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Articles from Old Timers Magazine

Old Timers - clock & watch articles
We hope you enjoy the Web versions of articles republished from our Old Timers magazine.

The Ali Sloper cartoon character seen here is taken from an 'Ali Sloper Watch' (c.1910)


The Lincolnshire Legend
By Jean Duncan

In the last issue I told you of my journey to Murmansk, Thanks in part to this man, John Harrison, the Lincolnshire Legend, We arrived on time and in the right place!

John Harrison, an English clockmaker, was born in Yorkshire in 1693, and spent most of his early life in Barrow upon Humber. By the age of 20 he had produced using carpenters tools an almost entirely wooden stable clock, built of lignum vitae it needs no oil and is still running.

He resolved the longitude problem preventing maritime disasters which had previously resulted from faulty navigation, by producing a timepiece which would remain accurate at sea.

An aged exhausted man, he was taken under the wing of King George III and ultimately claimed his rightful monetary reward in 1773, after 40 years of struggling against political intrigue, international warfare, academic backbiting, scientific revolution and economic upheaval.

John Harrison is truly known as the father of the Chronometer. In the next issue I will tell you about the Longitude problem!
John Finnie - Dial Painter
by Maggie Parker

Whilst doing research for a talk last year I became convinced of a connection between artists who eventually went on to earn a living painting and exhibiting, and dial painters. Over the years though I've restored a lot of dials, I have never seen a signed 'dial painting'. Some of the work executed on these dials has been of wonderful quality, dials produced by Beilby and Hawthorn are good examples.

Anyway I was convinced of the connection between dial painting, house painters who knew all about paint finish and techniques, and japanning, Osbourne and Wilson, early dial makers in Birmingham certainly had connections with the japanning trade. Painting styles on some early dials are remarkably similar to that on early japanned ware.

I trawled through art books trying to find a painter who had exhibited in later life! and who had started out as a dial painter.

I was lucky, John Finnie, who later exhibited in the Walker Art Gallery! Liverpool, and was well known as a landscape artist started out painting dials!

This is an excerpt from his memoirs;

I was apprenticed to ID R Hay of Edinburgh, the leading house painter and decorator," .....he continues..... "The force of circumstances now took me to Wolverhampton, where I was re-apprenticed this time to a japanner, here I found myself doing quite important work in the decoration of those enameled tea trays which were in vogue half a century ago- Proving an apt pupil I was soon employed on the best sort of work, painting flowers, landscapes and figures. After I had been thus occupied for eighteen months! my employers failed and I was again adrift, I now set off for Edinburgh.!!"

"By the time I was sixteen I could have had a job as a foreman, but I was a restless dog and wanted to seethe world. So I shouldered my kit and set to go round it, armed with a trade at my fingers' ends as passport"

He set out for Paris and got as far as Glasgow!

"....where I settled down for a while to paint clock faces at thirty shillings a week I daresay you will recollect the sort of clock I used to operate on, the old 'wag-a-wa' which hung in every decent kitchen and cottage in Scotland until a more dapper and less reliable article made in Germany or America superseded it."

"This was real Art, for the decorations were done in oil colour. My next move was back to Edinburgh, where I made good money as a house painter and being a lad of spirit, spent it extravagantly!"
Chronometre Makers in Manchester
Kindly provided by a Lionel Parker customer.

ARNOLD & LEWIS 1873-1910
BARNETT Mrs. AB 1858
BATTY William & Son 1877-1920
BARRY William (this is very probably the above) 1860-1876
BRUCE Alexander 1851 to 1886
DODGE William & Morten 1860-1895
HUNT & ROSKELL 1851-1887
GARDNER William 1858-1890
LOWE George Cliff 1852-1861
Mc FERRAN William 1851-1893
McKELLAN Samuel D 1861-1893
PIKE Edward 1869-1920
SAMUEL Harriet .. gold cased chronometre dated 1905 owned by the late Dr. Kemp

Samuel McKellan is also an interesting maker retailer who claims to have patented various improvements to chronometre escapements, independent seconds and a new keyless apparatus. He seems to move into photographic apparatus and claims patents in this area.

Many thanks to one of Lionel's customers for this info and the details on the Kent family.
The Kent Family: Manchester
Kindly provided by a Lionel Parker customer.

