12th May 2021. At the May Zoom meeting, a good number of Cheltenham Branch members and guests were treated to some unique insights from Bill Wolmuth, a recognised expert on C20th English Clocks. Bill is of course joint author, with John Glanville of the definitive book on this subject “Clockmaking in England and Wales in the Twentieth Century (The Industrialized Manufacture of Domestic Mechanical Clocks)”. Having conducted a decade of research into this subject on behalf of the British Museum and built up a definitive collection of examples of these clocks (now donated to the museum) , Bill was able to share both the results of this research and also the practicalities of acquiring and analysing specimens and supporting information.
Many members would have been familiar with the C20th story of English clock companies set up with German assistance, cloning existing German designs. However, the fact that industrial production of clocks in England started with the manufacture of clones of American clocks by their original English designers, may have come as a surprise. Other curious nuggets involved companies for whom clocks were diversifications from speedometers, gramophones, carpet sweepers and gas streetlamp timers. Bill was also able to identify the locations of the English factories, some of which survive, but much altered, and others now obliterated, in one case by Spaghetti Junction.
Bill and John’s use of eBay was instructive. This was not just as a source of clocks and movements, but also information and pictures of clocks, that they did not necessarily see or handle. Also the use of genealogical research to identify and interview descendants of the key players, who often may have known less about their ancestors’ businesses than Bill or John, but in some cases were able to provide important biographical details, photographs and company records.
Cheltenham members were understandably impressed with the magnitude of the task that had been undertaken, but also grateful for the informative and entertaining insights that Bill was able to provide. Members look forward to the possibility of welcoming Bill to deliver a further talk in person, once face to face meetings resume.
14th April 2021 There was a good turnout for the April Zoom meeting, where Branch members and visitors were treated to an overview of the Cumbria Clock company’s history and projects by co-founder and director, Keith Scobie-Youngs FBHI. Keith took members on a journey encompassing the development of the company from a local venture operated by Keith and his wife, servicing turret clocks from a base in the Lake District; to an enterprise with 19 employees plus subcontractors operating from some half a dozen locations covering most of England, with occasional projects as far afield as Fiji and Hong Kong. This was horology on a gargantuan scale, with an impressive range of lengths, diameters, weights – and heights. Notable was the number of times that the word “scary” cropped up! Our tour included wine bars, public buildings, museums, churches, cathedrals, the Houses of Parliament, and the Olympic Stadium. These projects went beyond routine servicing, to include dial restoration, the manufacture and fitting of winding, self-regulating and night silencing mechanisms, pneumatic hammers and even the creation of a replica turret clock to replace one lost in a fire. Cheltenham members are grateful to Keith for an evening of education, entertainment and astonishment.
10th March 2021. The Cheltenham Branch March meeting was our first live presentation via Zoom, following a series of successful Clock and Watch clinics. Using this format, Steve Philips explained some fundamentals of Ptolemaic astronomy, as an introduction to the concept and likely purpose of the Antikythera Mechanism. Steve’s overview of the history and recent research into the mechanical details of the mechanism then led into the details of a replica which Steve has built; which shows (more clearly than the original would have) its workings and functions. The Zoom format arguably made Steve’s presentation using photographs, videos and animated 3D CAD models, easier to follow than would have been the case using a large screen in a live venue. Along the way Steve introduced us to retrograde planetary motion, epicyclic gearboxes, and the use of interpolation and statistical hypotheses testing for the determination of wheel counts. The regular Cheltenham members and guests in virtual attendance were grateful for Steve’s clear and engaging presentation on what would otherwise have been a complex and baffling subject.
10th February 2021. Cheltenham Branch started the year with the now established format of a Zoom Clock and Watch Clinic. A good number of Branch members dialled in to share their recent horological experiences and issues. Topics included: extracting a rusted steel screw stump for a carriage clock handle; relining cuckoo clock bellows; correcting mis-planted arbors; 3D printing of (and winding) a replacement coil for a 1930s Smiths Sectric movement; mainspring oils vs greases; clock cleaning fluids; screw-head slotting files; aluminium mainspring barrels and a regulator which would not stay in beat. Steve Phillips then introduced us to his 3D printed Byzantine mechanical sundials. Cheltenham members eagerly await Steve’s Zoom presentation on the Antikythera Mechanism at the next Branch meeting on March 10th.
11th November 2020. In November, the Cheltenham Branch meeting was the A.G.M., where an extraordinary year was reviewed via Zoom. Although the formal business was swiftly concluded as usual, the format provided no opportunity for the usual wine and cheese evening afterwards. Nonetheless, members were able to share recent experiences and issues. Steve Philips then treated members to an unscheduled presentation on orreries. This covered a range of designs, some which are adapted from historical examples, others which are completely novel, all of which Steve has constructed using a range of modern techniques including 3D printing. Members resolved to invite Steve to present on this fascinating topic at a future live meeting.
