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Time RestoredThe Harrison timekeepers and R.T. Gould, the man who knew (almost) everything$

Jonathan Betts

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780198568025

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198568025.001.0001

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Many Projects 1936–1937

Many Projects 1936–1937

Chapter:
(p.288) 19 Many Projects 1936–1937
Source:
Time Restored
Author(s):

Jonathan Betts

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198568025.003.19

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter details Rupert's life between 1936 and 1937. He signed an agreement with Methuen for yet another publication, to be called A Book of Marvels, to be part of their Fountain Library series. This was in fact simply a re-publication of seven of the chapters from Oddities and Enigmas, mostly just reprinted, but occasionally with footnotes added. Owing to his great popularity on Children's Hour, Gould was invited to contribute articles to the Radio Times, several appearing in 1936, and one in each of the Children's Hour annuals in 1935, 1936, and 1937.

Keywords:   Rupert Gould, A Book of Marvels, Children's Hour, Radio Times

Rupert’s son Cecil had by this time left school and, wishing to study the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, had been recommended to visit Germany for 6 months, learn the language and take in the more important collections.

In March 1936 Hitler had broken the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and marched his troops illegally into the Rhineland, and the outlook was increasingly bleak. But the general consensus among the Gould family was that war was not imminent and it was agreed he should go. In pessimistic, misanthropic mood Gould wrote to Professor Stewart:333 ‘Anyhow, if another general European War comes, I hope it will make an end of civilized Man altogether. He is obviously incompetent to form a stable society, and should abandon the job to the bees or the ants’. Around this time Gould had probably been reliving the First World War in his mind, and in excruciating detail, as he was contracted to do nineteen maps for A.C. Delacour de Brisay’s new book, titled: And Then Came War, An outline of the European Tragedy, the book seeing publication in 1937.

Although Rupert and Muriel rarely met, discussions between the parents about their children’s future had apparently been carried on by proxy, both grandmothers having a say too, and there was no issue with communication on this score. Cecil set off for Germany in April 1936, Rupert observing to Professor Stewart that even if war does come ‘he will be no worse off interned there than fighting here’. No doubt then, when Rupert and Muriel met at Wimbledon that year, they had much to talk about.

Another busy year

The year 1936 was another very busy period with Gould’s literary and lecturing commitments. The year had got off to a sad start. Gould was billed to speak at the Odd Volumes dinner on 21 January 1936, on the (p.289) subject of ‘Abraham Thornton and his Wager of Battle’, a subject he would publish in his second edition of Enigmas in the 1940s, but the evening was cancelled at short notice, owing to the death of George V at 11.55 p.m. the previous night. The talk was eventually given at the OV (Odd Volume) dinner on 26 May 1936.

Cecil recalled that after hearing the radio announcement ‘The King’s life is moving peacefully towards a close’, his father, in typically pedantic mode, simply remarked: ‘the word “drawing” would have been better than “moving”’. After the funeral, Gould wrote to Stewart with a sketch he had done, from the top of the Admiralty Arch (access provided by courtesy of his ex-employers in the Hydrographic Office), of the funeral procession on its way to Westminster Hall on 23 January.

Amalgamated Press

At the end of the previous year, Amalgamated Press had asked Gould to write a series of articles on exploration for an unnamed publication (this would eventually form part of the two-volume set Shipping Wonders of the World), resulting in an order for five articles, the first of which was to cover Shackleton’s expedition of 1907–1909, in 4,000 words. He told Professor Stewart ‘I sent it in—and got it back like a boomerang! However, the Ass.Editor—quite a young fellow—took the trouble to point out more or less why it didn’t suit—it wasn’t dramatic enough for them, and was too quiet in tone … I rewrote it accordingly … packing it full of superlatives, laying on the local colour with a trowel. When I read it through, it seemed the most awful tripe—still, it was that or nothing, so in it went. And they were entirely satisfied with it!’.

An article on Scott was next, but this time Gould was to hold back on publishing the true drama of Scott’s ill-fated expedition, as he saw it. He felt very strongly that, out of hubris and with no feeling for his men’s welfare, Scott was determined to get to the pole primarily with man-hauled sledges. As a consequence, Gould felt, he killed his Polar Party, a view which he told Stewart ‘I should have no hesitation in publishing in a book of my own, but which there is no need to make public via the Amalgamated Press’.

