As a lifelong enthusiast of electrical horology, with an emphasis on British master clocks, I found myself totally dumbfounded by such a vast collection of completely new knowledge. It truly felt as if the bumbling, amateur student of archaeology had never heard of the Egyptians, Ancient Greeks or the Roman empire. At least, not before discovering a brand new book on the shelf in the reference library.
The sheer number of illustrations of the steady iteration of early electrical timekeeping, as it matured into workable, commercial impulse systems, is quite extraordinary. I doubt I had seen or heard of 1/50th of the many clocks clearly displayed and described. This, despite a modest, well-thumbed library on the subject and a lifetime accumulation of what now seems like mere trivia.
Vague recollections of simplified drawings, in tired old books, became crystallized into sharply focused colour images of the actual clocks or mechanisms on the pages before me. Any notions of an instant spring into commercial perfection were beaten into oblivion by the countless images of their steady improvements. The progress of these very clever designers and brilliant engineers, as they moulded their ideas into workable examples, is all laid bare in so many remarkable new images. No crude, amateur lash-ups, from available materials, but real, working clocks of the highest quality in workmanship and form. They all lay there before my incredulous eyes to be studied and absorbed.
Mr Miles, the gifted author of this master-work, spent 15 years researching his wonderful tome. The result is spellbinding to anyone who pretends any interest in the subject. If you need any book on the subject then this must surely be the one to have. It records other makers as they sought to overcome the limitations of their clever designs and the often feeble electrical power available at that time. They were working at the forefront of electrical-mechanical technology. When clock making was still a stiff and strictly conservative industry. Employing vast numbers of workers and most of them repeating the same mistakes as those who had practiced the black art centuries before.
Frank Hope-Jones, of Synchronome fame, and others, completely revolutionized timekeeping as the world had long known it. He brought accuracy to the second a week to a world where people often missed trains for want of half an hour of universal time. He was active in early radio and radio time signals which we now take completely for granted. Synchronome developed clocks so accurate that they could detect the motions of the planets and the Moon. The Synchronome Free Pendulum clocks were once the essential tools of great observatories. Allowing improvements in accuracy which still resonate within the sciences of astronomy and space research.
For decades, no hospital, great office block, radio or TV studio, telephone exchange, factory, railway or bus station or school was without an electrical impulse timekeeping system. Built to bring universal order the lives of so many millions of people. They timed trains, industrial processes, ships' voyages, the arrival and departure of the nation at work and the endless changes of school classes. Often going completely unnoticed as the human race went about its urgent business. It even timed their competitions and activities on track and field.
Robert Miles, the author, shares all of this within the covers of his truly valuable book. With his technical flair, intelligence and a deep understanding of his subject matter, he clearly shares his passion for this important subject. Electronics and the quartz crystal may have overtaken the earlier, electro-mechanical technology discussed in this book. But its impact on our lives is hardly on the sheer scale of the work done by those driven to improve timekeeping for the nation and the world.
"SYNCHRONOME" is available from the AHS. Antiquarian Horological Society. www.ahsoc.org
AHS Books - **NEW** - "Synchronome - Masters of Electrical Timekeeping"
The book is so lavishly illustrated and so comprehensive in its detail that it is impossible to do real justice to it in a humble, amateur review or publisher's webpage. The book deserves far wider appeal than those few enthusiasts who tinker with and faithfully restore this once-great industrial heritage. Or exchange technical details in specialized, online forums.
eBay and the Internet have certainly brought a blossoming of interest in electrical horology and made more available its unique hardware. But a great book, like this, is a vital anchor of stability and deeply researched knowledge. When all else seems to be merely ephemeral, personal opinion.