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Discover more about the founding of the British Horological Institute in 1858, aimed at promoting the interests of Britain’s clock and watchmakers.
In the mid-1800s Britain was seeing an explosion of creative energy and entrepreneurship released by the industrial revolution, to which was added the great wealth of an expanding empire. But while the empire grew, the industrial dominance of Britain was faltering, a fact revealed at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Despite this, clock and watch manufacturing in Britain remained largely untouched by the industrial revolution. The only major attempt in Britain to transfer watch manufacturing out of the craftsman’s workshop and into a centralised factory took place in Soho, London and was carried out by Swiss national, Pierre Frederic Ingold. The failure of this enterprise had much to do with strong opposition from the established trade and also from the Clockmaker’s Company. Nevertheless, Ingold’s departure to America set off some alarm bells ringing, it being just 3 years since the first of Chauncey Jerome’s Connecticut-made clocks arrived in Britain and resulting in a major cull of British clockmakers.
Britain still led the world in some areas of horology and there were major advances in electrical horology leading to a new electrical horological industry. Nevertheless, much of the British clock and watch industry was reeling from assaults from abroad both in terms of new technology from America and fashionable design from the continent, particularly France and Switzerland. There were some in the watch trade insightful enough to see this, chief among them John Bennett, a highly successful London based horological retailer. His outspoken criticism of English watch manufacturers and his praise for the educational and organisational superiority of Swiss watchmakers led him to being a figure of hate in Clerkenwell, where many London watchmakers were based but although he trod heavily, nevertheless he spoke the truth.
The man who led the attack on the Bennetts of the world, although he later afforded them some grudging respect, was Edward Daniel Johnson, a watch and chronometer maker in Clerkenwell.
In their first public debate at the Mechanics Institute in 1857, Johnson undoubtedly came off worse against the witty, accomplished and well-supported Bennett, but this was the occasion when the germ of an idea for a Horological Institute came to him, and, once it had taken root in his mind, he now worked with great energy and determination to see it through.
Just over a year later, the BHI was proposed at a meeting on 15 June 1858, at the Belvedere Tavern in Clerkenwell. Johnson himself gave what today we would call the keynote address. It was successful and the BHI was founded, its mission statement being:
“The objects for which this Institute is founded are to develop the science of Horology, to foster the arts and various branches of manufacture arising from it, and to stimulate and encourage the production of best workmanship, by suitable rewards and marks of distinction, and to attain these results by the formation of a library, reading room and a collection of tools, models and machinery, also by the delivery of lectures, and the reading of original papers […]”
Raising the standards of British horology, the BHI grew rapidly within its first year, moving into permanent premises in Clerkenwell and publishing the monthly The Horological Journal. Before long there were classes in watch and clock making, eventually leading to the courses, examinations and diplomas which the BHI continue to run today.[/et_pb_blurb][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section][et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ _builder_version=”3.0.92″ background_color=”#ffffff” custom_margin=”10px|0px|0px|0px” custom_padding=”0px|0px|0px|0px” global_module=”83″][et_pb_row custom_padding=”10px|10px|10px|10px” _builder_version=”3.0.92″ background_color=”#444d53″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” module_alignment=”center”][et_pb_column type=”1_4″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_image src=”https://www.museumoftimekeeping.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/MOT-Logo-White.png” _builder_version=”3.0.92″ module_alignment=”left” custom_margin=”20px|||20px”][/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.92″ text_text_color=”#fab42a” text_font_size=”9px” background_layout=”dark” custom_margin=”20px|||”]
Museum of Timekeeping
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