While Shipping Wonders was still totally occupying his time, Gould was nevertheless committed to another book, Three of a Kind, the deadline being 1 August. This was to be a discussion of three Polar explorers who had all falsely claimed to have reached the north pole, Louis de (p.290) Rougemont in the late nineteenth century, Dr F. A. Cook (21 April 1908), and Admiral R.E. Peary (6 September 1909). However, in April 1936,334 Gould read in the press that Dr Cook was now trying to sue the Danish author Dr Peter Freuchen for libel, Freuchen having published that Cook’s claim was unsubstantiated; and Gould was now thinking he may have to cite the claims of George Psalmanazar, instead of Cook, for fear of another libel action.

A few weeks later and he was complaining to Professor Stewart that the pressure was mounting: ‘I have three urgent articles to write for Shipping Wonders of the World, and three of a kind is due by August 1 and not a line of it is written. Gosh, what a life! I wish there were 48 hours in the day—time seems to go much faster with me now than it did even five years ago’.

As it turned out, owing to overwork, Gould would again have to withdraw from the contract and, although the publishers reassigned the deadline for the coming year, Three of a Kind never saw the light of day. But in spite of this workload, Gould still hoped to get the larger biography of Cook done soon and through his literary agent,335 he had already signed another contract with Methuens. This was to write a 90,000 word book to be titled Nine Days Wonders, on the subject of famous hoaxes and deceptions (this was another of those projects, it may be recalled, he had begun several years before). The manuscript was due for delivery in August 1938, but like many of these projects, it was never completed.336

A Book of Marvels

Meanwhile, as a means of getting something from him, in December337 he signed an agreement with Methuen for yet another publication, to be called A Book of Marvels, and part of their Fountain Library series. This was in fact simply a re-publication of seven of the chapters from Oddities and Enigmas, mostly just reprinted, but occasionally with footnotes added. The book, which was released in 1937, was dedicated to ‘Miss J. Bower’, about whom nothing is known. Gould’s son Cecil could only surmize that she was ‘probably one of my father’s girlfriends’. As it turned out, A Book of Marvels did not sell well and was remaindered in 1940, there still being a large number of copies unsold. These may well have eventually been destroyed, as this is one of the Gould titles which is more difficult to find these days.

(p.291) Children’s Hour Annuals and Radio Times

Owing to his great popularity on Children’s Hour, Gould was invited to contribute articles to the Radio Times, several appearing in 1936, and one in each of the Children’s Hour annuals in 1935, 1936, and 1937. All these articles, (each illustrated by Gould of course) begin with virtually the same little potted biography of The Stargazer; the children had been writing in to ask for more about their favourite broadcaster.

In the1935 article, In Quest of a Monster Gould tells the story of Sea Serpents and the Loch Ness Monster, assuring the reader that there really is something in the Loch. In 1936 he reveals Some of my Hobbies, a

                   Many Projects 1936–1937

54. Jocelyne and Cecil in the garden at Downside, c. 1936, with the Graf Zeppelin, Rupert’s huge box-kite. It required several people to launch and was mostly flown when on holiday in Norfolk. (© Sarah Stacey and Simon Stacey, 2005)

(p.292) piece he told Professor Stewart he was rather pleased with. In it he describes his love of tennis and billiards and his fascination with mechanical things like typewriters, clocks (naturally) and mechanical toys. The clockwork model submarine ‘K2’, which is 3 ft long and goes 100 yards at one winding, first on the surface, then submerging and resurfacing again automatically, is a particular favourite. He also describes his own, home-made model helicopters, constructed with cardboard and elastic bands with which he had been experimenting.

Kite-flying was also a great passion, and being the man he was, he had to construct the biggest and best: the largest was a nine foot box kite which he dubbed the Graf Zeppelin after the famous German airship! For the 1937 annual, the article was titled Make your own Puzzles, with instructions, for example, on how to make several kinds of wooden blocks formed from several ingeniously dovetailed and tapered parts. Among a number of other amusing tricks, Gould illustrates Sam Loyd’s wonderful ‘get off the earth’ puzzle, where a number of figures (in Gould’s example drawn as deep-sea divers) are drawn over the edge of the world, the disc of the world being rotatable, half of each diver being drawn on the disc, half on the background. In one position the number of divers is seen to be twelve, but on rotating the disc slightly the figures miraculously become thirteen in number, a very effective and amusing puzzle.338

