Friday, 2 September 2011

on the day

Sometimes, you just happen to be there.

Daughter is having a few days holiday here. Daughter, our friend Daphne and I went for a jaunt today to Nostell Priory in Yorkshire. It's not a priory at all, hasn't been since Henry VIII got his hands on it, it's an eighteenth century manor house. One of its more famous exhibits is the John Harrison clock.

John Harrison was probably the most expert clockmaker of his day and the man who worked out how to calculate longitude. We were admiring a rather stylish eighteenth century drawing room when one of the room guides hurried along the corridor saying in an awed whisper 'they've found the signature on the John Harrison clock!'

This, of all days, was the day when the clock man paid his annual visit to Nostell to check on the well-being of the clock. He had carefully dismantled it - yes, dismantled it - and laid out the pieces on a cloth to be photographed. And there, on the calendar dial, was a signature.

There was a signature on the face, too, for all to see, but that would have been copied by an engraver. This was John Harrison's signature in his own hand, on the calendar dial of the clock, where it's normally concealed by another dial. Nobody knew about it until the clock man uncovered it. Everyone was scurrying along to see it.

D, D and I stood shyly at the back. Then the clockmaker came over, carrying this beautiful piece of eighteenth century mechanism in his hand and turned it, shining a light on it, for us to see. Believe me, lovers of clocks the world over would have killed to see what we just saw today. And by now it will be back in its place, ready to tick slowly round for another century or so.

Sometimes, you just happen to be there.

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