Time from the mains

 

Wireless World 1931

Wireless World 1931

 

In 1931, Wireless World published a powerful pictorial depiction of timekeeping from the electric mains. Today, we check the time on our smartphones and glance at standalone battery-driven quartz clocks on walls at home and at work, and it would be easy to assume that time from the mains had been consigned to history. But look around. On countless supermarkets, town halls, churches and other public buildings the clocks you see run from the AC mains and take their time from the frequency of the UK’s national grid.

These are synchronous motor clocks, running at a speed dictated by the grid’s frequency. To work as clocks, that frequency needs to remain very close to 50Hz. If the frequency drifts, engineers steer it back, avoiding cumulative clock error.

The UK’s Grid Code specifies that National Grid must control the frequency so that clock time remains within plus or minus 10 seconds per day. Thus while synchronous clocks might display an error of up to 10 seconds within a 24-hour period, in practice the error will daily be brought to zero by the 7.00am handover of shifts at the National Grid’s Control Centre in rural Berkshire.

 

The EHG secretary and others in the viewing gallery, overlooking the main control room

The EHG secretary and others in the viewing gallery, overlooking the main control room

 

On 11 June 2016, a few enthusiasts from the AHS Electrical Group were granted rare and privileged access to the Control Centre to hear at first hand from its highly experienced and knowledgeable engineers how they handle not only the management of the grid in real time but also how they predict what the load will be a few hours in the future.

General view of the control room, from the viewing gallery

General view of the control room, from the viewing gallery

 

Two concerns drive the never-ending work of the engineers: security of supply and efficiency. Keeping the lights on is paramount but once that is assured, market mechanisms are used to allocate resources. Reserve power is expensive, so cannot be contracted lightly. Unpredictable supply from renewable sources causes massive headaches. Inertia – enough mass in the form of spinning metal in the turbines connected to the grid – is vital to smooth volatile flows of power.

Ground floor view

Ground floor view

 

Grid time was seven seconds slow on our arrival and four seconds slow on our departure – a few hours later after an enlightening and highly informative tour packed with rich detail delivered with confidence from our expert guides. That our synchronous clocks perform so well is no longer a mystery, given the phenomenal technical and intellectual effort deployed 24/7 to keep the lights on – and to keep those clocks on time.

Close-up on one screen, with ‘clock error’ sitting at minus 4 seconds

Close-up on one screen, with ‘clock error’ sitting at minus 4 seconds

 

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Mannheim April 2016

 

Friday 15 April 2016 – to Mannheim Seckenheim for the 17th annual electric clock fair, organised by Till Lottermann and Dr Thomas Schraven, the chairman of the DGC’s Electrical Horology Group. This has long become an essential part of the social calendar of Euro-electro-horology, bringing as usual visitors from the UK, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany.

Arrivals at the fair

Arrivals at the fair

Part of the display at the fair

Part of the display at the fair

The fair coincided with a remarkable exhibition mounted by Hans Baumann, showing part of his extensive collection of electric watches, showcased in his two-volume publication from 2013. Several hundred watches were on show, from electro-magnetically maintained balances, through tuning fork examples, onward to early quartz.

 

Aron single pendulum electricity meter. Observed variations from time (induced electromagnetically) show power consumption

Aron single pendulum electricity meter. Observed variations from time (induced electromagnetically) show power consumption

Aron pendulum meter. Power through the coil will alter the timekeeping, allowing consumption to be calculated

Aron pendulum meter. Power through the coil will alter the timekeeping, allowing consumption to be calculated

The international crew enjoyed themselves with two excellent evening meals, and a visit to the Carl Benz museum in Ladenburg. In between times, a lot of objects changed hands – on the principle that much collecting involves storing objects for a number of years, and then passing the job of storage to the next collector.