Churchill

On 10 April 1936, Gould attended the annual Navigating Officers’ Dinner as usual, telling Professor Stewart rather pathetically that he ‘pretended to myself, for a few hours, that I was still a Naval Officer. Our guests of honour were Edgar Britten, of the Queen Mary, and Winston Churchill who was expected to make the speech of the evening. But Lord what a lamentable performance it was! He followed the old tradition that “to er-er is human, to hm-hm divine,” his delivery was bad, his matter generally dull and trivial, and he seemed to have no concentration at all. In fact, after he had been speaking for five interminable minutes without saying anything, my next-door neighbour … remarked to me in a loud whisper “Is he blotto?.” I replied that I didn’t think so, and felt rather sorry he wasn’t’.

(p.293) The Blattnerphone

Gould’s BBC broadcasts continued almost without break during the second half of the 1930s, and in June 1936 he had his first opportunity to hear his own voice. He told Professor Stewart: ‘I had a curious experience the other day. My talk on “Comets” was canned on the Blattnerphone for reproduction in an Empire broadcast; and one day last week I went to hear it. First of all I heard the reproduction of McCulloch’s voice, which I recognized instantly. Then came Stuart Robertson, and again I should have known the voice immediately. Next came a strange voice—one which I could have sworn I had never heard before. It was only by the words, and the blurred “r”s, that I made sure it was mine. I conclude—since I am convinced, by my recognition of the two other voices, that the machine reproduces a voice with utmost fidelity—that no one, in general, has any idea of what his voice sounds like to other people; probably because part of it comes to him, but to no one else, via the bony framework of his head’

One or two historical landmarks are described by Gould in his letters to Professor Stewart at this time. On 5 December 1936 he noted: ‘We live in stirring times. Last Monday evening I had walked down to the level crossing, intending to pay my usual weekly visit to an Epsom cinema. I noticed a bright red glare in the sky, obviously from a big fire, and diagnozed, from its bearing that it was either the Epsom gas-works—in which case one would hear about it in a minute or two, or else at Sutton. I never dreamed, until I got home, that it might have been the Crystal Palace’.339

Then changing the subject to the abdication of Edward VIII, Gould noted: ‘And now there is this hideous tangle about the King’s marriage. I’d heard rumours (as most people, I suppose, had) for some weeks; but the details were a complete surprise to me. Personally, I think the harm is done; and if the alternatives are marriage or abdication, I am for marriage every time … From the little I know of Constitutional Law, I incline to think that the Government have no real power to prevent the King from marrying whom he pleases; but as to the utter inexpediency of his choice I think that there can hardly be two opinions’.

(p.294) The National Maritime Museum

In April 1936, the fitting out of the new National Maritime Museum at Greenwich was well underway and plans were complete for its opening to the public. On 18th of that month, the new Director, Professor Callender, wrote to the Hydrographer, Admiral Edgell, formally asking him to arrange for the transfer of the Harrison timekeepers to Greenwich. So, as the year’s loan to the Science Museum was now nearly up, Edgell duly wrote to E.E.B. Mackintosh, the museum’s director, asking for their return. Gould noted to Professor Stewart at the time that the Harrisons ‘are going to leave the Science Museum next month—but not if the authorities there can do anything to stop it—and will find a permanent home in the new National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. I shall be glad when they are finally shifted. I have always managed, in the past, to safeguard them from damage while being carted about in lorries—but I have a haunting fear that one day my run of luck will end. It is very difficult to get all the heavy, fragile parts chocked up so that they are safeguarded from shocks’

Just as Gould suspected, with such sensational artefacts as the Harrisons, Mackintosh felt he had to have one last try at keeping them on loan, and he replied in passionate vein to Edgell on 5 May: ‘I had hoped that, when their Lordships appreciated the important gap filled by these chronometers in the history of Time Measurement in the National Collections here, they would waive this intention and allow them to remain on loan here and thus avoid a gap in this history which of course is otherwise unfillable …’. He went on to ‘earnestly beg their lordships to reconsider the question of transfer, in view of the importance of these chronometers in the Time Collections at this museum, and allow them to remain on loan and available for study to the interested portion of the metropolitan public’, a hint, perhaps, that having them at Greenwich would be making them somewhat inaccessible.340

Of course it was to no avail, the Hydrographer replying that the decision had been made carefully and that ‘they therefore regret that they are not able to agree to their continued exhibition at the Science Museum’,341 Mackintosh noting on the museum’s file ‘An unfortunate decision in my opinion, but it must of course be accepted’. Gould was then asked to oversee the collection on 9 June, travelling with them and (p.295) setting them up in a temporary home at Greenwich, pending their display in the new Navigation Room in the south west wing of the Museum.

