Summer Meeting at Blaenavon World Heritage Centre, Blaenavon

The World Heritage Centre, Blaenavon, housed in a nicely refurbished and extended school dating from 1816, was an attractive new venue for us, and this meeting was well attended. We were delighted to welcome the Mayor, Councillor Stuart Evans, who joined us for the morning, and also a couple of prospective new members.

Dr Bill Linnard (chairman for the day) first asked Jan Cawley, Vice-President of the Wales Photographic Federation (WPF), to explain the activity of the Federation, and the stunning photographs which were displayed on the walls of the lecture room and also on screen before the start of the meeting proper. The Federation represents 51 Welsh photographic clubs in the mid and south Wales area. There is a separate Federation for North Wales. The Welsh Photographic Salon, which was on display, is a yearly event, and is a selection of the very best work of photographers in the WPF.

Mr Emyr Morgan, Education & Interpretation Manager at the World Heritage Centre, then explained the UNESCO concept of world heritage sites (WHS), established to protect natural and cultural heritage. Sites must fulfil 10strict basic criteria. The list of WHS now contains 830 properties (644 cultural, 162 natural, and 24 mixed), of which 28 are in the UK . Blaenavon is No.19 in the UK, having been accepted in 2000 as an historical industrial landscape extending over 34 square km (and representative too of other parts of South Wales). Emyr then described the industrial and social history of Blaenavon: coal, iron ore, ironworks, pits including Big Pit, tramroads, canal, railway, workers' housing, education, etc. An enthralling historical introduction to our meeting.

Returning by popular request, the internationally renowned gun-engraver Phil Coggan again gave us a breathtaking account of his work. Since speaking to us in Grosmont several years ago, Phil has continued his high-quality engraving of expensive guns for well-heeled clients at home and abroad. He told us about his basic tools (the gravers), the designing of gun decoration, techniques such as dotting and shading, and other skills involved in the engraving of steel. He also showed us some new tools recently acquired, such as a handy tool-sharpening tool, and an American pneumatic palm-controlled machine (£1200) which enables him to work faster and with less stress. He passed round albums of photos of numerous examples of his superb work. It was very good to hear that his son is now engraving with him. High-quality engraving takes time, and Phil has a long waiting list of clients. He was shown a large and intricately engraved arched clock dial (brass) of about 1774 (see below), and commented that the quality of the engraving was very good, and that it would have taken a very skilled man about one week to engrave this one dial plate. The images below are taken by Phil.

At lunchtime, some members inspected the large clock, art deco in style, outside the Workmans' Institute in Blaenavon. On opening the large bronze door (which took some ingenuity to fathom out how it opened), we were all disappointed to find a relatively modern electric movement inside, with a long shaft driving the hands which were above the bells.

After lunch, John Robey talked about clocks of the North of England. He confined his talk to brass-dial clocks, and illustrated numerous examples of fine and interesting clocks by many different makers from various parts of the North of England, including: Taylor of Dukingfield, Bancroft of Stockport, William Shepherd of Millom, Wilkinson of Wigton, Oliver and Sandiford of Manchester, Barlow of Ashton-under-Lyne, Lomas of Blackburn, Weatherhead of Kirkby Lonsdale, Jonas Barber of Winster, Holding of Kendal, Stansfield of Stalybridge, Williams of Preston, Barry of Ormskirk, Goodall of Micklefield and Aberford, etc etc. In his talk, John drew attention to interesting features of the cases, dials and movements, and also some personal details of the dial engravers and clockmakers.

Among the members' contributions, Mike Grange told us that he has now donated the whole of his enormous collection of 30-hour clocks and associated artifacts, photos and documentation to the British Museum . Many members have admired Mike's collection at his home in Cheltenham . This truly is a most handsome donation to the nation, and all members warmly applauded Mike for his generosity to horology.

Finally, Bill Linnard showed and described the unique ‘Bald Behind' dial which is an arched single-sheet brass dial most skilfully engraved in the Neo-Classical style, and signed by John Owen the clockmaker of Llanrwst, c.1774. Found by knockers in a barn in North Wales , this dial was engraved by the man who Colin Brown has dubbed ‘The Good Engraver' (actual name unknown). This man engraved high-quality dials not only for the Owens of Llanrwst, but also for several notable English clockmakers in the NW of England such as Finney of Liverpool. The ‘Bald Behind' dial has Neo-Classical and freemasonry symbols engraved in the corners, and Father Time in the arch in the form of the Greek god Kairos (=Occasion, Opportunity), with a tufted forelock but bald behind. Bill explained all the symbolism that one must seize the opportunity when it presents itself, as there will be no second chance (carpe diem), with examples from classical and English literature. (For a full account of this unique dial and its probable original owner, see Antiquarian Horology , March 2006, 359-370).


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