 

As always, there were several items, not on sale but on show, which became the subject of repeated interrogation and discussion. One of these was a fabulous time printer from Löbner of Berlin, of exactly the type used at the Berlin Olympics, together with an Ulysse Nardin pocket chronometer, to record race times (see Schraven’s article on Short Time Measurement in Antiquarian Horology, Dec 2015). Another crowd-puller was a stunning but miniature ‘turret clock’ from Hörz of Ulm, the only example known, and referenced in a single catalogue (c.1905). This involves two weight-driven trains – one going and the other, in place of striking, to drive a polwender each minute (the device which sends alternate polarity pulses to slave clocks). This extraordinary survivor of an early 20th century master clock saw groups gathered for extended periods of time, counting teeth and attempting to rationalise the apparently problematic logic of its design.

Horz master clock, front view

Horz master clock, front view

Horz clock, rear view

Horz clock, rear view

 

A fabulous, multi-cultural weekend of fun, fine food and great friends.

Sensible man talk. Beer in hand

Sensible man talk. Beer in hand

 

 

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Plans for an important clock

 

St Luke’s Church, West Norwood, built 1825–6

St Luke’s Church, West Norwood, built 1825–6

 

St Luke’s church (c.1825) in West Norwood, London, has an extremely fine clock (c.1827) by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, costing some 3 per cent of the budget for the church and the equivalent of several hundred thousands of modern pounds.

Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy

Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy

 

It is probably the first flat-bed turret clock in England, embodying ideas developed by Vulliamy on recent Continental travels.

3. General view of St. Luke’s clock

General view of St. Luke’s clock

 

Vulliamy’s clocks were substantially more expensive than those of his competitors, but he boldly claimed they would outperform and outlive cheaper alternatives. While it may not presently be working, a recent survey of St Luke’s revealed a very high quality clock, still in remarkable order.

Clock towers are deeply inhospitable environments, cycling in temperature between plus 40 degrees C and falling below zero – with humidity varying from low to 100 per cent over time. The natural modern trend to move away from weekly attendance by a clock winder necessitates auto-winding, but St Luke’s system has failed.

Additional weight taped on. Not a long-term solution

Additional weight taped on. Not a long-term solution

 

There are further problems. Vulliamy’s slate dials were replaced with opal glazed versions in 1928, but the putty fixing of the panels has dried to a cement-like hardness, and the lack of flexibility allows for cracking of the glass, as the cast iron tracery expands and contracts.

 

Rear view of the glazed panels, showing failed panels

Rear view of the glazed panels, showing failed panels

Another view of the damaged glazed panels

Another view of the damaged glazed panels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moisture can creep in, leading to ‘rust-jacking’. Several panels failed long ago, being replaced in wholly unsuitable plastic, offering a patchwork impression at night. Many other panels are cracked, and the eventual failure of the glazing is certain, while the clock room suffers.

The church is now launching a substantial project to repair the clock, add new auto-winding, and auto-regulation, but, significantly and most expensively, also to repair all four dials with new opal glass.

This is a project of great significance to the community of West Norwood – the clock is highly visible and a symbol of local civic pride over two centuries. Action and pressure from the local community has led to the present proposals for a project to restore the clock to function. Fortunately, a number of different members of the Society have also been offer to valuable input and assistance, and fundraising is well underway.

 

The forlorn east dial, stopped since 2013

The forlorn east dial, stopped since 2013

 

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Fire! Fire!

 

Sun fire mark, 1730s. Museum of London

 

The AHS has launched a fascinating new research resource for its members – a series of searchable fire insurance records, covering the period 1710 to 1863. Over many years, the late Roger Carrington (1948–2005) manually transcribed fire insurance records, now held at the London Metropolitan Archive (LMA), and his work has been digitalized and added to the AHS web-site.

The LMA catalogue describes the holdings of a ‘substantial, if incomplete series of fire policy registers’ which survive for several insurance companies, including Sun Life (from 1710 to 1863), and Royal Exchange (from 1754 to 1759, and 1773 to 1863). Roger focused on the policies of clockmakers and watchmakers, and related trades.