Later, Gould wrote to Frank Ward, the curator at the Science Museum, to thank him for having sent a copy of the new Time Measurement catalogue, which he was very complimentary about. He took the opportunity to remark: ‘I hope you don’t bear me any ill-will in connection with the removal of the Harrison machines from the Science Museum to Greenwich. As I told you, since they were once got together in going order my chief concern has always been that, wherever they were finally housed, they should be together. On the other hand, I will freely admit that if my opinion had been sought (it wasn’t) as to whether they should stay at South Kensington or go to he National Maritime Museum, I should have recommended the latter course. They stand right apart from the history of horology in this country, and the development of its ordinary clocks and watches; they are of essential nautical interest—and the world’s largest and completest nautical museum is the ideal place for them, in my judgement’.342

NMM Curator of Navigation

Gould had been aware of the proposals for a new maritime museum since the 1920s, being a life member of the SNR, and as plans progressed for the museum’s staffing in the early 1930s he naturally made discreet enquiries as to the possibility of becoming the museum’s first Curator of Navigation. It was a post for which he was supremely qualified and one which he desperately wanted to fill. But again, the opprobrium associated with the judicial separation came back to haunt him, and he was politely informed that such an appointment would not be appropriate at the time.

Instead, the job was given to one Captain Maxwell, ‘a little man with a moustache and whistling dentures’, Cecil remembered.343 Maxwell was evidently far less well qualified and had little idea on horological matters, but Gould and he got on reasonably well and he would take Gould’s advice when needed. On one occasion, when Maxwell sought Gould’s advice on a number of very simple matters concerning the history of chronometers, Gould replied: ‘The questions … which you raise are all answered in a work which expounds the subject with minute (p.296) accuracy, marvellous fullness of detail, and superb literary style—in fact, words fail me to describe its many and varied excellences. It is entitled The Marine Chronometer, its History and Development, and I believe that the Museum possesses a copy’.344

The Harrison cases

On 13 June 1936 Gould wrote to Callender concerning the new display of the Harrisons, evidently not yet finalized, suggesting opening doors for new showcases. The existing ones had glazed tops which lifted over, onto the bases.345 Gould noted again that the Observatory still has Harrison’s original glazed cases for H2 and H3 and suggests they consider having these cleaned and displayed alongside the clocks, or at least stored underneath so as to be available if a visitor wished to see them. By agreement with the Astronomer Royal and the Hydrographer, these cases were sent down to the museum, but it is sad that the idea of having them cleaned and displayed wasn’t acted on at the time, as H2’s case is now lost and H3’s case, unrecognized at the time, only just avoided destruction in the early 1970s.

H2 Polished and Lacquered

Gould also pointed out that H2 needed its movement cleaning as it was never lacquered and, after over 10 years, it had become covered in fingerprints. He offered to do this after the autumn holiday, in October 1936, pointing out that H4 and K1 will need cleaning again before the museum is to open the following year. Both the Astronomer Royal, Harold Spencer Jones, and the Hydrographer, Admiral Edgell agreed that H2 should be polished and lacquered, or, as Edgell put it, ‘that Cinderella should be provided with a new coat’. Writing on 8 September to Maxwell from the Grand Hotel in Sheringham, Gould described and drew a specification for new showcases, proposing a wheeled trolley be made of exactly the right height for the cases, so that the timekeepers could be slid in and out of the cases without difficulty (this was not done at the time, but on the Harrison’s redisplay at the Observatory in 1985 the idea was finally introduced). H2 arrived back at Downside for dismantling and polishing on 3 October 1936.