14th October 2020.
In October, Cheltenham Branch held a second Branch meeting via Zoom. Building on the success of the September Members’ Night, this was billed as a Clock and Watch Clinic. Encouragingly, our second “outing” in this format attracted an increased number of attendees, without detriment to the visibility or audibility on Zoom. Members were able to join the meeting from their homes and workshops to discuss topics of interest and horological issues that they were facing. Topics included: Wuba floating balance escapements; novel movement stands, fake mystery clocks; longcase clock case restoration; trends in the volume and mix of repair work; and replacing pinions using pinion wire.
Many Cheltenham members have now successfully taken up the Zoom meeting format. It remains to be seen whether face to face meetings will resume in the spring; but, meanwhile interest and participation in Branch activities is being maintained. The last Cheltenham Branch meeting of 2020 will be a Zoom AGM at 7 p.m. on Wednesday 11th November. The formal business of the AGM will be followed by another virtual clock and watch clinic. All are welcome. A Zoom link will be e-mailed to all Cheltenham Branch members. Non-members, please email secretary at bhicheltenham.uk for a Zoom link.
9th September 2020. Virtual watch and clock clinic.
10th June 2020. Branch Outing to Lyme Park. Cancelled
20th May 2020. Malcolm Pipes: Horological Experiments II Cancelled
8th April 2020. Mike Frost: Jeremiah Horrocks Cancelled
11th March 2020. Jeremy Hobbins, BA Horology course at Birmingham City University
12th February 2020. Douglas Bateman FBHI presented Cheltenham Branch with the hypothesis that, while John Harrison’s contribution to horology and to navigation is significant, in that he showed it was possible for a clock to keep time at sea, it has been overplayed to provide good copy. Doug proposed the rehabilitation of Maskelyne and greater recognition of the contributions by Huntsman, Ramsden, LeRoy, Arnold, Mudge and Earnshaw. Members were very appreciative of the broad perspective leading to this controversial take on John Harrison’s legacy.
13th November 2019. A.G.M., followed by Cheese & Wine party.
9th October 2019. Malcolm Pipes educated and entertained Cheltenham Branch members with his Horological experiments (part 1). In this illustrated talk, Malcolm turned many of our members’ assumptions on their heads with simple practical demonstrations. Members were challenged to guess how much metal could be abraded, rubbed and polished from a metal surface. Few of us had much clue and were re-assured by the truth. However, much more disturbing was the real behaviours of horological lubricants in daylight contact with brass. Further deliberations and experiments included practical measurement and mathematical analysis of the relative accuracies (and inaccuracies) of pendulums and quartz crystals, together with an assessment of a number of possible corrections. From the simple to the rather complex, these experiments demonstrated above all, not to take received wisdom at face value. Cheltenham members are indebted to Malcolm for some thought provoking revelations and are looking forward to more in future sessions.
11th September 2019. Clive Steer returned to us to talk to another good turnout at Cheltenham branch about a substantial clock commission. Clive had previously addressed the Branch on the subject of the creation of a sculptural clock for the GSK headquarters in Brentford. This time, the subject was a contract, undertaken jointly with Mike Flannery (one of our Branch members), to renovate and re-install the 1877 Gillet and Bland turret clock at the former West Tunbridge Wells Station, now a restaurant. The account of this project covered areas where horologists seldomly tread, including: contractual scope containment, stakeholder management, intellectual property protection, sponsor succession, funding shortfall and user training. Attendees were possibly more familiar with cleaning, reshaping and centring wheels, re-finishing and re-assembly – but not on this scale! Cheltenham members gave enthusiastic thanks for this eye opening presentation.
6th July 2019. The Branch held it’s second “Bring and Buy” sale at CACSSA, Cheltenham. This was larger and busier than our first “B&B” (after last year’s AGM). Particular highlights were the Pennyfarthing Tools stand; and the “Workshop Clearance” stand, selling the contents of a former member’s workshop. This latter offering included a number of good quality watches and fine and rare watchmaking tools. One customer even used the opportunity to take delivery of a clock, which had been professionally repaired and restored by one of the stallholders. The Committee are resolved to repeat this Cheltenham Watch and Clock fair annually as part of our regular July meeting.
12th June 2019. This year’s July Cheltenham Branch outing was to Snowshill Manor; a National Trust property packed with antiques, artifacts and curios by its undoubtedly kleptomaniac former owner. The outing was well attended, despite some last minute apologies from members unable to make it on the day. Significantly, the collection includes a large number of early clocks, a group of Japanese Lantern Clocks, C18th and C19th British, European clocks, mass produced US clocks, and even an early wheel cutting machine. Every conceivable non-horological discipline is also represented in a house packed to the rafters with exhibits. The lack of labelling and lighting (in line with the original owner’s wishes) kept the NT guides fully stretched explaining and discussing this Aladdin’s cave of treasures. All in all this was an excellent day out for our members.
