FASCINATING: Matthew Read, explaining his work as a horologist to members of Barnard Castle WI
FASCINATING: Matthew Read, explaining his work as a horologist to members of Barnard Castle WI

Barnard Castle WI

THE branch met on Monday, February 24, when 19 members were welcomed by president Naila Laundy and apologies received from a further nine members.

An invitation had been received from Romaldkirk WI to their birthday party in April.

Two members will attend and share in an afternoon tea. There are 13 members going to the theatre on May 1 to see the Strictly Musical production and names were also gathered for when David Harper comes to The Witham, in Barnard Castle, for his show in July.

Matthew Read, from The Bowes Museum, was welcomed to the meeting as speaker for the night.

He is the horologist who looks after the swan automaton and all things clock related.

He began his working life in the family jewellers business using all sorts of tools and instruments and which eventually led him to train as a clock maker.

His work has led him up and down the country visiting the National Trust, English Heritage houses and museums servicing clocks and automatons.

He also runs a master’s programme passing on his skills to others.

His talk was titled Dynamic Historic Objects. Matthew’s overriding aim was to share with us the emotional difference and joy we experience when we see something working as it was designed to be rather than just as a static object.

We were shown photos of the highly decorative, gold plated, beautiful inner workings of various pocket watches going back to the 1800s, but it wasn’t until you saw the movement and heard the sounds they made that they really came to life.

We heard about the lengths that restorers such as Matthew go to in order to bring a historic piece back to its original purpose of sound and movement.

Many skilled craft workers can work on individual pieces in order to bring their expertise in mechanics, paperwork, metalwork, woodwork or textiles to repair all the various parts that have been affected over the years by light, heat, decay or infestation.

Children in particular love to put their money into an automaton and watch a carousel go round and round and hear the lovely organ music that often accompanies them.

Horology – the art of clock making – is a skill that needs to be kept alive or all too soon the ability to restore these wonderful mechanical objects will be lost for ever.

One of Matthew’s biggest projects he was involved in was helping to take apart the swan automaton at The Bowes Museum in 2008 piece by piece, cleaning it and putting it back together.

When it was first designed and made, the swan was displayed in a mechanical museum in London where the swan sat in a silver bath and was housed in a sort of canopied temple 18 feet high.

The temple was sadly lost in the 1830s.

Pop along to the museum if you want to see this fabulous mechanical object in action.

Ann Gill gave the vote of thanks and members then enjoyed some wonderful refreshments from Ann and Glynis Dobson.

Next month’s meeting will be held on Monday, March 23, at 7pm, when Ann Gill will tell us all about the hats that she makes.

Visitors are always welcome – contact Naila on 07999 957898 or Sheila on 01325 733228 for more information.

Sheila Jones