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Senior Curator of Horology, Royal Observatory Greenwich
I oversee the work of the Horology Section and research into the history of clocks, watches and chronometers, with the emphasis on precision timekeeping and its use in navigation and determining longitude at sea. My work includes curating exhibitions, writing books and articles, and cataloguing of the horological collections. It sometimes involves giving interviews to the press, TV and radio, giving talks and lectures, conducting specialist tours and so on. I also undertake the practical care and conservation of the collection and oversee the day-to-day operation of the working clocks.
My favourite part of my job
It's rewarding to be able to dismantle and study the objects in our horological collection, and research the history of those objects, the people who made them and the people who used them. Seeing the research work published is then a very rewarding means of sharing the discoveries. The care of the collection includes looking after the great marine timekeepers by John Harrison which is a huge and exciting privilege.
The question I'm asked most often
It was not, as many people think, a case of perfecting the principles and then miniaturising. Harrison started big because big clocks, controlled by a pendulum, were very accurate (many times better than needed to win the big prize) and watches at that time were hopelessly bad at keeping time. One of Harrison’s greatest achievements was to realise that in fact something on the scale of a watch was nevertheless the solution to creating a marine timekeeper. All it needed was to have the proportions of the timekeeping element (the balance and balance spring) redesigned. This led to the precision watch, an article which people wore in their pockets and on their wrists until the advent of quartz technology in the 1970s.
My recommended books
The classic work on the marine chronometer is called (unsurprisingly) The Marine Chronometer and is by Rupert T.Gould. It was published in 1923 but is still the best on the subject. Another comprehensive but accessible work on the history of longitude and the chronometer is The Quest for Longitude and for an easy, compact version of the Harrison story, Dava Sobel’s celebrated book Longitude, is a great read (though take the villainous portrayal of the Astronomer Royal with a pinch of salt!). If you’re into precision pendulum clocks, then Philip Woodward’s book My Own Right Time is a fascinating work, and Derek Roberts three-volume set, Precision Pendulum Clocks will provide loads of interest, along with lots of fine illustrations.
Senior Curator of Horology, Royal Observatory Greenwich
- Senior Curator of Horology, NMM, 2011–present
- Senior Specialist, Horology, NMM, 2001–2011
- Curator of Horology, NMM, 1990–2000
- Senior Horology Conservator, NMM, 1980–1990.
- Horology Conservator (private practice) Ipswich, 1975–1980.
- B.H.I. Training in Technical Horology (National prize for practical work 1975), Hackney College, 1972–1975.
Collections responsible for
Horological instruments (including clocks, watches, chronometers, timing devices, time signal equipment)
Areas of research and interest
- Longitude and the development of the marine chronometer
- Royal Observatory
- Precision timekeeping devices (principally mechanical)
- Horological Conservation
Current NMM projects include
Marine Chronometers at Greenwich. Complete catalogue of the marine chronometers in the NMM collection.
Previous NMM projects include
- Book: Time Restored, 2006.
- Video Film: John Harrison and his Timekeepers, 2001
- Exhibition: The Story of Time, 2000
- Book: Harrison, 1993 (New Edition, 2007).
- ROG Galleries refurbishment 1992.
- NMM Conference: Horological Conservation, 1986.
External fellowships/honorary positions/membership of professional bodies include
- MBE, For Services to Horology, 2012
- BQ (Beijing watchmaking industry) award for contribution to Horology, 2012
- Huntington Fellow, Mariners’ Museum Newport News, VA.
- Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
- Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation.
- Vice-President and Fellow of the British Horological Institute (President of the South London Branch and recipient of the Institute's 'Barrett Medal', 2008).
- Warden on the Court (Master in 2014) of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers (and Hon Horological Adviser, and Recipient of the Company’s Gold ‘Harrison’ Medal, 2002).
- Council member of the Antiquarian Horological Society.
- Hon. Adviser (Horology) to the National Trust of Great Britain.
- Hon. Adviser to the Harris (Belmont) Charity.
- Hon. Adviser (Horology) to the Wallace Collection.
- Keeping Time, the Collection of Chronometers at the Mariners Museum, TMM, (AHS publication pending).
- Time Restored, NMM, Greenwich, 2006
- ‘Clocks and Watches’, (chapter) The Manual of Housekeeping, The National Trust, 2005.
- ‘John Hyacinth de Magellan (1722-1790) Horological and Scientific Agent’ (4 part series) Antiquarian Horology, 2003 (et seq).
- ‘Thomas Tompion’s Workmen’s Clocks’, Antiquarian Horology, 2001.
- 'Clockwork Globes’, (chapter and catalogue entries) in E. Dekker, Globes at Greenwich: A Catalogue of the Globes and Armillary Spheres in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 1999.
- ‘The Double Clocks by Daniel Quare’, Antiquarian Horology, 1998.
- Clocks and Watches, Harris (Belmont) Charity, 1998.
- ‘Arnold & Earnshaw: The Practicable Solution’, The Quest for Longitude, Harvard 1996.
- 'Josiah Emery, Watchmaker of Charing Cross', (5 part series) Antiquarian Horology, 1996.
- Harrison , NMM, Greenwich, 1993 (New Edition 2007)
- ‘Problems with the Conservation of Clocks and Watches’, The Conservator , 1985.
- National Trust Pocket Guide to Clocks, Octopus, London, 1985.
- Principles & Explanations of Timekeepers, (Technical Introduction with facsimile reprints), B.H.I., Upton, 1983.