Bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki


Your Time – Including the Contribution of Northwest England to the Development of Clocks and Watches

by John A. Robey, Editor, Edward Powell, Alan Smith, Alan Terherne, and Chris McKay


Your Time – Including the Contribution of Northwest England to the Development of Clocks and Watches – Exhibitions by the Northern Section of the Antiquarian Horological Society at Prescot Museum 1 February – 16 April 2008 Williamson Museum & Art Gallery, Birkenhead 9 February – 13 April 2008. By John A. Robey, Editor, Edward Powell, Alan Smith, Alan Terherne, and Chris McKay. Published 2008 by the Antiquarian Horological Society, Ticehust UK; Softcover, 270x210 mm, 136 pages. Numerous color illustrations, ISBN-13: 978 0 901180 46 9. Available from AHS (http://www.ahsoc.demon.co.uk/ or telephone +(44) 1580 200155) for UKP 20 (UKP 15 for AHS members) plus postage.

Horologists with a particular interest in important English timepieces may be familiar with two recent exhibits produced by the Antiquarian Horological Society – and with the resulting published catalogues: “Horological Masterworks” (in connection with the 50th anniversary of AHS in 2003) and “Time & Place: English Country Clocks 1600-1840” (in 2006/2007). In both cases, the exhibits and the resulting books were well received, both by the local public and by horological scholars around the world. Now AHS has decided to continue in that tradition; in connection with their April 2008 annual meeting in Liverpool their Northern Section has prepared a unique exhibit, and once again is complementing it with a superb published catalogue.

Once more the AHS exhibit showcases extraordinary clocks and watches which are not ordinarily accessible to the public, and the book provides a scholarly documentation on the timekeepers shown. The book under review not only describes and illustrates each of the 126 objects exhibited, but explains its significance in the history of British horology. The exhibit is organized into seven sections. The four authors created the resulting seven chapters, while John Robey acted as the overall editor for the book. A few of the exhibited pieces have only one illustration, but more typical there will be 3 to 6 color images illustrating each object. Whoever took the photographs (no image credits are provided) not only has mastered the art of lighting and photographing timekeepers with extraordinary focus and depth of field, but knows what horologists want to see: Besides the usual dial images there are many close-ups of case and movement details, complemented with schematics of unusual escapements etc.

The largest and - in the opinion of this reviewer – most important chapter is devoted to the history of the marine chronometer. It starts with a clock that is not really a chronometer, but a direct ancestor of all marine chronometers: John Harrisons clock No. 1, the first known clock with a gridiron compensating pendulum and also the first with a grasshopper escapement, unquestionably one of the historically most significant clocks existing. The clock, now privately owned, has not been publicly exhibited since the Rockford Time Museum sold it several years ago. Next come the most famous Mudge chronometers: Mudge No. 1, Mudge Blue (from the Dresden museum), Mudge Green (formerly in Rockford), plus three more chronometers associated with Mudge, two by Arnold, plus examples by Earnshaw, Berthoud, Motel and Breguet. Local Liverpool chronometer makers are represented by Richard Hornby, John Bruce, Robert Roskell, Thomas Russel and Litherland & Co. Altogether this section shows 34 pieces.

Subsequent chapters deal with “Watchmaking in Prescot” (4 pieces), and “Edward Massey’s Lever Escapements”, many of which ended up in chronometers (24 pieces). The next two chapters deal with Prescot’s trade in “Grey (unfinished) Movements”, and in clock parts kits, including may which ultimately became New England made longcase clocks. The last three chapters deal with the part of the exhibit shown at the Williamson Museum, which include “Turret Clocks” (15 examples), “Longcase Clocks” (14 examples), and finally the “Lancashire Watch Company, 1890 to 1910” (with 12 exhibited watches).

Many students of horological history will want to make the pilgrimage to Liverpool before the exhibit closes in April 2008; I certainly intend to go, but most may not be able to make it. Reading a book can, of course, never replace studying the real movements, but a well written, well photographed and thoughtful catalogue like “Your Time” ultimately may have a greater and more lasting impact on promoting horological knowledge than the actual exhibit. Way too many museums spend all their energy on planning and creating great exhibits, but then fail to maximize their educational impact by neglecting to publish a catalogue that does justice to the artifacts displayed. The Northern Section of AHS deserves the gratitude of horology enthusiasts present and future for doing it right.




Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex, New Jersey (USA)
January 30, 2008