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Horology Symposium – a resilient future for watch and clock making

Horology Symposium – a resilient future for watch and clock making

Hosted by Heritage Crafts and the Museum of Timekeeping

When: Friday 26 April 2024, 10am to 4pm
Where: Museum of Timekeeping, Upton Hall, Newark-on-Trent, NG23 5TE

How do we ensure a resilient future for watch and clock makers, and related horological crafts? Both watch and clock making are listed as endangered on the Red List of Endangered Crafts but we are also aware that there is need for additional research and data on this complex and diverse sector.

We are bringing together traditional makers, restorers, conservators and sector organisations to discuss how we can improve and promote opportunities for upcoming watch and clock makers, and ensure that skills and knowledge are passed on to the next generation.

The aim of the day will be to identify the needs and priorities for the sector and to inform the 2025 edition of the Red List of Endangered Crafts.

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Posthumous BEM for Brian Alcock leads six heritage crafts Honours

Broian Alcock BEMThe family of the late master hand grinder Brian Alcock have received a posthumous British Empire Medal in the King’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his service to the Sheffield cutlery trade and heritage crafts.

Brian, who passed away less than three weeks ago, was one of six makers nominated by Heritage Crafts to receive national honours, alongside clockmaker David Poole MBE, boatbuilder Ronald John Maclean MBE, blacksmithing trainer Delyth Done MBE, marbler and woodgrainer Robert Woodland MBE, and knitwear designer Jeanette Sloan BEM, in recognition of their unparalleled craftsmanship and tireless work in ensuring their skills are passed on to current and future generations.

The six were nominated for this year’s Birthday Honours, following 24 previously successful nominations from Heritage Crafts since 2013. In May, the charitable organisation – which was set up in 2009 to support and champion traditional craft skills – published the fourth edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, the only report of its kind to rank UK craft skills by the likelihood they will survive into the next generation.

Heritage Crafts was deeply saddened to learn of Brian Alcock BEM’s passing on 30 May. As a jobbing grinder working up to a week before his death, Brian was an unparalleled repository of knowledge and skill in the craft of hand grinding. He exemplified the honest work ethic of a skilled master craftsman, and even at the age of 81 he would work 40 hours a week, starting at 6.30am each morning through all four seasons. No job was too small for him; even putting an edge on a simple pocket knife was handled with the care and concentration of a man who relished the craft he had learnt so well.

What set Brian apart was how freely he shared his knowledge and skill. Five years ago founding Heritage Crafts Chair Robin Wood MBE was concerned that once Brian stopped he would have nobody to grind axes for his growing business, and that this important part of Sheffield’s cultural heritage could be lost. At this point Brian offered to train Robin’s apprentice Zak Wolstenholme. He had been passing his knowledge of how to grind tools and maintain the machinery to Zak, free of charge, right up until his passing. Zak admired him greatly and he had become a very significant life mentor.

Thankfully, Brian learned of his forthcoming honour before he died, knowing the esteem in which he was held. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

David Poole MBE has been clock maker of the highest standard for over forty years. He has made critical contributions to horological education, establishing remote learning, support and examinations through the British Horological Institute and organising apprenticeships through the George Daniels Educational Trust. Between 2016 and 2019 David set up the Watchmakers Trailblazer Apprenticeship Scheme, one of the first of its kind under the government-backed initiative to promote craft apprenticeships, overcoming many obstacles with devotion and total service.

Ronald John MacLean MBE represents an unbroken line of boat builders who, over 150 years, have provided as many as one thousand workboats to the island communities of the Hebrides. He has preserved an entire style of vernacular boat building (the Grimsay workboat of Scotland) through his craft skills, teaching and interpretation of the tradition. He has designed accredited courses in Traditional Boatbuilding Skills, and with his gifts as a teacher devised a curriculum to transmit the Grimsay boat tradition through Gaelic boatbuilding terminology.

Delyth Done MBE has been unparalleled throughout the past decade in ensuring that the next generation of blacksmiths have the high-level skills they need. As head of the blacksmithing degree programme at Hereford College of Arts for over ten years, she has been directly responsible for improving the training standards so that graduates are recognised and sought after as employees by master blacksmiths around the world.

Robert Woodland MBE is one of the most highly-skilled ornamental artists, woodgrainers and marblers in the UK today. His work can be seen in a variety of buildings across the country, including the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the Tower of London, Grand Lodge, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Kensington Palace, Bagshot Park and the Mandarin Hotel. Robert has a passion to keep his trade alive and shares his knowledge openly with students from around the world, enthusiastically demonstrating his craft whenever he has a chance.

