Book Review

John Glanville & William M. Wolmuth

Clockmaking in England and Wales in the Twentieth century: The Industrialised Manufacture of Domestic Mechanical Clocks.

Published by Crowood Press. 2015. pp.368. Price £50 (e-book edition £40)

This splendid book fills a significant gap in the literature of clockmaking in Britain, which has until quite recently been rather dominated by studies of the great makers of the ‘Golden Age’ and later pre-industrial clockmakers. It represents the culmination of a 10-year research project by  two former engineer enthusiasts which has also involved the creation of a representative collection of domestic twentieth-century clocks for the British Museum, the delivery of the prestigious Dingwall-Beloe lecture (2009), and the associated publication of a two-part article on the subject in Antiquarian Horology in 2010.

The book’s short Introduction gives an overview of the history of horology in this country from the 1880s up to the year 2000, and makes the rather surprising but highly significant suggestion that, thanks to the advent of mass production and the interchangeability of components and assemblies, ‘probably as many domestic clocks were made in England and Wales during the twentieth century as in the four preceding centuries combined.’ That is indeed food for thought.

The main part of the book consists of six chapters covering some twenty different clock manufacturers: British United Clock Company (BUCC); Tame Side; Newbridge (Bath); Williamson; Rotherham; Mercer; J. J. Elliott; Smiths; Enfield (including Ystradgynlais); UK Clock Co.; Garrard; Norland; Clarion; Perivale; Davall; Newport; and Francis (these last four companies being owned by or associated with the Bentima company). In each case the history of each company and its leading individuals are described first, with contemporary photographs, advertisements, production figures etc., then followed by an account of all the various models of clocks produced by the company. These include alarm clocks, mantel clocks, wall clocks, bracket clocks and long-case clocks. All the clocks are beautifully illustrated in colour and their features described, with details of the cases, dials and movements (and escapements, gongs, keys, pendulums, stampings, etc.), and all supported by relevant contemporary adverts, lists of trade-marks, and often useful tables correlating production numbers with date of manufacture.  In aggregate, the great diversity of clocks produced by all the various manufacturers during the twentieth century is truly surprising, even bewildering, but the information provided in this book enables any reader to identify and date most of these clocks, and indeed this is one of its most valuable features. Modern factory-made clocks are often dismissed as being inherently inferior to older ‘hand-made’ clocks, but this book helps us to appreciate the variety of design and the quality of manufacture as well as the sheer volume and diversity of the clocks produced in England and Wales during the very recent past.

Much of the information presented here by Glanville and Wolmuth was obtained in the conventional way by diligent trawling of archive records, catalogues and other published works but, most importantly, this research was supplemented by invaluable personal interviews with many of the people directly involved in the various companies, or their descendants. Some companies were obviously longer-lived and more important than others, and this book is a useful guide through their sometimes complex histories, development and ramifications.  It must, however, be said that the coverage of the two Welsh factories is disappointingly brief – barely a page each for the Enfield factory at Ystradgynlais (still remembered fondly by locals as the Tic-Toc factory), and the quite short-lived Newport Clock company at Rogerstone.

The book has a formidable list of some 500 bibliographical references, and contains a useful index and over 1000 colour photographs as well as many period black-and-white illustrations. A hardback weighing in at nearly three pounds and in large format it is not light reading but rather a substantial reference book that will answer the queries of many an ordinary clock-owner who may have just one or two of these twentieth-century clocks, and it will be a boon to horologists, repairers, collectors, museum curators, dealers and auctioneers who regularly see many of them.

Bill Linnard (W&MHS)

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