8th May 2019. Colin Ferguson made a presentation to our members. In this Colin explained and illustrated the breadth and utility of horological and associated workshop tools that could feasibly me made in the home workshop. The was not just a demonstration of Colin’s undoubted ability, but also an example of how much cost could be saved in the establishment of a fully capable workshop; if the initial purchases were standard machine tools, rather than the more specialist horological items. Cheltenham members are indebted to Colin for his insights.
10th April 2019. Ben Wright started his talk to Cheltenham Branch members by outlining his education in the field of horology and went on to give us an insight into his experiences with Christies and Bonham’s auction houses before he became an independent specialist. Based on his wide experience he provided us with a list of the top thirteen prices paid at auction for clocks and watches. Ben compared the prices for a mass produced Rolex previously owned by Paul Newman; a Patek Philippe watch; a unique watch by George Daniels, a clock cased in a Faberge Egg and a clock by Joseph Knibb. it was clear that the perceived value of the items was not intuitive, but depended on a combination of maker, rarity, complexity and above all, provenance. Overall a fascinating insight into the world of high-end watch and clock collecting, with more than a few surprises, The talk was well received by the Branch members.
13th March 2019. Attendees at the Cheltenham Branch March meeting got two speakers for the price if one. John Ward and Grenville Johns presented “Home for a Fusee” based upon their development and delivery of a Fusee Dial case making course at the South London Branch workshops. John and Grenville explained how every student on the course, including those without prior woodworking experience, had successfully made their own case; and how they got round the “no sawdust” rule in the workshops! Not only did our joint presenters give a good account of the construction of such a case, but also a guide to the evolution of fusee case design features over some 250 years of production. Cheltenham members and visitors are grateful to john and Grenville for a very informative evening.
13th February 2019. “Smiths Speedometers ” by Dr. Mike Flannery. In February, Cheltenham Branch members were treated to something different. Dr Mike Flannery FBHI presented “Smiths Speedometers”. In one sense this was familiar ground to our horologists involving hairsprings and geared mechanisms, in other ways, this was uncharted territory. Technically members were challenged. not just with escapement-like “chronometric” mechanisms, but also with eddy current speed cups and centrifugal governors. From a conservation point of view, the combined effects of MAZAK rot and power driven mechanisms meant that, in common with automotive practice, retention of original parts was often a distant aspiration, requiring a wide range of different skills to bring vintage speedometers back into service. Cheltenham members are indebted to Mike for a very entertaining evening with insights into a parallel world of small geared mechanisms.
11th November 2018. AGM, followed by a Bring & Buy. This month was the AGM for Cheltenham branch, which was swiftly concluded and was followed by wine & cheese and a bring & buy event. Our stall-holders brought a wide range of items for sale with plenty for everyone to pick through. Sadly there were very few visitors from outside the branch, but those who did come were very happy with the results. We hope to hold a similar event in the future – watch this space!
10th October 2018. “Building a Month Regulator” by Dave Shires. The introductory part of David Shires October presentation to Cheltenham Branch members was impressive enough, as he described his construction of John Wilding’s 8 day regulator, followed by a C17th style long case clock and two drop dial fusee timepieces. All this and he still had not touched on the subject of his talk: The Construction of a Month Going Regulator. David, trained as a scientific instrument maker, prior to a career largely in double glazing, explained that he had not only made all the significant elements of the movements from scratch but had designed and introduced his own refinements including purpose made pivot jewel assemblies. Most surprisingly rather than an extensive engineering workshop, David showed photographs of his domestic work room with simple equipment that most members could aspire to. As well as information of sourcing custom jewelling, dial engraving and case making, David gave some good advice including that; to maintain the momentum of a project, go into the workshop every day, even if only to tidy up. Cheltenham members are indebted to David for an inspiring evening’s entertainment and sound advice.
12th September 2018. “Louis XVI Lyre Clock” by Philip J. Gale In September, Phillip Gale addressed a good turnout of Cheltenham Branch members on the subject of a Louis XVI lyre clock that he had once restored. This restoration (and indeed the talk) was exceptional in the breadth of repair techniques that were covered. The task had been made more challenging by the previous restorations of this badly damaged and deteriorated artifact using unsuitable materials. The breadth of inappropriate materials that were encountered (including both pitch and epoxy adhesives) suggested that this clock had C19th repairs as well as a C20th reconstruction. Worse still, the clock case had been “enhanced” with parts which did not originally belong. Phillip explained how all this damage and desecration had been rectified by specialists in ceramics, metalwork and metal finishing; with the end result that the clock emerged pristine with no visible traces of its chequered history. A lively debate then ensued over the preservation of the skills that had gone into this restoration, with Phillip advising that in the few years since, several of the specialists involved had retired and even where their businesses continued, the capabilities had been lost. Cheltenham members are indebted to Phillip for a thought provoking presentation.
