Famous Horologists at the BHI Museum
On the weekend of the 10th and 11th of June the BHI Museum opened for its summer show. Over the course of the weekend, visitors could participate in a range of activities: the watch workshop was open to the public for demonstrations; visitors could meet the keepers of Big Ben’s clock; and on Sunday, there were vintage cars on display in front of the museum.
Inside, there were also some new temporary exhibition panels, each one on the subject of an influential horologist. By focusing on the individuals behind famous horological inventions, the museum is drawing attention to the social history of timekeeping and the stories of people whose work has influenced generations.
The featured horologists were:
- Alexander Bain (1810 – 1877) – A Scottish clockmaker who invented the electric clock and the chemical telegraph. Bain also installed telegraph lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
- Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747 – 1823) – A watchmaker who invented the self-winding watch, he is regarded as one of the finest watchmakers in history.
- Christiaan Huygens (1629 – 1695) – This Dutch mathematician, astronomer and physicist, invented the pendulum clock, as well as proposing the wave theory of light and discovering the true shape of Saturn’s moons.
- David Ramsay (1600s) – Ramsay was clockmaker to James I and a prolific inventor, whose inventions related to a wide variety of industries. These included devices relating to the refining of copper, bleaching wax, dyeing fabric and ploughing land.
- John Harrison (1693 – 1776) – The inventor of the marine chronometer, Harrison was a self-taught horologist born near Nostell Priory, where there is currently a ‘Clock Work’ display celebrating the 300th birthday of their Harrison long case clock.
The pioneering work of these men in the field of horology provides a useful entry point for non-horologists visiting the BHI Museum.
What about those who are not famous?
In order to further engage and inspire audiences of different backgrounds, it will be essential to draw attention to others who are less well known and whose contributions may not have been recorded as well, such as the women and children whose work has been essential to the clock and watchmaking traditions.
Women and children often did the most intricate work, such as making fusee chains (a kind of miniature pulley found in mechanical watches), as they generally had smaller fingers and therefore greater dexterity. Women also might have painted clock and watch dials and tackled the more delicate gilding work.
Although there are few records of women’s contributions to the trade, women were also clockmakers in their own right. One such woman was Anne Piggott. Her clock sits in the entrance at the BHI Museum and although very little is known about her or her work, we do know that she was based in Nottingham.
Efforts are currently being made by the BHI Museum and other horological enthusiasts to discover more about Anne Piggott and women like her. Hopefully, one day, the museum will have interpretation relating to their contributions to the trade.
By Emma Raymond, Resilience Syndicate Intern at the BHI Museum