time on his hands
CM `Col' Wren is a Sussex Mason, who has been repairing clocks and watches at Freemasons' Hall in London. Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum, spoke to him
DC. How did you become involved with clocks and watches generally, and the clocks and watches here at Freemasons' Hall?
CW Well, I suppose that one day my father told me it was time to join the family business founded in 1907 by Frederick Wren. I became the managing partner after leaving the army, studied at the British Horological Institute and, for a period, in Lausanne at the Centre Federation Horologe.
I was Chairman of the National Council of the British Watch and Clockmakers' Guild when the Pro Grand Master, the Marquess of Northampton, was its president. When a long case clock in his room at Freemasons' Hall needed some attention, he asked me to look at it. Then I was introduced to the clocks and watches elsewhere in the building, especially in the Library and Museum.
What have you found particularly interesting?
Well, it's such a varied collection. There are pocket watches with hand-painted dials, and many different types of clock such as English long case ('grand-father') clocks, bracket clocks and a clock that is wound by the change in barometric pressure. One of the most distinctive is a Neuchatel clock (often mistakenly called a `Louis clock') with a beautifully painted case.
Also, every clock and watch has been presented by a Mason, his family or Lodge, or is some sort of commemoration, so all of the pieces have associations. They all have a history as well as being examples of the watch-makers' craft.
And are there one or two watches or clocks which you find particularly interesting?
It's a difficult choice, but a tall, cased English clock by James Knibb is my favourite. It dates from 1780, which would make it virtually contemporary with the first Freemasons' Hall. It only needs winding once a month and has a distinctive strike. The Knibb family did not like clocks striking, so they developed a particular strike based on a two-bell system.
The upper bell is struck for the ones of Roman numerals (I, II, III etc), the lower bell is struck once for the Roman numeral five (V) and twice for ten (X).
At four o'clock, a Knibb clock will strike once on the upper bell and once on the lower, indicating minus one from five (four or IV). At six o'clock this will reverse, striking once on the lower and once on the upper (five plus one equals six (VI).
I am also fascinated by an American clock made by Ephraim Clark of Philadelphia, who was active from 1780 until last recorded in 1822. It's a squared and arched shaped case, engraved with Masonic figures, symbols and a square pavement.
Above the hour and minute chapter ring is a recessed square, where an automaton model of a stonemason works with a malachite ashlar: as the clock strikes the hour he manufactures a level. Above this is a second working piece. The All-Seeing Eye has a semiprecious stone (tiger eye) fitted into the iris, and every hour this moves from side to side, seeing all.
For a clockmaker, the mechanism is also unusual. It has a verge balance, counterweighted by two oval weights suspended on rods beneath the balance wheel at an angle of 45 degrees, to compensate for changes in the hairspring and wheel.
This is driven by the fusee mechanism, which corrects the loss of power from the main spring as it runs down, by increasing the leverage pull on the wire from the spring barrel. The hours are struck on a bell within the case. It is an incredible piece of work, the like of which I have not come across before.
May I add that these are just two clocks in a wonderful museum, well worthy of a visit, and where the staff has been most helpful in assisting my continuing research.
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