Half of a large notebook (the second half of Book 6, used for H4 & K1’s overhaul the previous year,) and the whole of a somewhat slimmer (p.297) book, recorded the dismantling, cleaning and readjusting work, which actually started on the 18 October 1936. The work continued until 12 April the following year, involving Gould in far more trouble than might be expected for a second overhaul. Complete dismantling of H2 took just four hours, Gould noting that in 1923 it took him a week! Work was suspended for the first two weeks of November, and much of December. Gould explained in the notebook that he had ‘a lot of drawing and writing to do’. The BBC had, in the end, asked Gould to give a broadcast on the Harrison timekeepers, and the script had to be carefully drafted for the twenty minute talk. ‘The Man who Discovered the Longitude 1776’, went out at 6.20 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1936, having been announced, inter alia, in The Times and the Horological Journal.

Work on H2 was again briefly interrupted as Gould visited the National Maritime Museum early in the New Year of 1937. The NMM’s new showcases for the timekeepers were supplied, and he saw to the fitting of the bases personally, to ensure the timekeepers were safe and correctly mounted.

H2’s polishing and reassembling was well underway by February, after another breakage (of the pivot of the 3rd wheel—this time caused by Bucks during polishing) had been put right by Hopgood. Gould himself had a terrible problem to overcome at this point, spending many hours struggling with cleaning out surplus lacquer which now filled all the holes in plates and other parts.

But the way he cleaned the lacquer out of the screw holes was frankly most unsatisfactory. He decided to cut grooves (‘flutes’) down the threads of many of the screws, so they cut their way through the lacquer as they were screwed in! He noted: ‘As Panhard said, “It is brutal, but it works”’. When even this method failed on some of the smaller screws on the antifriction wheels, he resorted to opening out the holes and using the screws as rivets to secure the wheels to their centres.

Then there was an even more prominent misdemeanour, committed on 10 March 1937 when, after long hours finally getting the timekeeper together again, Gould realized the stop work was incorrectly set up. ‘Things looked gloomy, because to reset the count wheel would mean getting off the front plate—a huge job! Turned the matter over in my mind during breakfast & decided to attack the front plate round the pivot of the count wheel arbor, with a view to giving the arbor enough side-play to let the wheel clear its driving pinion on the fusee. In this way the setting of the count wheel could be adjusted at any time without (p.298) parting the plates’. What he actually did was chain-drill round the pivot hole and remove a rough plug of the plate so the wheel could be moved out and into its correct position. He then covered the hole with a small square plate, screwed to the front plate, with a small brass block riveted to the back, which had a pivot hole for the wheel: a truly dreadful botch for which there can be no real excuse. The square plate was later reshaped into a regular octagon, so at least it matched the fusee pipe, in an attempt to reduce the effect of its appearance.

Poor Workmanship

One can only reiterate the comments in Chapter 5, that there are quite a few aspects of Gould’s restoration work which would be utterly condemned today, and which one could really have hoped for better, even at the time. Much of this poor workmanship had to be put right by the Ministry Of Defence chronometer workshops when the timekeepers were overhauled during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and it must be said the contribution of those staff to the preservation of the Harrison timekeepers, mentioned in the last chapter, is often overshadowed by Gould’s pioneering work.

H2 was finally completed and delivered to Greenwich on 12 April 1937, Gould setting it up in its new case after having lunch at his old haunt, the Royal Naval College. In fact, several more visits to Greenwich were required up to the end of April before the timekeepers were finally all running reliably, but on 17 April Gould wrote to Spencer Jones that all the Harrisons were installed in the new Navigation Room at the Museum.

Of H2, necessarily turning a blind eye to some of the repairs, he noted: ‘It looks brand new, and I think that I have rendered its mechanism as nearly perfect as I am ever likely to get it’. He then broaches ‘a matter on which I should greatly value your opinion. Unless some one drops a bomb on the museum, there is little doubt that the Harrison machines will, or should be, going long after I am dead—anyhow, I want to do what I can to ensure at least the possibility of this. And the only way in which I can do this is to make sure that my knowledge of the machines does not die with me. The ideal plan would be, I suppose, to find some young mechanic, with a permanent job either at the museum or near it, to whom I could give personal instruction—as Harrison did to Kendall. If I may say so without vanity, I think that the chance of someone (p.299) turning up in after years who would do the work for love as I did, is not very great. But failing any prospect of my instructing some one else, the next best plan—I think—would be to put such written material as I have into some sort of order, and augment it wherever necessary’. He goes on to offer all his notebooks to the Observatory, in the hope that they would be preserved in the manuscript collections, and adds ‘I hope one day to put together a full monograph on Harrison, with an appendix giving details of all his timekeepers’.

