A Gents' Fig.C271 synchronous motor turret clock. [Pt.1]


A renowned Gents' Pulsynetic collector has kindly forwarded some fine images of his latest acquisition. His careful and sympathetic work in cleaning and restoring the movement can be seen in these and later images. Those hoping for a quick slap of paint with a 4" brush may be slightly disappointed!

The Fig.C271 movement was Gents' largest synchronous motor clock movement at 13" high [33cm] and weighing in at 45 lbs. [20.25kg] It had the capacity to drive four 20' dials. Well beyond the capability of any but the very largest, weight driven, turret clocks.

As can be seen here, the movement consists of a heavy cast baseplate, an electric motor and a gearbox.  These sub-assemblies are simply bolted together using brackets. The mass of the movement must resist torque loads in controlling the large and heavy hands of huge clock dials in all weathers.

These images show that the movement (as found) was not only dirty but suffering from rust to the exposed steel parts. Nor had it's paintwork been treated with the greatest respect over the years. The skill in restoring a vintage (or antique) mechanism is not just knowing when to stop. It is knowing where and when, or even if, to start work. Coarse abrasives and/or scraping will immediately ruin all hope of originality and completely destroy the item's history at a stroke.

A clock is not a commonplace tractor or stationary engine. To be given a thick, overall coat of bright paint to stop the rust and make it suitable for public display at a fair.

Some collectors will hope for a quick return to a factory-fresh finish. Sadly this aim will easily remove any remaining signs of history in the piece.

Achieving a high standard of finish may require work which is historically inaccurate. Modern methods or materials may not have been invented at the time it was originally made. Any research into the manufacturing technology and paint finishes of the time of manufacture will obviously hampered or made worthless.

Even confirming the date of manufacture is made far more difficult. All original paint samples will be likely to have been lost to a clumsy application (or bath) of chemical stripper. New electroplating might make the piece instantly "prettier" (and possibly more commercially attractive) but may be completely inappropriate. Polishing and abrasives will easily eradicate original machining and casting marks.

Finding an original item in very fine condition, however desirable, is extremely unlikely these days. These mechanisms were simply workhorses and those who cared for and maintained them ordinary, manual workers or caretakers. Certainly not clock collectors or connoisseurs of Britain's likely heritage in future industrial archaeology. The manual worker's skills and tools were no doubt rudimentary.  Pride in their work was reserved for the highly visible to their employer. Not something hidden away in a dark, inaccessible tower or filthy roof space.

Moreover, timekeeping was often a sore point when clocking-in only seconds late usually meant the loss of already meagre wages. The early morning laughter and banter at the clocking-in machine soon turned sour if there were delays or unexpectedly long queues! Time was a cruel slave master to those working very long hours for very low pay.

It should not be forgotten that these mechanism were commercial products and thus had to be competitive in price and longevity. Manufacturing quality is one thing but expensive finishes are quite another matter. Few eyes, beyond the responsible maintenance worker would ever see "the clock works".

This was also true of many of the other components of any electrical time system. The visible dials and their cases might require attractive fishes but those behind the scenes certainly did not. They were mass produced as cheaply as possible.

Decoration and high quality finishes were now of only historical interest. From a previous time when many items were virtually hand made from scratch. Mass production may have brought prices down to a more affordable level but it was often at the expense of simplicity and uniformity in appearance. 

Items which were once encased in beveled glass cages and furniture quality cases of exotic and priceless tropical timbers became simplified mechanical aids in steel boxes. All to reduce manufacturing costs.

Those manufacturers who did not adapt to the new reality faded away into obscurity. Whole industries vanished with time and changing technology and stiff competition from home and abroad. Railway and later motor transport destroyed many earlier, geographical, manufacturing and supply monopolies. Opening formerly successful manufacturers and even whole industries to fierce competition.

These same transport and service industries needed many more timekeeping items but demanded far lower prices than ever before. They too had to compete for travelling customers at affordable fares. Dozens of handmade turret clocks, each needing to be regularly hand wound, were never likely to decorate a modern railway station. No matter how large or prestigious the train or bus station might pretend to be. After WW1 there was never going to be enough staff to wind so many clocks. Let alone funds to afford them all. Electrical timekeeping came to the rescue but destroyed an entire industry manufacturing weight driven clocks. It also brought a remarkable new uniformity and unimaginable accuracy of timekeeping to many nations.

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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