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Meeting reports

W&MHS Autumn Meeting Grosmont 2023


We met at our usual venue, the old town hall at Grosmont, in the Welsh Marches.


Our first speaker, Andrew Blagg told us of his research into the family of George Savage, summarising and updating his articles in Antiquarian Horology. He explained that George Savage had an impressive horological reputation in Victorian times, but conflicting dates and locations, both here and in Canada had raised some awkward questions. Modern genealogy and internet research helped Andrew gather further information from both sides of the Atlantic and revealed the explanation by identifying multiple George’s within one family. Research into the locations of these family members at certain dates shows that the horological credits are at least possible. Pictures were shown of evidence of George Savage in Huddersfield, London and Montréal. Andrew then went on to investigate these horological credits in more detail. George Savage’s patent, the Savage 2-pin escapement, the Canadian retail enterprise, Society of Arts award and lever development, were all discussed and illustrated with slides. Accounts of the Savage family’s achievements from contemporary sources, including the newly digitised BHI journals were given, and pictures of surviving watch movements and parts which the author believed to have been produced by the family business, were shown as supporting evidence for lever development. Andrew had been able to put together a family tree allowing us to see how the apparently conflicting dates and locations had arisen.


Our second talk was given by one of our members, Christopher Vulliamy. Chris gave an illustrated overview of the Vulliamy Clockmakers family, including their interests and contributions to the fortunes of the Vulliamy firm. He acknowledged his principal sources of information, including DG Vulliamy’s monograph (2002) and papers by Roger Smith and others, many being in ‘Furnishing History’ and similar journals, reflecting the wide diversity of the firm’s activities. Benjamin Gray, an accomplished watchmaker, founded the firm when Justin Vulliamy, a young Swiss watchmaker who had moved to London, married his daughter in 1741 and he became Gray’s partner. Justin was followed by his descendants, Benjamin Vulliamy, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy and for a brief period, Justin Theodore Vulliamy. Chris illustrated some items from the range of high fashion architectural, furnishing, high-end ceramic and horological pieces that the firm was able to design and source for wealthy and discerning clients. Their premises at 68 Pall Mall, which was conveniently close to St James Palace and Carlton House, were occupied by three generations of the family until the firm closed in 1854.


Owen Gilchrist presented our afternoon talk, “70 Years since Smiths/Dennison on the Summit of Mount Everest”. With the aid of a video camera and projector, Owen was able to demonstrate details of the Smiths movements (available for us to examine individually after his talk), and discussed how copyright laws at the time forced Smiths to redesign its escapement. Some of us were unaware that a Smiths watch had been taken on that historic climb to the top of Mount Everest in 1953. He illustrated the substantial increase in viscosity of watch oils as the temperature they operate in drops to well below zero, and the need for special ‘low temperature oils’ which did not suffer from this drawback. Owen also brought along an extensive collection of ‘Everest books’ and memorabilia for us to examine.


Many thanks once again, to the staff of the Angel Inn, for their hospitality and preparation of our lunch!


Brian Coles

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