Royal Exchange fire mark, 1820s. Walpole Antiques

Royal Exchange fire mark, 1820s. Walpole Antiques

 

We have created downloadable and searchable pdfs. The key benefit is the digital searchability of all six thousand one hundred and twenty records involved. What can one discover? Well, as the catalogue notes indicate, ‘Where fire policy registers exist, they generally include the following information: policy number, name of agent/location of agency; name, status, occupation and address of policy holder; names, occupations and addresses of tenants (where relevant); location, type, nature of construction and value of property insured; premium; renewal date; and some indication of endorsements […] Sun Fire insurance policies were renewed after five years at which time a new policy was issued under a new number.’

An eighteenth century fire insurance contract

An eighteenth century fire insurance contract

 

The data are of great interest to the horological researcher for a wide variety of possible reasons. The records can be searched for the name of a clockmaker, watchmaker or anyone involved in related trades. If the relevant name appears, the details of a policy can then be reviewed – potentially revealing new and interesting contextual material (e.g. verifying an address for a given date range, indicating prosperity or lack of it, etc.). The records could be interrogated in a different way, for example by location, occupation or street name.

Many will find the searchable pdfs sufficient, in simply locating information to be found in the main policy transcriptions. However, some may wish to do more with the data, and to this end we have provided an index in Excel, which will allow for more sophisticated searches of the data.

This valuable resource is only available to AHS members, so do join up if you think it might be useful in your research. AHS membership is terrific value and your subscription helps support our mission to foster the study of the story of time.

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Night watchmen

 

Der Nachtwächter from a German word spelling book, 1799

Der Nachtwächter from a German word spelling book, 1799

 

Richard Wagner set his glorious opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Master-singers of Nuremberg) in that German city in the sixteenth century. In the second act a night watchman sings (the English translation in the vocal score is somewhat awkward as it aims to preserve both metre and rhyme):

Hark to what I say, good people;
strikes ten from every steeple;
put out your fire and eke your light,
that none may take harm this night.
Praise the Lord of Heav’n

[Hört, ihr Leut’, und lasst euch sagen,
die Glock‘ hat zehn geschlagen;
bewahrt das Feuer und auch das Licht,
dass Niemand Schad‘ geschicht.
Lobet Gott den Herrn].

 

The act concludes with his re-appearance:

Hark to what I say, good people;
eleven strikes from each steeple;
defend you from spectre and sprite;
let no power ill your souls of fright!
Praise the Lord of Heav’n

[Hört, ihr Leut’, und lasst euch sagen,
die Glock‘ hat elfe geschlagen;
bewahrt euch vor Gespenster und spuck,
dass kein böser Geist eu’r Seel‘ beruck‘!
Lobet Gott den Herrn].

 

Links to videos of this opera are provided at the bottom of this post.

 

The Nightwatchman by Thomas Rowlandson, late 18th century

The Nightwatchman by Thomas Rowlandson, late 18th century

 

From the middle ages until late into the nineteenth century, the night watchman patrolling the streets at night, calling the time and keeping an eye out for any kind of mischief or irregularities, were a common figure in many towns and cities. Although he set his opera in the sixteenth century, watchmen were probably still active in Nuremberg when Wagner wrote his opera in the 1860s. One century earlier, an Englishman visiting Nuremberg recorded in his travel journal “Every evening about nine o’clock a fellow goes up and down the streets singing, and gives notice of the time of night, and bids people put out their candles. About the same time and at three in the morning trumpets are sounded.” (Sir Philip Skippon, An Account of a Journey Made Thro’ Part of the Low Countries, Germany, Italy and France, 1752). In her book The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London, Judith Flanders writes that for a small fee, a watchman might act as a mobile alarm clock, stopping at houses along his route, to waken anyone who needed to be up at a specific time.

