A supplementary (late) meeting report (from 1957)

 

AHS members, a long-lived breed

AHS members, a long-lived breed

 

Petrol rationing ceased in May 1957, but the legendary Colonel Quill, DSO, had long planned the AHS September visit with a view to everyone needing to use public transport, staying local in London. About forty members and friends descended on the workshops of E. J. Dent & Co in Lambeth, but the meeting report (AH Dec 1957, p. 95) was text only. On the day, pictures were taken, by our distinguished early member Bob Miles, but not being used these found their way into an envelope, to disappear in our archive, until I had a look inside, nearly sixty years later, a few days ago. I thought it was high time they had some exposure.

Congreves being assembled

Congreves being assembled

The assembly line for the Congreve clocks

The assembly line for the Congreve clocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Buckney (great grandson of E.J Dent) and AHS founder member Charles Williams, both of Dent, showed everyone round. The objects on view ranged from a striking wrought iron cage clock by Edmund Howard of Chelsea (1761), through to modern editions of the Congreve rolling ball clock, a design which continued to be made for several more decades. In the case of the Howard, substantial information has come to light in recent days, and I will try to resolve this into an article for the journal as soon as possible.

Benson to the left, Edmund Howard (1761) to the right

Benson to the left, Edmund Howard (1761) to the right

 

Being Dents’ workshop, there were turret clocks aplenty, of course, including examples not only from Dent, but Benson, of a wide variety of shapes and sizes. An unusual and quite large 1939 Dent quarter-striking gravity escapement clock sported intriguing fans mounted either end, and within the frame, pivoted horizontally at right-angles to the train. It had a most unusual gravity escapement, with the escape wheel formed in the shape of a hexagram. It later found its way to the Science Museum, where it still resides. A wonderful exhibition model turret/skeleton clock was on display, which later found its way to the Rockford Time Museum, and thence to a fabulous private collection. A British Pathé film taken in the workshops only a short time later, features many of the same clocks.

The joys opening old envelopes can bring!

Quarter-chiming gravity clock with hexagrammatic escape wheel, by Dent (1939)

Quarter-chiming gravity clock with hexagrammatic escape wheel, by Dent (1939)

 

Exhibition clock (1850s/60s)

Exhibition clock (1850s/60s)

Another view – possibly made for the 1867 Paris Exhibition?

Another view – possibly made for the 1867 Paris Exhibition?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The compound pendulum in a precision timekeeper?!

This post was written by Tabea Rude, Member of the AHS

 

Popular and well known examples of compound pendulums in horology are found in French novelty clocks. They can be camouflaged as an innocent sailor, as in the mantel clock on display at the Royal Observatory Greenwich:

French novelty clock at the Royal Observatory

French novelty clock at the Royal Observatory

 

But mostly compound pendulums are regarded as a nightmare when it comes to precision. This was not always the case, as I found out in the conservation and research into an electromechanical double pendulum clock, patented by M. Pierre Sellier in 1909.

M. Pierre Sellier’s double pendulum precision clock

M. Pierre Sellier’s double pendulum precision clock

 

Sellier’s patent clock (on display at The Clockworks) uses a compound pendulum to provide the drive to the hands, while a ‘free’ pendulum controls the electro-magnetic impulsing of the compound pendulum, by making and breaking the drive circuit.

 

Sellier’s invention was, like most other compound pendulums, lacking in precision, but in the early 20th century he was not alone in using a compound pendulum in the quest for precision time keeping. In other horological circles, consideration was given to the compound pendulum as a potentially useful component. While in 1909 the Deutsche Uhrmacherzeitung described the compound pendulum as a ‘rape of the pendulum principle’, a major article by Prof. Dr. Ing. H. Bock in 1929 in the same magazine reported on a compound pendulum as a precision break-through. After criticising the suspension spring type used in Shortt’s free pendulum for its variable elasticity modulus, Bock introduced Dr. Max Schuler’s idea of exchanging Shortt’s free pendulum for a compound pendulum resting on a knife edge. He claimed that Schuler would soon be able to measure all the anomalies in the Earth’s rotation and outperform the Shortt clock with ‘German toughness’. The Schuler clock has ended up at the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum at Furtwangen, and no doubt we will hear more about in due course!

Dr. Max Schuler at Göttingen University

Dr. Max Schuler at Göttingen University

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Better Late Than Never – Baillie Bibliography Vol 2

 

Someone I know is researching the electric clock systems of Ritchie. Being a pro, I rather suspect they have run a lot of obscure sources to earth, but I’m going to make a point of drawing their attention to English Mechanic and World of Science from 1874, where I believe Ritchie published a piece on controlling clocks and time-signals by electricity. This might come as an interesting addition to the better known 1878 piece in the Journal of the Society of Arts (vol. 26).

Another friend has a forthcoming piece on the pneumatic time distribution systems of Mayrhofer, which will appear in the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Chronometrie’s next yearbook. There is just a chance he may not have come across the 1882 piece by Berly in the Journal of the Society of Arts, providing an overview of the state of the art in pneumatic horology.

How on earth do I come to know of these possibly useful references? In 1951, G.H. Baillie published an historical bibliography, covering horological literature published prior to 1800. It has been a goldmine ever since. A second volume, covering literature published between 1800 and 1899, was drafted, but never published – until now. The AHS has arranged the copy-typing of the typescript, and a digital (searchable) version is now available to download from the members’ area of the website.

A sample page of the annotated 1951 typescript, in preparation for press

A sample page of the annotated 1951 typescript, in preparation for press

 

It’s a fantastic new resource for researchers. Yes, all the obvious literature is there, of course, but there are also vast numbers of obscure references which will illuminate your research. And Baillie included the good, the bad and the ugly. An 1889 article on watch cocks by Luthmer is described simply – ‘the illustrations are very good. The text is of little value’. Parker-Rhodes’ 1885 pamphlet on ‘Universal Reading of Time; is ‘of no value or interest’. But Baillie is unstinting in his praise where it is merited – witness the simple observation on Poppe’s 1801 Ausführliche Geschichte der theoretisch~praktischen Uhrmacherkunst, that ‘this is by far the best history of horology that has ever been written. Hardly a statement is made without a full reference to the authority for it.’

A sample typescript page

A sample typescript page

 

Membership of the AHS brings you full digital access to over sixty years of Antiquarian Horology, and other amazing digitized records – such as this latest bibliography, which finally makes an appearance sixty-five years after the author’s death. It is worth investigating.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment