As with any antique, a clock can often be an open window to the cultural attitudes of its day. A clear example of this came into the workshop recently. An eight day longcase, made by Atkinson of Rawtenstall, was in for servicing and it was quickly dubbed the ‘porno’ clock by the Southern Clocks team when the painted dial was examined closely. In each corner of the dial was a ‘delicious lovely’ as envisaged by the 19th Century clockmaker/dial painter, who of course would probably not have been further than Skegness himself.
In the top left hand corner is a stern-looking European woman with a horse; in the top right a Middle-Eastern with a camel; in the bottom right a woman of colour with a lion and in the bottom left a south sea islander with a crocodile. Both women in the bottom corners had been painted with their tops off. The clock dates from around 1850 so reflects the perception of empire values held by the traditional English craftsman of the day. We’ve moved on these days but actually I would say that the emotion behind the choice of illustrations was probably mostly positive; a pride in the economic success of the country and its colonial ‘success’ as it would have been seen in those days.
So what needed doing to the clock? In the case was an invoice for work dated 1989 and, until the clock stopped it had been keeping good time, so the owner hadn’t thought to have it serviced. Everything was dry, dusty and the dried oil had long since turned into grinding paste. With a little encouragement it could run but the screech of metal on metal was enough to call a halt.
After stripping and cleaning there were plenty of signs of previous repairs. The repair of the bush containing the centre arbor was a classic, where to save time and money, holes had been whacked around the pivot hole in the plate to close down the hole slightly and avoid having to rebush the hole.
In the end seven bushes were inserted in the holes positioning the arbors in the plate. There were five on the back plate and two on the front where inevitably the dried oil had ground down the diameter of the arbor pivots. These in turn had plenty of unevenness and scoring which had to be smoothed out. The worst one was the centre arbor, which was substantially reduced in diameter by the wear, and there will come a point where this pivot needs to be replaced, probably in around a decade. The bush was so badly worn that a bush was inserted within a second bush to bring down the diameter of the pivot hole.
As well as the seven bushes, the frayed cat gut lines were replaced with modern synthetic new lines. The rack return spring had been broken and resoldered losing most of its spring tension, so a new one was made from a blank.
On balance the work was relatively minor and showed the quality of the original clock and the effort put in by these Victorian hand-makers, even if their world view was more than a bit suspect given what we know and respect today.