Spring Meeting at The Oakdale Institute, Welsh Folk Museum, St Fagans
The spring meeting was as usual a joint meeting with the Bristol & South West branch of the BHI. The meeting covered a wide range of horological subjects and was well attended. It was especially gratifying to welcome a couple of new members.
The first guest speaker, Dr Paul Glennie, is a social geographer, and the co-author of the book Shaping the day: a history of timekeeping in England and Wales 1300-1800 (OUP 2009). Despite a PowerPoint incompatibility problem which unfortunately prevented any visuals, Paul gave a fluent and fascinating overview of the genesis of his book and the research underlying it. Although the book actually contains very little Welsh information, the general story of the growth and change in time awareness and time consciousness in England does apply in principle to Wales as well, though perhaps with a certain lag. Paul talked especially about variable hours, the importance of public (usually church) clocks, and the emphasis on striking, i.e. aural rather than visual display of time. He outlined a great range of sources used to glean horological information, and many of these sources are ones not usually utilized by most horologists who have traditionally been more concerned with the mechanics of timekeeping rather than its social significance. To give just one example of the scope of Paul's research, some 1100 different sets of churchwardens' accounts were located and examined. A lively and wide-ranging question and answer debate followed, and it is recommended that members read Glennie & Thrift's thought-provoking book Shaping the day, which will both enlighten and inform.
Dr Rees Pryce then described the famous 'Wonderclock' of Lier in Belgium, which he examined and photographed in detail on one of his regular horological tours on the continent. Made by Louis Zimmer (1888-1970), it consists of one large turret clock, the master clock, which powers a total of no fewer than 75 different automata and dials. Displays include the equation of time, zodiac, solar orb, days of the week, terrestrial globe, the month, date, seasons, tides, moon's age and phases, moon orbit, etc etc. This spectacular clock is, without doubt, in the words of the Michelin Guide ‘well worth a detour'.
After lunch, Antony Wilson, a self-employed furniture restorer in the Forest of Dean, specialising in clock-case restoration, gave an entertaining talk, full of humour, practical information and advice, and including some trade secrets. Antony emphasized that it is important to take plenty of time to examine a case, especially the backboard and base and mouldings. Antony talked mainly about oak cases, noting that it is not easy now to buy slow-grown native estate oak. Particular topics covered were: animal and pearl glue as adhesive and filler; PVA adhesive; utilizing old greenhouse glass to replace cracked or missing glass, and bedding it with Polyfilla mixed with glue (not putty) and snipping off the heads of the glazing pins; tackling split plinths using marine plywood and an oak face veneer; then finishing, discussing wax, oil, shellac and several excellent products by Fiddes (the Cardiff firm) such as brushing polish and Vitashine finish. Antony also discussed the perennial debate between conservation and restoration.
At the AGM, Dr Rees Pryce formally stood down after three years as Chairman. During his time as Chairman, Rees has guided the Society wisely and well, and he will be greatly missed. It was not possible to elect a new Chairman at the meeting, and as a temporary solution the Society will be run by the members of the committee, which has been expanded by the inclusion of Brian Coles, Davis Richards and Stephen Dutfield.
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