The Astronomer Royal, the Hydrographer and Callender all took Gould’s point about a Harrison trainee, and it was agreed in due course that a new member of the Observatory chronometer staff (Mr Holborn Warden) would be given instruction under Gould. However, as often happened, events overtook this intention, as they did, sadly, with Gould’s intention to do a full monograph on Harrison.

At the time, Spencer Jones replied accepting Gould’s generous offer and, just in case he was now looking for a new project, wondered if Gould might be interested in looking at the Shepherd electric clock system for them which was ‘one of the earliest applications of electricity to horology and the distribution of time’ but which ‘… is of no use in its present condition’. The alternative was to offer it for loan to the Science Museum, who might restore it. In fact Gould had to decline, claiming modestly that ‘I know very little about the historical side of electric clocks’, though he then cites some of the Shepherd clock’s history. As it turned out, the Science Museum did not get involved in a restoration either. In fact, apart from a rather botched attempt to restore the circuitry in the 1970s, nothing has been done to the system since, and a full restoration is now underway (2005).

The Arctic, Sea Monsters, and the Antarctic

There had been other interruptions to work on H2 in early 1937. On 26 January, another OV dinner and talk had engaged Gould’s attention. Taking his old school friend H.C. Arnold-Forster with him as a guest, he spoke that evening on Louis de Rougement, one of a number of explorer–imposters who claimed to have reached the North Pole, while apparently having done no such thing (De Rougement, it will be recalled, was to have been one of the Three of a Kind, the book which at the time Gould was contracted to write by Methuens, but which never appeared).

(p.300) Then, while he had been busy working on H2 at Downside, Gould had heard a talk on the radio, on 28 February 1937, by his old adversary E.D. Boulenger, titled: ‘Sea Monsters: Do they Exist?’ in which he evidently gave a decidedly one-sided view. Gould wrote immediately to Malcolm Brereton at the BBC asking whether he could reply to Boulenger and air the subject of sea monsters by giving a talk of his own. He needed to redress the balance, as the evidence for the existence of such creatures was, in his view, ‘overwhelming’. ‘Sea Monsters—A Vindication’, an eighteen-minute talk, was thus broadcast at 9.10 p.m. on 31 March (the BBC’s Scottish Region broadcast a recorded version of it at 10.25 the same night), the script having been edited for critical references to the Press, and the removal of expressions such as ‘the stunt press’ and ‘enterprising journalists’, which the BBC felt may reflect on them.

It was by all accounts a fine talk and in the BBC’s regular ‘broadcast extracts’, which were production team discussions and summaries kept on file for future reference, the notes on this talk (and others later in the 30s) comment that Gould is ‘an excellent example of a 1st class broadcaster’.346

The NMM Opens

The 27 April 1937 saw the opening of the National Maritime Museum. Such a high profile national event would inevitably have a political element at such a tense time, both nationally and internationally. The Spanish Civil War was constantly in the news and the vexed question of the appeasement of Germany’s sabre rattling (Hitler had by now occupied the Rhineland and had signed the pact with Italy) was doubtless on everyone’s mind. At home, with the controversial subject of the abdication, and the new King’s impending coronation, it was seen as vital that an event such as the opening of the new National Maritime Museum was a success and tended to unify the nation.

The soon-to-be-crowned monarch, George VI and his wife Elizabeth would perform the opening ceremony, in company with Queen Mary and the young Princess Elizabeth. Gould’s now-celebrated O.V. friend, the M.P., A.P. Herbert, proposed a river pageant, an idea eagerly accepted and, on the day, the Thames was lined with public keen to take part in the auspicious occasion. Such were the crowds of well (p.301) wishers it took the Royal party eighty minutes to travel the six miles back to town.347

Ownership of the Harrisons

On looking round the museum after the opening that day, the Astronomer Royal, Harold Spencer Jones noticed that some of the labels credited the Harrisons as loaned by the Observatory and some loaned by the Admiralty. He spoke to Gould about it while still at the museum, and duly dropped Callender a line to say (of the Admiralty’s ownership): ‘The latter statement is incorrect. All of the Harrison time-pieces belong to the Observatory and the costs of their renovation and repair have been paid out of Observatory votes. In order to comply with the requirements of the Exchequer and Audit Department, I have to obtain each year a receipt from you for their loan’. In fact it had been Gould who placed the old Science Museum labels in the cases (much of the displays and labelling was incomplete at the Royal opening) to provide some information about them.

