Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Grandfather Clock

When I first saw this clock I knew it was going to be quite the "project”. The piece had been stored unused in the basement for over 30 years. Given the humidity in the basement it’s fairly amazing that it was in as good a condition as it was. I brought the piece to the studio in mid January and set to work sorting out the problems.

The upper case was separated from the base at the waist and the base was in 5 to 6 pieces. The majority of the feet were missing but enough of the original ground work remained to determine their original dimensions.

The cornice on the hood was detached on one side and one of the finials was broken. Two of the upper case shoulder moldings were missing as was the glass for the hood door along with one hinge.

The works were heavily corroded and pitted the chapter rings had lost most of their silvering and the moon dial was extremely degraded with large areas of loose and tented decoration.

I began the process by re-gluing all of the broken sections of the base and replacing the missing feet. From there I reattached the mid case to the base and re-applied the waist mouldings. Once the case was standing on its own I continued re-gluing all of the remaining joinery.

The portion of the restoration presenting the biggest challenge was the painted moon dial. The painted surface was friable with little or no adhesion to the groundwork. Any contact with the surface dislodged sections of the paint.

I began cleaning the more stable areas with a small dry short haired brush, removing as much of the surface dust as possible without disturbing the painted surface. Cleaning further with a mild detergent all areas that would hold up to mechanical interaction. Left with no way to remove the dust and grime from the remaining portions I flooded the surface with Soluvar flat medium.

Slightly warming the moon dial as the varnish set up I collapsed the tented paint to the ground with a small burnisher. 24 hours later I had a primarily stable surface with a large amount of dust glued to it!

Now that the paint layer was adhered to the groundwork, I simply removed all of the Soluvar from the surface with turpentine, mineral spirits and Q-tips. With 95% of the grime removed I sealed the surface with Soluvar gloss and did a minimum of in-painting of the losses with acrylics. 

The clock face itself was less problematic. It was a simple task to disassemble all of the parts and clean them non-mechanically with a mild pickling solution. After re-silvering the chapter rings all of the pieces were lacquered and then re-assembled.
 With the works in order I set about making the missing cornice sections. Digging through my scarp I found a length of brown English oak of about the right color and texture. Using a set of antique hollows and rounds I planed the pieces to the proper profile and fit them to the case.

The existing coating on the case was black and so heavily pigmented that you could have easily mistaken it for paint. The majority of it washed away with little more than alcohol. Using traditional French polish I built up the new coating over the course of two days adding small amounts of Van Dyke water stain in the corners and depressions to mimic the age marks.

After re-glazing the hood door, making one offset hinge and the waist door escutcheon from sheet brass and cutting a new key the clock was finished. 

The final effect was exhilarating and immensely gratifying, but then as is often the case after spending a little over 3 months with a project like this, it occurred to me I had to give it back to the owners. Funny how attached you can get!

Elliott of London - Clock History

In 1865 James Jones Elliott of 156 Cheapside in the City of London, was apprenticed to "Bateman" of 82 St John Street, Smithfield, London, to learn the art of clock making.

It was not obvious at the time, but this was to be the origin of a company that would achieve a worldwide reputation as a manufacturer of the fine quality Elliott of London clock.

JJ Elliott specialized initially in producing pinions and balance shafts, he progressed to making, and patenting, a weight driven movement which had chimes on tubes. This original Elliott clock was very successful and resulted in considerable trade with America.

James Elliott's son, Frank Westcombe Elliott, was originally entering the retail trade as, when he was 17 years old, his father bought a partnership with a jeweler called Walden of Brompton Road, London. On the 16th April 1904, JJ Elliott died and Frank succeeded him to run the clockmaking business. In 1909 the clockmakers company of JJ Elliott amalgamated with Grimshaw Baxter, and the factory moved to Grays Inn Lane, London, in 1911, followed by a further move, in 1917, to larger premises in St Anns Road, Tottenham, London.

In 1921 the partnership with Grimshaw Baxter was dissolved and Frank Elliott joined a well known firm of Bell Founders and Clockmakers, Gillett and Johnson Ltd, in Croydon. In 1923, two years later, he took over their clock factory and formed the famous company of F.W. Elliott Ltd. He was joined by his two sons, Leonard and Horace Elliott, who had served their apprenticeships in the trade. The third son, Ronald, joined the company in 1929.

Elliott's started to produce clocks for the armed forces when war was declared in 1939, together with test gear and apparatus for the Rolls Royce engines used in the RAF planes. The factory was hit by incendiary bombs in 1943 on two occasions but production was not seriously affected.

In 1944, Frank Elliott died at the age of 69 and Horace Elliott assumed the role of Managing Director, whilst Horace controlled sales from a showroom in Hatton Garden. In 1952, Horace Elliott was elected Chairman of the British Horological Institute in the same year as Tony, one of Horace's sons, joined the company after training in cabinet making. He was appointed manager of the cabinet shop in 1967.

Ronald Elliott died suddenly in 1966, at the age of 54, his son Peter had joined the company in January of the same year, having been trained as an engineer at Vickers Instruments Ltd. Peter Elliott was appointed as a Director in 1969.