Saturday 8th October - Autumn Meeting

Grosmont Old Town Hall 2016

Jonathan Crowe notes on his Japanese pillar clock


BACKGROUND  This is an example of a Japanese pillar clock or Shaku Dokei of the Edo period which existed from1603 to 1868. For most of this time the Tokugawa Shogunate were forbidding travel abroad which completely isolating Japan by reducing contact with the outside world to very limited trade relations with China and the Netherlands. This gave two hundred and fifty years of peaceful stability which was characterised by the development of fine craft skills such as metal working and elaborate artistic aesthetics. On the other hand technical progress was suppressed with the result that horological development became retarded in comparison with practices outside Japan. Neither the pendulum nor the balance spring were in common use among European clocks in the early 17c when Japanese isolation commenced and so Japanese clockmakers did not later become familiar with these developments which explains why they continued to use of the verge escapement until the mid 19c however all the while crafting very fine and beautiful but functionally achronistic clocks. 


GENERAL DESCRIPTION  The clock has a parallel sided hardwood case of 6.4 x 44 cm. The single day going movement is protected by a removable glazed hood with lift-out front to permit rewinding of the clock. The trunk conceals a strike movement which also acts as the going weight. At the foot of the trunk is a small drawer containing the winding key. The sides of the trunk are provided with pierced brass sound holes. The passing of time is indicated by the descent of an ornate brass pointer attached to the going weight. To the front of the trunk there is suspended a removable wooden plate carrying thirteen adjustable diamond shaped brass markers at the back of which are projections which trigger the strike. The dark hardwood case is deeply carved with a cursive floral motif.


The GOING MOVEMENT is attached to the backboard by two screws. The hair spring and balance wheel verge movement is of four wheels with five leaf pinions. The wheels are uncrossed but have ornately turned faces. The top plate which carries the balance assembly is supported at its corners on finely turned brass baluster columns. The front plate is pinned  at its top to a downward extension of the top plate and at its bottom to a single but substantial decoratively turned pillar which also acts as a guide to the drive cord. The front plate is one of the finest features of the clock, it is elaborately fretted and engraved with a cursive floral design possibly depicting chrysanthemum. The plate also carries a small dial with thirty divisions and a simple hand attached to the escape pinion giving a quick visual indication that the movement is in motion.


 The separate key wound STRIKE MECHANISM also acts as a drive weight and descends within the trunk in just over a day. When the clock is fully wound the strike winding spigot aligns with a hole in the case to permit winding the strike.  As the mechanism descends the strike is triggered by  twelve projections on the back of the time indicators. The lowest indicator has no projection and serves merely to indicate that the clock is fully unwound. The strike sequence is based on the ancient Japanese concept of temporal time in which the day and night are each divided into six equal periods the relative length of which therefore depend on the time of year. Each period strikes in the descending sequence 9,8,7,6,5,4 the strikes of 3,2 and 1 having been reserved for other religious purposes. Variations in the duration of day and night through the year are catered for by regularly adjusting the position of the diamond shaped time indicators.


After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan eventually abolished the use of its temporal hour system. The Meiji Cabinet issued an ordinance in 1872 which switched Japan from temporal time keeping and lunar calendar to the western twenty-four hour day and solar calendar. The switch led to the abolition of traditional wadokei which either had to be converted or destroyed. So fiercely  was this enforced that officials went from house to house gathering up the remaining unmodified clocks and incinerating them on ritual bonfires. This probably explains the rarity of these clocks today.


On acquisition at auction the clock was found to be in a very poor state of repair. It can now been seen to have been sympathetically restored to a working state by Jim Merlini, fellow member of this group.

Our autumn meeting was held at the picturesque village of Grosmont - the venue of our autumn for a number of years.  The meeting was well attended with just under 30 in the audience, some travelling from as far away as Canada to listen to our speakers.


Our member Jonathan Crowe kindly displayed his very nice Japanese pillar clock and Jonathan detailed notes and photographs can be found at the end of this report.


Our first speaker was Dr Edward Cloutman with a talk entitled  “Bermuda Revisited”.


Ed described his second visit to the Island to perform further restoration of the Islands’ public clocks.  Photographs showing the affect of humidity and sea water on the turret clocks are part of Ed’s talk, and the audience was very surprised to see the extent of the corrosion and de-lamination of the iron work on one clock.


We were delighted that Ed’s talk also includes images of an early Blackstone oil/gas engine and a steam winding engine once used to haul ships on to the slipway, and a short history of the island from its discovery in 1505 and some of its local residents.

The talk was well received and a large number of questions where asked by our members.

Second up was Dr William Linnard with a talk entitled Bald Behind”.


This told the story of a clock dial by ‘John Owen, Llanrwst’ 1719-1796; Bill’s full article can be found on the AHS website by following this LINK.  Our members engaged with Bill about his detailed description of the dial and had the opportunity to closely inspect the dial’s engraving when the dial was passed around for inspection.



After lunch our third speaker Dr James Nye chairman of the AHS gave a talk entitled “A Twentieth Century Renaissance in British Horology”.