Realising this may be a sensitive issue however, Callender contacted the Hydrographer, and Gould was asked to prepare notes on the historical facts as to ownership. In May, Gould submitted his findings ‘in connection with the recent transference of the Harrison timekeepers from the Science Museum to the National Maritime Museum’ to the Hydrographer, copying Spencer Jones and Callender.348 The six-page document349 titled: ‘Notes on the Ownership of John Harrison’s Timekeepers’ gave a statement of the facts, from Harrison’s parting with them in May 1766, up to Gould’s ‘discovery’ of them in 1920. The conclusion was that they must belong to either the Admiralty or the Royal Observatory, the former having the stronger claim. His view was that they should, in a sense, be regarded as working instruments and simply be ‘issued’ to the NMM from the Observatory by direction from the Admiralty, the audit paperwork being the same as with ordinary marine chronometers serving on ships. Gould’s report was accepted and this was the chosen practice thereafter.

As for the labelling, there was still some sensitivity with the Astronomer Royal, Spencer Jones feeling that he had responsibility and rightful custodianship for them. So, adopting his usual wisdom of Solomon, the Hydrographer, Admiral Edgell, proposed that the (p.302) labelling thenceforth read: ‘Lent by the Admiralty from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich’, which satisfied everyone.

Typewriters

On 9 June 1938 Gould gave one of his ‘Stargazer’ talks on the subject of ‘The Story of The Typewriter’. Like so many interests of Gould’s, the esoteric, some may say eccentric, fascination he had for these most useful office instruments goes back to his childhood; he first used one when 8 years old. His study of the history of the typewriter was sufficiently well developed by 1928 (as will be recalled from Chapter 11) for him to

                   Many Projects 1936–1937

55. The ‘Sholes-Densmore’ typewriter as redrawn in 1943. Gould had one of the largest collections of typewriters in existence and wrote the first independent history of the instrument. (© Sarah Stacey and Simon Stacey, 2005)

(p.303) give the paper to the Royal Society of Arts on the subject. He had been actively collecting them since the previous year, and by the time of his talk Gould had one of the largest collection of typewriters in existence.

The ‘Stargazer’ talk was typically wide-ranging: from the instrument’s earliest origins in Henry Mill’s patent of 1714, to the ‘early “blind” platen type, where the operator could not see the result until the exercise was complete. Gould even discussed the possibility of a dictating machine, able to interpret the human voice and produce text from it automatically. This, Gould says ‘might possibly be made—but it would have to be immensely big and complicated, and could never be more than a curiosity’. He would no doubt have been fascinated with today’s electronic word processing capabilities, and with the voice recognition software now available. The talk was followed by an article in the Radio Times, illustrated with a drawing of the ‘state of the art’ Sholes–Densmore typewriter of 1874.

Cecil recalled that at Downside, on the workroom door, his father, in unusually facetious mood, had placed a sign reading: ‘HOME OF REST FOR AGED AND DECAYED TYPEWRITERS SUPPORTED ENTIRELY BY VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS NO DESERVING CASE REFUSED ADMISSION’. By 1938 Gould had managed to amass a collection of over fifty typewriters, a few on loan to the Science Museum but most on shelves in the workroom, and Dodo was becoming concerned that the collection might continue to grow. If he was obliged to refer to them while in Dodo’s presence he would use the code word ‘lobsters’ when a new consignment was due, fearing a total ban on further acquisition!

The collecting did indeed continue and by 1943 he had accumulated no less than seventy-one of them. After the Second World War he wrote a series of articles for the journal Office Control and Management350 which built up into The Story of the Typewriter, From the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuries, a slim book produced posthumously by the same publishers in 1949. Mr Bernard Williams, for many years an avid researcher and collector of typewriters, has very kindly made a few comments on this pioneering work of Gould’s, as well as casting an eye over the text of his earlier lecture to the Society of Arts on the subject. One of the most surprising things that he has noted is that, unlike Gould’s published work in antiquarian horology and in scientific mysteries, his contribution to the history of the typewriter is very little known in the small but enthusiastic world of typewriter collecting. Apparently none (p.304) of his work has ever appeared in any of the typewriter collecting journals and most collectors are unaware of it.