Jeanette Sloan BEM is one of the most prominent and successful Black knitwear designers in the UK today, and has done a huge amount to promote and celebrate the contribution of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to British textile crafts. Among a career of achievements, she devoted her time and expertise, unpaid, to found the ‘BIPOC in Fibre’ project, to celebrate and raise awareness of the contribution of BIPOC to British textile design.

Heritage Crafts Executive Director Daniel Carpenter said:

“We are thrilled that six of our nominations have been recognised in this the first Birthday Honours of King Charles III’s reign. Having traditional craftspeople up there with other great luminaries of public life in this way is vitally important, as UK is still one of only 12 of the 193 UNESCO member states yet to ratify the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage.”

Heritage Crafts encourages anyone who supports the continuation of traditional craft skills, whether or not they are makers themselves, to become Heritage Crafts members via its website www.heritagecrafts.org.uk.

The charity has set up an Endangered Crafts Fund to provide small grants to projects that increase the likelihood of endangered craft skills surviving into the next generation, and is currently seeking donations to save more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion – visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf to find out more and to donate

Six new grants awarded to help save endangered crafts from extinction

Zoë Watson, trainee kiltmaker. Photo by Nikki Laird.

A kiltmaker, a clockmaker and a typefounder are among the recipients of the latest round of grants awarded to help safeguard some of the UK’s most endangered craft skills.

Heritage Crafts, which published the third edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts last year, has awarded a further six grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in 2019 to increase the likelihood of endangered crafts surviving into the next generation.

This round of the Endangered Crafts Fund has been offered with support from the Dulverton Trust, with further support from the Pilgrim Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust and the Swire Charitable Trust. The six successful recipients are:

  • Katie Beard, from Gloucestershire, to apprentice to type founder Stanley Lane, to safeguard the history and craft of metal type manufacture and letterpress book printing.
  • Hugh Dunford-Wood, from Dorset, to create short films to support the teaching of the craft of hand-blocked wallpaper making throughout the UK and beyond.
  • Scott Jeffrey, from Hampshire, to fund the setup of wheel and pinion cutting in his clockmaking workshop, and offer wheels and pinions to the trade.
  • Anna Rennie, from Cornwall, to apprentice to master maille maker Nick Checksfield, to learn how to restore and preserve original maille, and to become the first female professional maille maker.
  • Karl Schmidt, from the United States, to reintroduce the critically endangered craft of tinsmithing to the UK through a specialist tinsmithing masterclass.
  • Zoë Watson, from Perthshire, to train as a professional kiltmaker at the Kiltmakery in Edinburgh, after doing an introductory course as a 16-year-old student.
Hugh Dunford-Wood, wallpaper maker. Photo by Derek Reay.

Hugh Dunford-Wood, wallpaper maker. Photo by Derek Reay.

These six projects follow 35 awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as scissor making, sail making, damask weaving, boot tree making, neon bending, and concertina making, amongst others.

As usual the fund was oversubscribed, and Heritage Crafts hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.

HCA Endangered Crafts Manager Mary Lewis said:

“The survival of endangered craft skills relies on the people who make a positive choice to learn, make and teach these crafts. These projects will provide future generations with opportunities that they might not otherwise have, to become productive and healthy members of our shared craft community and to safeguard this important part of our national heritage.”

Since 2019, the Endangered Crafts Fund has been funded through generous donations from organisations including the Pilgrim Trust, the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, the Swire Charitable Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Benefact Trust, and the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, as well as individuals who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds.

Heritage Crafts continues to seek further donations to save even more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion. Donations are welcome at any time – for more information visit www.heritagecrafts.org.uk/ecf.

 

Clock making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Clock making

 

The making of all types of clocks.

 

Status Endangered (data under review)*
Historic area of significance London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Coventry.
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 12th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 51-100 making clocks, turret clocks, carriage clocks and/or electrical clocks from start to finish including all parts (where viable).
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 11-20 apprentice clockmakers (i.e. those acquiring the additional skills required to become a master clockmaker capable of making a clock from start to finish, and those whose level of skill means that they largely have to work under supervision even if they are earning money while training).
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers

* Heritage Crafts are planning to review this data in consultation with the sector in 2023-2024

History

Mechanical clocks first appear in Europe in the 12th century. The Salisbury Cathedral clock in Wiltshire dates to around 1386 and is often said to be the oldest working clock in the world. It is now believed by some the clock now currently in Rye is the earlier clock.

