Previous Events

14 December 2019 – Branch Christmas Lunch at the Canons’ Gait

24 November 2019  – Visit to National Museum of Scotland, ‘The Luxury of Time: clocks from 1550-1750’.  A special guided tour by Dr John C Taylor OBE.

9 November 2019 – Speakers Ken and Moira Russell, ‘Clockwork – There’s More to it than Meets the Eye’

Ken’s interest in automata was kindled after he came across several examples on the internet which were shown as part of the talk.  These included a 16th century automaton friar (National Museum of American History in Washington DC), a silver swan (the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle) and the writer automaton (Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel, Switzerland).  A few clips were also shown from the BBC4 documentary ‘Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams’.  If readers are interested, videos of the automata in action and the documentary programme can all be found on the internet.

The building of his automata was described in detail including some of the innovative approaches taken which were a departure from traditional techniques.  For example, the use of tensator springs in the drive motors, which avoided the need for fusees.  Miniature ball races, precision plastic gears and the odd Meccano gear were also used in the automata to great effect.

12 October 2019 – Speaker Peter Mehta, ‘On the Trail of Sydney’s Longest Running Clock’

The clock in question is the one housed in the Hyde Park Barracks Museum in Sydney, Australia.

Peter began by explaining that his interest in this clock began with a chance encounter with Chris Vulliamy during a clock course at Bignor Park in West Sussex.  Chris happens to be a direct descendant of Benjamin Vulliamy who designed the current clock in the Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

After a presenting some biographical details of the Vulliamy family Peter explained the role of Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales at the time, in the building of the barracks and the installation of the original clock in 1819 which was attributed to James Oatley, a clock and watch maker who had been transported to Australia as a convict.  In the 1830s Oatley’s clock was becoming so unreliable that it was replaced by another clock which, though unmarked, turns out to have been made by Vulliamy & Sons in London.

Peter finished by mentioning that the Vulliamy company’s day books listing all the clocks they made are held at Upton Hall and a little further research would enable the precise date of manufacture of this clock to be established.

14 September 2019 – Speaker Malcolm Pipes FBHI, ‘Some Horological Experiments‘

Malcolm described some 12 experiments of varying complexity.  One of the simplest investigated what effect leaving open the case door of a regulator clock might have on its rate.  One of the more complex explored how to compensate for barometric errors to improve the performance of regulator clocks.  Many of the experiments had required Malcolm to design and build his own test equipment and his descriptions of these proved to be of considerable interest in their own right.  Perhaps not surprisingly the greatest number of questions, and associated discussion, were generated by the advantages claimed for the asymmetric crutch and the longevity of some well-known horological oils.  The results of the latter did not come as a surprise to the more experienced members in the audience.

May 2019 – Visit to Edinburgh Antiques, Vintage and Collectors Fair

The Branch’s May meeting was a departure from our usual diet of events as for the first time we joined forces with the BHI’s Roadshow team from Upton Hall to run a stand at the Edinburgh Antiques, Vintage and Collectors Fair in the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston.

It was our pleasure to welcome Brian Noble and Zanna Perry who provided information and literature on the BHI and the many and varied training courses the Institute provides.

Alongside Brian and Zanna, Scotland Branch members provided visitors to the stand with information about the Branch and its programme of events.  This was also an opportunity for Branch members to sell any clocks, parts or tools they wanted to dispose of.

Needless to say everyone took a little time to browse the stalls at the Fair and to make the odd purchase.

Very many thanks to Brian and Zanna for giving up their weekend to join us at this event and to Branch members Paul Wood, Matthew Richards and Frank DiCarlo for their help in hosting our visitors.

13 April 2019 – Speaker John Redfern, ‘The Knibb Clocks of the University of St Andrews and the Origins of the Tic-Tac Escapement’

For April’s meeting it was our pleasure to welcome back John Redfern, who presented a talk on ‘The Knibb Clocks of the University of St Andrews and the Origins of the Tic-Tac Escapement’.

John opened his talk with a few biographical details of James Gregory, appointed Professor of Mathematics at the University of St Andrews in 1668.  Gregory was also a keen astronomer and developed the first practical design of reflecting telescope.  In 1673 he commissioned two longcase clocks and a short pendulum clock, the so called ‘little clock’, from Joseph Knibb for Gregory’s new observatory in St Andrews.  The two longcase clocks had seconds beating pendulums, but the little clock was unusual in beating 1/3 seconds.  Despite their age the longcase clocks were in remarkably good condition and largely unmodified, except for changes to the escapements which had been modernised (to a deadbeat for one of the clocks).  The little clock had not been so fortunate with evidence of much punching-up to compensate for wear as well as a more modern escapement.

John explained he was given the task of restoring all three clocks and identifying the original configuration of the escapement for each one.  What followed was a fascinating account of the detective work undertaken by John, especially for the little clock with its tic tac escapement.  This included why it was made to beat 1/3 not 1/4 seconds, pre-empting the obvious question form several members present.

John’s talk was a thoroughly captivating account of how he managed to identify the original configuration of the escapement for each of these clocks.  Several questions followed, after which the meeting concluded with our customary thanks to the speaker.

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.

Meeting 9th February 2019 – Speaker Archie McQuater

Our February meeting was held as usual in the Canon’s Gait Bar down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Our host speaker was one of our own long term members -Archie McQuater who is in his 90th year and still works as a clock restorer, tutor and designer.

His latest project was the subject of this meeting. It is a Bracket clock, fusee drive, with automata in the arch. The arch will contain six robins,

  • two on the right side courting, and on the left side are
  • two birds tending the nest of two chicks (in a dolls house galvanised pail), the hen feeding the chicks and the cock watching for predators.

The hen will bend forward to feed the chicks, beak opening tail going down, chicks beaks opening and chicks leaning forward out of the pail. Sound effects and some lighting are planned, as is the hedgerow scene to encompass them and a (n gauge) railway bridge in the background.

At the moment, Archie has effectively completed the going train, with the “strike” side being used to provide drive to the birds. The case and dial are complete.

Archie spent most of his talk describing the operation and progress to date, but also spent time explaining the problems he encountered and his solutions. The most novel of which, was that the fly ran four times faster in the case compared to free space. His solution was to incorporate an old mechanical governor from a gramophone machine (eBay of course).

You will see from the photos, that the birds are skeletal at present with the mechanism fitted to open/close the beaks and to drop the tail when the beaks open.  A press was made to form the bodies from 10 thou’ copper sheet. Archie had all the parts he required to complete the project on show, including the body shells. He did say that he will re make some of the linkages to make them more elegant.

We look forward to his return visit, to demonstrate the finished clock.

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.

Japanese Clock Nov 18 Mtg

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.

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