The first identified member is John Kent who was born circa 1747 and is noted as working as a watchmaker for many years up to 1815. He may be the son of James Kent a watchmaker recorded by Ballie in 1759. His wife Ann died in 1830 aged 76. They had at least two children, two sons, John born circa 1778 and William Worsley born in 1804. He is recorded as working at Smithy Door in 1772 but moves to 11 St Mary's Gate by 1788 and by 1808 was at 3 Market Place. In 1813 his son John is working as a clockmaker at 21 Ravald St., Salford listing himself as John Jnr., his father John Snr., died in 1822 aged 75. John Jnr., was at 7 Market Place by 1824 and is listed as a watchmaker. He died in 1830 aged 52. His wife Ann had died in 1818 aged 38.

William Worsley Kent is listed as a watch and clockmaker at 5 Market Place in 1818 by 1829 he had moved to 6 Market Place. He married Jennet and had children between 1826 and 1837. William was born in 1832, and Thomas in 1837. He then married Mary Ann and had two more children from 1846 to 1850. In 1832 he had moved to 63 Deansgate listing himself as a watch and clock maker. In 1864 he adds 70 Deansgate and has moved from 63 Deansgate by 1868. In 1883 he is listed as a goldsmith, silversmith and watch and clock maker. From 1884 to 1886 the firm is titled KENT W W & Sons. In 1887 the firm is styled KENT William & Thomas and this continued to 1897. The firm is then titled KENT Thomas & Son and moved to 92 Deansgate in 1920.
by Maggie Parker

One of the few dial painters whose names have found recorded is Sara Whittaker 'dial painter' listed as a 'Painter, clock dial enameller and japanner.

It is interesting that the clock and watch trade had women taking a considerable part, Sara was in business in Leeds in the 1830's and it seems there is a possible link between her and William Whittaker who worked in Halifax. William Whittaker also involved in the early 18OO's with the unfortunate William Shreeve a 'housepainter' who also painted clock dial faces. I say unfortunate because it would appear that he was burned to death when preparing his own mixture of varnish, 'he was burned to death with the boiling oil which he used to use in his trade'.

It does appear that there is a considerable link in the early days of dial production between housepainters, who had the artistic talents to paint the early and suddenly fashionable clock faces, (and a knowledge of raw materials and paint combinations). I do find it particularly interesting that poor William Shreeve was mixing up his own combination of varnish when he met his end. These skills linked with the skills of the japanning trade, the artistic Embellishment of tin ware with enamel, and no doubt drying techniques were important in the mass production of dials.

I believe the most successful producers of dials produced them in a factory set up. Makers such as Osbourne and Little of Birmingham and the Beilby's of Newcastle must have had an organised set up to produce the amounts of dials they did. There is certainly a cross over of styles between the later dial and bargeware ' castles and roses' and many early dials, such as the 'Wilson' flower and fancy bird motifs, resemble the porcelain of the period, but I think the possibly the style of the dial reflected the fashion of embellishment at the time. Certainly there were itinerant dial painters flitting from place to place (dear John Finnie mentioned in the last magazine is a good example). However the moonroller dials in particular seem to come from a particular factory or family of painters, very often I have noticed that though the 'corners' of a dial may be of a very basic, the standard of painting the moonroller required a much better artist.
Clockmakers of Northumberland and Durham
Book by Keith Bates

This well produced book has been put together after ten years of research by the author. An impressive volume of well documented facts concerning clockmakers ( many of whom have not previously been recorded ) in interesting and readable form.

The study of Northumberland and Durham clockmakers has been sadly neglected even though such as Arthur Hayden in his book, 'Chats on Old Clocks' (1917) noted that one of the most important clock making centres in the country was the Northumberland and Durham area, especially Newcastle as the regional capital.

Though Mr. Bates would never claim that this study covers every clockmaker who worked in these two counties, he does feel that this book will go along way towards answering the questions collectors have asked for a considerable time about the craftsmen who made their clocks. His research is ongoing and readers will find this book both enjoyable and informative
Turner watch - 1890

This example is hallmarked 1890

Turner's Patent 16297 - 1889
Specifications; Chronographs; hands; dials; motionwork;

This interesting fast beat movement was possibly produced for whippet racing.

In stop watches an extra hand, rotating a complete revolution every second and moving over an extra dial is provided and driven from either the forth wheel arbor or escapement arbor. In the taller case a wheel on the escape arbor gears with a pinion on the new arbor, and in the former case the new wheel is on an additional arbor driven from the fourth wheel as the escape arbor. The stop mechanism which is not described, enables the operator to stop the watch between it's beats.

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