9th May 2018. “Wells Cathedral Clock” by Bob Frost At the May meeting of the Cheltenham Branch, members were treated to a presentation by Bob Frost, keeper of the Wells Cathedral Clock. Bob explained that he is responsible for all the aspects of care of the clock, from day-to-day timekeeping to gradually stripping, cleaning and overhauling all its elements. Members learnt that this had given him unparalleled access not just to the ancient parts of the clock still remaining in situ, but also to (literally) hundredweights of documents including 250 years of tradesmen’s bills. Access to the hidden parts of the clock has enabled Bob to assemble and present incontrovertible evidence that the unique dial of the Wells clock is not in its original state, but has been significantly altered. Access to the Cathedral documents pointed to previously unknown aspects of the clock’s history. Bob provided members with supporting evidence for the (now challenged) early date of the “original” mechanism in the science museum and, even more controversially, challenged the primacy of even this ancient mechanism. For the benefit of the members, Bob put the Wells dials and automata in context with other local turret clocks, but left the mysteries of Jack Blandiford and the clock’s “witches marks” to members’ imaginations. Cheltenham Branch members are indebted to Bob for an evening of revelations surrounding this historic clock.
11th April 2018. “The use of a Milling Machine for beginners” given by Sid Lines MBHI In April, Sid Lines entertained and enlightened a good turnout of Cheltenham Branch members on the subject of milling machines. Sid blended the obscure with the obvious: giving those familiar with milling some useful hints and tips; and those with no knowledge or experience, a basic grounding in the subject. Milling techniques for a range of materials were discussed: not just the usual brass and carbon steel, but also stainless steel; cast iron; aluminium; plastic; and even wood. Lubrication was covered, with typically pragmatic advice on the use of brushing, rather than pumped coolant systems in a home workshop setting. The audience now know when to avoid and when to embrace climb / back / down milling; the role of 2, 3 and or 4 flute end mills; which of these can be used for plunge routing and checks to be made on tip geometry before attempting this. Most astonishing were arcane practices employing pins, plasticine and Rizla papers for centring and aligning cutters, in place of traditional wobblers and new-fangled lasers. Sid gave practical advice on the benefits and shortcomings of carbide vs HSS cutters, and on the feasibility, economics and drawbacks of re-sharpening. Once again, Cheltenham members are indebted to Sid for an evening of insight and humour.
21st March 2018. “Large Sculptural Clocks” by Clive Steer Clive Steer addressed the March meeting of the Cheltenham branch, with the story of the Sculptural Clock that he built for the GSK headquarters in Brentford. Intriguingly, Clive explained how he approached this as an engineering project with a gearbox, rather than as a clock following horological precedents. The commission required that the clock be of substantial size, without either a dial or visible mechanism; and be suspended and rotated in the GSK atrium. The members present could all relate to the horological issues of counterbalancing, inertia and power, but Clive’s engineering solutions were novel and of great interest to all. Once our speaker showed the finished product, members assumed that the talk was over, but (as on previous occasions) we were mistaken. Clive then launched into a fascinating photographic tour of his workshops and concluded with the aeroplane that he had built and flown! Cheltenham members are deeply grateful to Clive for an entertaining evening with novel insights.
21st February 2018. “The Cole Family of Clockmakers” by Ron Rose. More Information Ron Rose FBHI At our February meeting a record number of members were introduced to the Cole Family of Clockmakers by Ronald E Rose FBHI. Ron led the audience through the establishment of the Cole family clockmaking business in Somerset, by James “Conjuror” Cole, and his intriguing association with the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth. Interesting questions then followed regarding James’ apparently precocious sons, James Fergusson and Thomas; who signed clocks in their own names in their teens, and were producing clocks with grand complications in their 20s. Plausible explanations followed, with reference to detailed video recordings of the complications and actions of a James Cole year going longcase clock, and a James Ferguson Cole “Humpback” carriage clock. Ron then charted James’ descent into insanity; James Ferguson’s bankruptcy; and the emergence of Thomas Cole as a prolific manufacturer of innovative strut and tripod clocks. Having teased the audiences with glimpses of rare and valuable clocks that they would probably never handle, let alone own, Ron then produced three rare and inexpensive clocks of such a mundane nature that no-one present would otherwise be likely to spot, let alone handle or own. The branch is grateful to Ron Rose for opening their eyes to both the complicated and the unexpected.