 

One of London's last watchmen, Charlie Rouse, outside his office in Brixton Road in 1890

One of London’s last watchmen, Charlie Rouse, outside his office in Brixton Road in 1890

 

The patrols of the night watchmen were not an undivided pleasure. In his classic tale Humphrey Clinker (1771), Tobias Smollett has a long-suffering character say, “I start every hour from my sleep, at the horrid noise of the watchmen bawling the hour through every street, and thundering at every door; a set of useless fellows, who serve no other purpose but that of disturbing the repose of the inhabitants.”
Acknowledgment. It was Wagner’s opera that made me want to know more about these night watch men, and I found much information in this article: Philip McCouat, ‘Watchmen, goldfinders and the plague bearers of the night’, Journal of Art in Society (2014), www.artinsociety.com.

 

Videos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWfHT4jEx9I  First entrance 1:52:50 to 53:40, second entrance 2:17:40 to 18: 22

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tG9lOL_1Xk  First entrance 1:54:10 to 57, second entrance 2:20:14 to 50

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2zowFEDruI  First entrance 1:59:00 to 55, second entrance 2:25:30 to 26: 25

 

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Clockpera at the British Museum

 

The pairing of clocks and opera has been a recurring theme in this blog (1, 2, 3) and I am now happy to report on another such coincidence.  Over recent years, members of an opera production company, Brolly Productions, have made several visits to horological study room at the British Museum (where I work).  They came to look at different kinds of clocks and understand how they work, in order to provide a solid foundation for the design of their latest production, “CLOCKS 1888: The greener”.

 

Keisha Atwell as Greener, the leading character, accompanied by Yshani Perrinpanayagam, Musical Director.

Keisha Atwell as Greener accompanied by Yshani Perrinpanayagam, Musical Director.

 

The lead character is a “greener”, i.e. “an immigrant who has only recently arrived“, who were common to East London in the 19th century in which the opera is set.  She is responsible for maintaining the clock that controls the workforce of the East End but she comes under pressure from her overseer to alter its running to increase production.  Also, “of course it is an opera, so there has to be a love story” says Dominic Hingorani, Librettist & Director of Brolly Productions.

Last Friday lunchtime, in the horological gallery of the BM, an event was held to celebrate the collaboration. The highlight of this were two songs from the production, performed by Keisha Atwell, who plays Greener. Freddie Matthews, Head of Adult Programmes of the BM, introduced the event.  Dominic then spoke about the evolution of the production.  Rachana Jadav, Designer & Illustrator of Brolly Productions, spoke of the creation of the design, including the influence of the BM clocks.

From left to right: Freddie Matthews, Head of Adult Programmes at the BM; Paul Buck, Curator of Horology introducing access to the collection; Rachana Jadhav, Designer and Dominic Hingornai, Librettist.

From left to right. For the British Museum: Freddie Matthews, Head of Adult Programmes and Paul Buck, Curator of Horology. For Brolly Productions: Rachana Jadhav, Designer & Illustrator and Dominic Hingorani, Librettist & Director.

 

Also speaking was Paul Buck, Curator of Horology of the BM, who told how the horological team embraces access to the collection and will consider even the most diverse requests. Indeed, access to the collection is available to all students, not only horologists.  Members of the AHS have the opportunity to visit the horological study room for talks from the curators and close-up viewing of objects.  These group visits are organized by the AHS’s regional sections.

 

CLOCKS 1888: The greener is playing at CAST Doncaster, Fri 15th April to Sat 16th April 2016 and at the Hackney Empire, Wed 20th April to Fri 22nd April 2016.

 

 

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Wristwatch Group meeting 14th January – Conservation and restoration

This post was written by Mat Craddock of the Wristwatch Group

 

The splendid venue:  Watchclub at the Royal Arcade, London (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

The splendid venue: The Watch Club at the Royal Arcade, London (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

 

In the gas-fired warmth of the Royal Arcade, WWG members heard Justin Koullapis (our gracious host, The Watch Club), Adam Phillips (casemaker and restorer), Greg Dowling (WWG member and watch collector) and Oliver Cooke (Curator, Horological Collections at the British Museum) discuss originality in watches. Oli’s curatorial view of conservation was, perhaps, the most extreme: once an item enters a collection, the aim is to put it into stasis, free from the damaging effects of winding or lubrication. From a collector’s point of view, Greg said that the possibility of wearing and using a watch might lead him to seek out to the most appropriate way to restore the piece to working order.