Early mechanical clocks did not have dials and instead relied on bells to chime the time. The origin of the word ‘clock’ comes from the Medieval Latin ‘clocca’ meaning ‘bell’. Their early development in Europe is closely associated with the Christian church as clock bells were used to mark the canonical hours for prayer. I have not had chance to improve this section.

 

Techniques

 

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

  • Case making/cabinet making
  • Casting
  • Dial enamelling
  • Dial painting and restoration
  • Electroplaters
  • Engine turning
  • Engraving (hand)
  • Wheel cutting
  • Glass cutting
  • Gong and bell making
  • Pinion cutting
  • Tool makers
  • Fusee chain makers
  • Gut line makers
  • Mainspring makers
  • Mercurial gilding
  • Scientific glass
  • Glass dome making
  • Enamel restoration

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Lack of awareness: Lack of general public awareness in career opportunities in the craft.
  • Financial issues: Lack funding available for clocks, turret clocks, carriage clocks and/or electrical clocks making apprenticeships past a technician level. There are limited current schemes that offer support to trainees past an introductory level. Those that do offer little financial assistance above a contribution towards the minimum wage rate for apprentices of £3.70 an hour (2018). Qualified technicians will already be earning the national living wage, however, will require a great deal of additional training typically taking a further 3-5 years to reach the skill level of a master clockmaker. This is extremely financially draining for small workshops who must cover the additional wages and the loss of earnings of the master clockmakers carrying out the training.
  • Health and safety challenges: particularly in relation to those working on turret clocks and public timekeepers. For example, glass work requires impact testing and water ingress checks. These additional checks are often costly and not economical which deters owners from having them restored.
  • Lack of access to allied crafts supporting the trade.
  • Aging population: particularly effecting conservation and restoration, there are more specialists with the skills required retiring than there are entering the trade.
  • In general certain antique clocks are not currently fashionable.
  • Lack of infrastructure – the traditional watch and clock making industry no longer exists and so new watch and clockmakers are unaware of available resources.
  • Training issues: The level of training is not as high as it was and young watchmakers don’t gain enough skills in engineering.
  • Set up costs: Its incredibly expensive to setup a workshop. Lathes are very expensive as are many other tools.
  • Competition from larger international companies: Watchmakers are being snapped up by companies who can pay higher wages. This is a major problem because these watchmakers spend their time repairing watches and not honing their watchmaking skills operating machinery.

 

Support organisations

  • British Horological Institute
  • British Watch and Clock Makers’ Guild
  • Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust
  • The George Daniels Educational Trust and Committee
  • The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
  • Alliance of British Watch & Clock makers

The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust award Scholarships to existing masters of craft to expand their skills and Apprenticeships both to those at an entry level as well as technicians who have secured a position with a master irrespective of age.

Some clockmakers have sought to plug the skills gap themselves by creating their own training facilities.

 

Craftspeople currently known

There are only one or two manufacturers of clocks that do it on a reasonably large scale. The others do it on an individual basis when a client is found:

  • Cumbria Clock Company (turret clocks)
  • Sinclair Harding (clocks)
  • Smith of Derby (turret clocks)
  • George de Fossard (clocks)
  • Comitti (clocks)
  • Richard Simmonds

Independent UK crafts businesses conducting conservation and restoration of vintage and antique clocks, turret clocks, carriage clocks and/or electrical clocks, including making parts for existing pieces:

  • The British Horological Institute publish a list of current accredited repairers‘ of watches, clocks and turret clocks. The list is not exhaustive and it is estimated that around half of professional “craft” watch and clock makers are on the list. An FBHI accreditation will mean that a maker has demonstrated that they can make clocks or watches in their examinations and assessments.

 

  • Cumbria Clock Company (turret clocks)
  • Robert Wren
  • Smith of Derby (turret clocks)
  • W F Bruce
  • Michlmayr
  • Carter Marsh
  • A Gray
  • Clock Clinic
  • Motion Works
  • D Newell
  • C T Jobson
  • Rockley Clocks
  • J A Alcock
  • J E Allnut
  • S Jackman

 

Other information

There are around 200-250 professional makers earning their main craft income from the conservation and restoration of vintage and antique clocks, turret clocks, carriage clocks and/or electrical clocks, including high-grade and complicated mechanisms, and have the ability to make parts for existing timepieces. Plus 21-50 technician trainees (i.e. those acquiring the foundation skills required to gain entry-level employment in this craft at a service centre, and those whose level of skill means that they largely have to work under supervision even if they are earning money while training).

The current number of graduating clockmakers from all disciplines within the field is currently sufficient to maintain it at its currently level. However, there is no surplus and unless these numbers are maintained the skill will continue in a precarious position.

 

References