Britain running out of clockmakers

Originally published at: Britain running out of clockmakers | Boing Boing


Some of these crafts are not endangered elsewhere in the world

If only there was a way to make the UK more welcoming for enthusiastic craftspeople from abroad who could preserve and foster these skills and add to their own and society’s prosperity in the process.

Nahh, better to keep Britain free of them furriners./s


Poor UK! I’ve just taught my son how to make clocks, but we live in the USA. And they’re CRT clocks, not tick-tock clocks.


I think @beschizza missed a prime opportunity to write a headline such as “Time is running out for British Clockmakers. Tick and tock and they’ll all be gone.”


That wiki on riddlemaking is rather vague. I’m pretty sure I crafted a riddle a few years ago out of some scrap 2x4 and chicken wire. I wouldn’t say that classifies me as a riddlemaker.


The issue may be that Britain is looking in the wrong places when counting these people, is all. These officials should perhaps attend their own country’s huge MakerCentral event every year. You’ll find all the cobblers, horologists, millwrights, and sure, riddlemakers, I guess. They don’t have traditional educations in those fields, but are doing the work all the same.

Humans gonna human, and the same number of people who love those trades will always exist. They just change business models.


You are probably correct in that plenty of people somewhere are still doing this sort of stuff.

But try finding a qualified horologist you will trust your antique clock to - you know, a bona fide commercial business - and it gets a lot harder. Even if you were happy to go with a “maker” (an amateur - and that is not a derogatory term) finding them and establishing their competence is harder.

In UK I guess it is easier to call oneself a horologist and change the subject when asked about one’s qualifications and affiliations. In some European countries it is illegal to call oneself some sorts of trades person without the necessary approved qualifications and affiliations.


I mean, if you have something that valuable, I’d expect to need to send it away anyway. Maybe it’s a difference in perspective from growing up somewhere that has no “licensed horologists” or other such luxuries. Where I come from, you know a guy who’s good with that sort of stuff, or you send it away.


I’m not sure I see much difference in the “sending away” bit. Either they exist or they don’t. I didn’t say I expected them to be on my local high street.


The article is about how they don’t exist in Britain anymore, but are still plentiful in Geneva and other places because of consolidation. It’s not a global shortage. The demand for the service still exists, it’s just less widespread.



I have long since lost the reference, but I once read that the market for chainmail is way up since the middle ages. Which makes sense. Ren Faires alone would account for that, plus some industrial and related uses for things-that-are-basically-chain-mail, but it doesn’t mean I am going to find a local armorsmith shop in the center of town anywhere nearby. See also Kevin Kelly’s writings on how no species of technology ever goes extinct. (Also, fun side note, modern tools and methods can make chainmail structures that do awesome things no historical craftsman could have imagined or achieved).

Then this is a general problem with licensure laws in need of updating, and if the market for a service is too small to sustain a population of dedicated professionals, then you either turn things over to amateurs, or turn things over to professional generalist crafters. Or create an endowment to fund museums or similar institutions to train and retain professionals to keep these crafts alive in the service of educating about, and studying, history.

From a functional point of view, how many decades away are we from having actually-very-capable-sufficiently-general-additive-manufacturing-hardware-and-design-software to automate many of the tasks someone like a horologist does? And can we keep the critical tacit knowledge alive long enough to capture it when such a thing becomes possible?


You are correct, of course, but…
Since Brexit, sending ANYTHING into Europe, let alone getting it back, is a red-tape disaster and much, much more costly!
Sigh. (Fuck that arsehole Johnson, while I’m here.)
And my £200, 100 year old grandfathers wristwatch needing a repair is not going to get trusted to overseas couriers. I would trust it to the Royal Mail.




Ditto sending anything from The ContinentTM to the UK - the postage on some of last year’s Christmas prezzies cost more than the presents.


Yah, this is one of the many unspoken horrors of Brexit. The economy is global now, and niche services are necessarily so for economies of scale. Isolationist policies only hurt the people living in those places by cutting them off from global services. :confused:


Would you trust the BBC?


For sure! I haven’t read the linked article, but I assume he discusses the canonical example of cars and horses. People didn’t stop riding horses when cars came along, horses just became sport and hobby. The same will happen when electric cars replace internal combustion- the latter will become hobby and idle muse (laws permitting). It’s as it should be because people who like those things still get to enjoy them, but the world moves along.

One of my hobbies is retro computing. People are writing better games today for Apple IIs and Commodore 64s today than they ever did in 1985. As with your chainmail example, modern technology has made building software much easier and more flexible on old hardware. We can do crazy things like simulate every transistor in the machine in real time, and step it backward and forward through time to debug hard problems or squeeze performance in ways that would have blown the minds of programmers in the 80s.


“But you craft one riddle…”


Of course. Steve Fletcher is a hero. And Dominic Chiminea (?) and Brenton West and Will Whatsisname.

(As an aside @VeronicaConnor if you have not come across The Repair Shop, head to iPlayer via a VPN and look for projects those people undertake - though, of course, everyone there is worth watching (even - he said through gritted teeth - the teddy bear ladies). I have a feeling you might appreciate some of what you find there.)


He actually had (has?) an ongoing challenge for anyone to provide any example of a species of technology that is no longer available, new, being manufactured today. I think in the original presentation of the idea he opened a 100 years old Sears catalog to a random page and found new examples of every type of product listed on it.

Like you note with horses, this doesn’t mean they don’t decline. There are generally fewer horses in London today than in the past. It is genuinely harder (and more expensive) to find hardware to transfer a VHS tape to a digital format today than it was 15-20 years ago.

And I’ve also read about examples of old software taking advantage of obscure hardware quirks of various sorts that make it hard to run them in emulation. How often is that a real problem, versus a “this rare example makes a cool story” problem?

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