The Panellists (left to right); Adam Phillips, Oliver Cooke, Greg Dowling and Justin Koullapis with WWG Chair Rebecca Struthers (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

The panel (left to right); Adam Phillips, Oliver Cooke, Greg Dowling and Justin Koullapis with WWG Chair Rebecca Struthers (Image: The Watch Club/Michal Solarski)

 

Adam agreed, and seemed largely happy to undertake work under the direction of his customers, taking the view that sensitive restoration and repair can extend the useful life of a watch. While Justin’s thoughts on the subject were from two, contrasting, points of view: as a non-practising watchmaker and as a watch dealer. He said that great value is placed on entirely original objects, many of which have been hidden away for many year. However, his fascination with how objects were made often caused him to place more value on the skills of the watchmaker, rather than the watch itself.

Questions were taken from the audience, and covered topics such as dealer versus collector (the panel was split on the definition of a collection); the dangers of old radium (the British Museum has their luminous watches stored in steel-lined rooms that are externally force vented); and even the purpose of collecting watches. In response to the last question, Mr Dowling quoted from the late Dr George Daniels: there’s nothing more attractive than a good watch. It’s historic, intellectual, technical, aesthetic, amusing, useful.

A fitting end to an interesting evening.

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The annual winding of the Mostyn Tompion

 

The Mostyn Tompion

The Mostyn Tompion

 

28 January 2016. To the British Museum, at the delightful invitation of the horology curators to take part in a little-known and wonderful ceremony – the just-once-a-year winding of the glorious Mostyn Tompion. The Deputy Director, Jonathan Williams, offered a warm welcome, amply elaborated by Paul Buck, senior horological curator, who walked us around the origins and detail of this extraordinary object. It runs for a whole year on one wind, striking every hour of that year (56,940 blows). The clock case, a confection of ebony veneer, silver and gilded brass, is rich in symbolism, covered in the heraldry and armorial paraphernalia of England and Scotland, richly intertwined – an interesting hint to the politicians who only wind each other up on such matters.

The winding key in place ready for winding.  Note the light catching fabulous engraving on the movement front plate.

The winding key in place ready for winding. Note the light catching fabulous engraving on the movement front plate.

 

Made for King William III by perhaps our most celebrated maker – Thomas Tompion (Westminster Abbey-buried, no less) – the clock descended on the royal death through various titled families before settling with the family of the early Lords Mostyn, finally landing in Great Russell Street in 1982. From c.1793, the Lords Mostyn held a small party to mark the annual winding of the clock, with each winder entering their name in a book. This tradition has been kept firmly alive at the British Museum.

British Museum Curators Oliver Cooke and Laura Turner, standing vigilant by the clock.

British Museum Curators Oliver Cooke and Laura Turner, standing vigilant by the clock.

 

The old family record was open for us to see, turned to the page for 26 December 1961, when Lord Mostyn recorded being on his own for Christmas, and winding the clock, which had ‘gone successfully during the year’. Amusingly his idea of being on his own did not allow for the presence of the butler, who helped replace the dome over the clock. These were memorable times – Mostyn, much troubled by rheumatism, also recorded ‘The heat in the drawing room was well kept up, and it was a very good thing that I had electric fire as the winter was of the coldest we had had for years’. Winter, spring, summer and fall continue to unfold, watched over from Gallery 39 by a remarkable clock, which draws breath just once in each cycle of seasons.

The Mostyn winding book open at for 1961 and 1962

The Mostyn winding book open at 1961 and 1962

 

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The Wittnauer ‘2000’ Time Machine: perpetual calendar or not?

