolds & Son, Dobbie & Clyde sextant to a 2018 Cousins catalogue!
Bring & discuss sessions always yields items of interest, on this occasion including:
- A 1750s German, striking bracket clock with a 0.8mm thick mainspring in a large barrel (about 100mm in diameter). The problem discussed was how to remove such a strong spring safely.
- The repair of an old cuckoo clock.
- A mystery item which turned out to be part of the mechanism for adjusting the gas supply to street lighting.
- The repair of a miniature Ansonia Bee clock, and a rare early 20th century German travelling timepiece in the form of an electrical meter.
- Some stunning examples of pocket chronometers from a member’s collection.
14 April 2018 – Speaker Archie McQuater, ‘Archie’s New Clock’
Archie is no stranger to building complex mechanisms having previously enthralled us with the details of his Ptolemaic planetarium in April 2014. His new clock is a 53cm high ebonized, break-arch, double fusee bracket clock with painted dial and brass frets to the side and back. The clock case was designed by Lizzie Sanders, the wife of our late Chairman, and was made to a very high standard by an East Lothian cabinet maker.
The clock has no bell or gong, the ‘strike’ side of the movement operating instead the automaton once a day through a sequence that lasts for 37 seconds. The time at which the sequence starts can be set by the clock’s owner. The automaton comprises singing robins, including a mother feeding her chicks, set in a country scene with hills, hedges, trees and a railway bridge. The scene will be illuminated with LED lights to mimic sunshine, supplied from a three volt battery located in the base of the clock case. As there would be insufficient power from the clock movement to fully operate the automaton birds the battery also supplies a small motor which drives the bellows that provide the bird song.
Archie admitted that making the clock was quite straightforward, but designing and making the automaton mechanism was a challenge. Once he had fixed the idea of what he wanted the automaton to do he set about making it in stages through a process of trial and error. The structural form of the robins was particularly difficult because of their small size. Decorating the birds will be another challenge.
10 March 2018 – Speaker Chris McKay FBHI, ‘Big Ben: The Great Clock and Bells at the Palace of Westminster. Past, Present and Future.’
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!