The British horological industry suffered a huge decline at the beginning of the twentieth century.  The competition offered by volume production in America, Switzerland and Germany in particular proved too great.   There was, however, a brief Renaissance, in British clock and watchmaking largely between the late 1920s and the 1950s, in which Smiths played a significant role.  The talk illustrate the main elements of Smiths contribution and the characters involved.


James’ talk has recently been given to other AHS sections so I will not repeat the details of his talk, but will only say the the talk contained a unique mixture of Horology, modern history and Smith Industries.


The talk was well received by our members.

Members’ contributions:


Brian Coles talk is titled “I Wish I’d Looked More Carefully” and the following are Brian’s notes.


Sometimes, reflecting on something I have missed, or wishing that I had not worked quite so quickly and thoughtlessly, the title words of this piece pass through my mind!  


A case in point occurred after the overhaul of an English fusee mantle timepiece several years ago. 1   I had noticed that it had a correct looking, but altered, pendulum rod, and that the pendulum bob was actually a brass faced lenticular bob from a 20th century mantel clock.  Soon after being placed on test after overhaul, an intermittent, but rhythmic, metallic ‘tapping’ was heard and the timing graph became erratic.  Subsequent investigation showed a series of small marks on both edges of the lenticular pendulum bob (see sketch) 2 where it was touching the sides of the pendulum slot inside the metal case that the clock dial/drum was mounted on.  The marks were small, and there were several on both edges of the bob, where the owner had obviously adjusted the pendulum length slightly to try and improve the timekeeping!  Modifying the size of the case slot was not acceptable from a conservational viewpoint, so I ended up (with the owner’s agreement to an additional cost) making a replacement bob to fit the same pendulum rod, of similar weight to the 20th century one, but with a narrower top to the bob. 3 


Another case prompting similar thoughts was a fusee dial clock, which came in last year.   The owner had reported struggling with a poorly fitting key for some time and finally came to me saying she could not wind the clock any more.  One look at the winding square and her oversize key suggested a clear reason for this.  4  However, while carrying out a full overhaul of the movement I came across a wholly separate winding problem inside the great wheel.  The spring that operates the winding ratchet click on the inside of the great wheel was no longer functioning, as a stress fracture had developed at the foot of the spring.  5 and 6  Clearly, the shape of the spring section where it joined the foot had led to slight flexing at the foot, as well flexing as along the length of the spring, and the spring had eventually fractured here.   Springs should ‘thin’ progressively along the length of the spring, from the foot to the tip to avoid this sort of problem developing.  A new spring made from hammer hardened cast brass was made and fitted.  7    I could never be really sure which of these problems had led to the owner’s winding difficulties!


I do not repair many 1930’s Westminster movements, but with 6 to 10 train bushes often required, there have been several occasions when, during trial fittings of pivots to newly bushed holes on the chime side of the movement, I have inadvertently re-broached and slightly enlarged a pivot hole in an already finished bush on the strike side!  It happens in an instant when your mind is not fully on the job, and it is too late to put the metal back!  Talk about making more work for yourself!

Tony Panes talk is titled “David and John Phillip, Clockmakers of Pentyrch and Llantrisant in the County of Glamorgan” and the following are Tony’s notes.


These notes are based on the detailed examination of  four 30 hour longcase movements all bearing the makers name of David Phillip on the chapter ring and all engraved with the address Llantrisant in one or other of its forms.


Not a great deal is known about these two brothers other than John died in 1799 and David two years later in 1801, coincidentally both occurring in the month of April.  Recent research (which is ongoing) has revealed that the two clockmakers together with another brother, Thomas, described as a cordwainer (shoemaker) purchased property in Llantrisaint in 1771.


David Phillip’s movements are well made and sturdy.  However the unusual feature about them is the use of screw threads where other makers would be cross drilling and pinning. Hands are secured with a decorative nut.  The strike work is held in place by the use of screwed pivots which allows their removal and reassembly without dismantling the rest of the movement.  The four pillars are screwed to the backplate not riveted as normally found, making cleaning that much easier.


All four movements were nicely marked out on the under dial plate and interestingly three of the movements were stamped with the letter W.  The fourth movement with the letters WP.  These possibly indicate the contribution of a fourth brother, William, who tragically was killed in a local coal mine, Maes-y- Mawr in November 1772, as recorded in the diary of William Thomas 1762-1795, who describes the brothers as “not from our shire by birth, but all of them very ingenious.”

Steven Tyrer presented his latest project which is a Merlin band clock.

I was attracted to the clock due to the unusual construction, and am grateful to John G Wright for producing detailed instructions.  In the late 1960s he gained access to the original clock and made detailed drawings; unfortunately he was not able to dismantle the clock but none the less he produced a very good guide to its making.


A lot of the work has been performed on a CNC milling machine as shown in the following photos.


John Joseph Merlin was born in Belgium in September 1735, He studied for six years at the Académie des Sciences en Paris as a maker of clocks, automata, mathematical and  musical instruments.


He was also a friend of Thomas Gainsborough. Indeed there is every indication

that his portrait was executed by the artist in payment for a musical instrument made for him by Merlin.