I am fascinated by gimmicks used by past watch manufacturers to make their products stand out in a crowded marketplace and this post is the first in a short series on some attention seeking watches that have piqued my interest. This post takes looks at a look the Wittnauer ‘2000’, a quirky automatic wrist watch from the 1970s. It is a snazzy-looking chunk of a watch and is impressively big at 46mm across the case and crown; the dial does not disappoint with its day, date and complex-looking calendar information around two apertures at twelve and six o’clock. It was advertised in the early 1970s as a time machine with perpetual calendar, which is technically correct but arguably a little misleading.

wit1The Wittnauer ‘2000’ with an advert (inset) from 1971

The perpetual calendar is a celebrated complication prized by collectors of high-end wrist and pocket watches. The intricate mechanism required to keep the calendar in step with the short months and leap years demands multiple precisely made components, is only found on the best watches and, unsurprisingly, its presence in a watch hikes the value substantially.

Stephen McDonnell’s recent innovative perpetual calendar design. Uploaded to Youtube by Quill and Pad.

The Wittnauer ‘2000’ has a perpetual calendar, which does conform to the same definition.The date display is a standard type, which must be manually advanced at the end of a short month. It is more normal for the calendar to be set using the crown, but why do that when you can have an extra button on the outside of the case? Instead of keeping the date in sync, it uses tables and a revolving scale to reckon the day of the week for a given date. The mechanics of the design are very simple, the revolving disc has a contrate gear on its reverse, which is driven by a pinion attached to a second crown. The years and days of the week are printed on the revolving disc and, as can be seen in the image, aligning the year with the month on the lower table (at six o’clock), places each day of the week above one of seven columns (at twelve o’clock) that contain the relevant days of the month.

300 Year Almanac

A Victorian perpetual calendar. Image kindly supplied by Chris McKay.

The Wittnauer ‘2000’ perpetual calendar employed an old and simple technology to allude to luxury. For a modest price it had bags of 70s style and, as with any self-respecting time machine, had buttons aplenty!

 

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Winding the Caledonian Park turret clock

 

The clock tower in Caledonian Park, Islington, London

The clock tower in Caledonian Park, Islington, London

 

In Caledonian Park, in the London Borough of Islington, stands a distinctive 45 meter clock tower with four dials that can be seen from far away. It was erected in the 1850s to serve as the command centre of the newly laid out Metropolitan Cattle Market, which had been created to replace the old more centrally located Smithfield Market. The tower is a Grade II listed building.

 

The clock tower served as the command centre of the cattle market. The buildings around the tower were bank and telegraph offices

The clock tower served as the command centre of the cattle market. The buildings around the tower were bank and telegraph offices

 

You can see the clock movement in this short videoclip. Turret clock expert Chris McKay has recently published a facsimile reproduction of A List of Church, Turret and Musical Clocks. Manufactured by John Moore & Sons. 38 & 39, Clerkenwell Close, London, dated 1877. For the year 1854 we find: ‘Islington, London Four 10-ft. 6-in. dials, chiming, for the Cattle Market.’ The chimes are no longer in operation, from what I understand at the insistence of nearby residents. But the clock is still running and showing the correct time.

The movement, made in 1854 by John Moore & Sons, Clerkenwell

The movement, made in 1854 by John Moore & Sons, Clerkenwell

 

During an open day last summer I had a chance to get into the tower, and to see the clock and enjoy the view from the balcony. The organizers were looking to extend their group of volunteers for the weekly winding of the clock. I signed up and am on the rota now, so I regularly climb first a cast iron spiral staircase and then a series of steep ladders to get to the movement and pull up the heavy weight. It’s a good physical exercise and a welcome hands-on experience for someone whose involvement with horology is normally limited to sitting at a desk putting together the quarterly journal of the AHS.

Winding the clock – good exercise

Winding the clock – good exercise

 

The Caledonian Park Friends Group have published a booklet with much information on the history of the market, which for a while also functioned as a flea market. The cover shows the market in full swing, but the artist has made a bad job of representing the tower. If the dials were really as low as where he painted them, climbing up to wind the clock would be a lot easier!

The image on the cover of the booklet...

The image on the cover of the booklet…

... the artist has misrepresented the clock tower

… the artist has misrepresented the clock tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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