Nevertheless, well over half a century after they were published, the book and article have very little in them which Mr Williams could correct, and he is highly complimentary about the style and content of Gould’s essays: ‘I am very impressed by the quality and accuracy in all his work researching & collecting Typewriters. He has obviously read & researched much of the available literature …’ While there were of course earlier publications on typewriters, these were almost all commercial pamphlets which were naturally biased towards the story of that particular company, and Gould’s was the first comprehensive and impartial history.

The editor of The Story of the Typewriter was Dudley W. Hooper, a friend of Gould’s who wrote a short Introduction to the book as a homage to the late expert. Hooper had actually met Gould while on holiday at Sheringham in 1934 and had been one of the group of hotel residents which followed Gould’s rallying call for help when the great box kite was ‘going up’. As it turned out, Hooper lived near Gould in a town close to Ashtead and he was a regular visitor to Downside, playing billiards and studying the vast collection of typewriters in the workroom.

The NMM

By the early Summer of 1937 the Harrison timekeepers, all running and looking spectacular, were the star turns in the new National Maritime Museum’s Navigation Gallery. At the end of May, Gould had been called in to start H4, which had unaccountably stopped, but there was little else technically required of him at the museum. Gould was of course as busy as ever with writing and broadcasting but, lacking the gratification of getting his hands dirty, he had kept himself busy making up a dedicated travelling case for the Harrison special tools. Maxwell was asked to post all the tools to him at Ashstead, but on their arrival Gould found that ‘some of my gadgets seem to have been rolled on by elephants … but … the new case will ensure that it doesn’t happen again’.

The First Orrery Restored

Another fine restoration opportunity arose at this time, when Gould had the chance to overhaul an important example of the scientific (p.305) instrument known as an ‘orrery’ (it may be recalled he had already overhauled one, back in 1924, see p. 137). An orrery is in fact what was otherwise known as a planetarium; not the kind at Madame Tussauds, but a smaller, table top sized instrument which is a three dimensional, working representation of the solar system. Full orreries include all of the known planets, each orbiting the Sun at their correct relative rates and positions.

The first such instrument, showing only the Earth, Moon and Sun, had been made by the great watch and clockmaker George Graham, in 1715, for Prince Eugene of Savoy. However, before it had been delivered, it was studied by the celebrated instrument maker John Rowley, who then made his own version of it the following year. This instrument then belonged to the fourth Earl of Orrery, and Orrery’s friend, the author Sir Richard Steele was so impressed with it he declared all such machines should be named after its owner, as an Orrery. And it was this very instrument, the world’s first Orrery, that Gould was now to overhaul for its owner, the current Earl.

Every detail of the work was recorded in a notebook, just as he had done with the Harrison timekeepers. The notebook, and indeed the Orrery itself, are now in the care of the Science Museum at South Kensington. The book is titled ‘Lord Orrery’s Orrery’, then subtitled facetiously ‘The Brompton Orrery’, a punning reference to the famous church, the Brompton Oratory, just round the corner from the Museum in South Kensington.351 The instrument was taken from the Earl’s London home at 46 Ennismore Gardens, to Ashtead on 13 June 1937 and work on dismantling began the same evening. Over the next month, many evenings were spent dismantling and note taking, brass parts were pickled in a strong ammonia solution and many were then sent to Bucks for polishing. Careful records were kept of the whole process, along with numbers of teeth on wheels and pinions, and notes on the re-correction of an error introduced into the orrery in 1876 by a well meaning but ill-informed repairer. The whole job was completed on 31 July and the instrument delivered to Admiralty House, in Portsmouth, the Earl’s place of work as Commander in Chief, Portsmouth. Later in the year, Gould wrote the restoration up for the Illustrated London News,352 just over a full page being devoted to the work and a description of this and other Orreries.

The notebook was left with many spare pages, and typically, Gould used it again, starting at the back, for notes on some experiments he (p.306) was doing later in 1937. These tests were on toy helicopters he had designed and made from cardboard and rubber bands, as described and illustrated in one of the Radio Times articles. At the time, some of these tests were carried out with Cecil at Kew Green, outside Muriel and Vivian’s house, and Cecil remembered one of helicopters, rising high up into the air and landing on the roof of the church, where they had to leave it! Another section of the back pages was used for notes on skyscrapers and a brief note on the violinist Nicolo Paganini, probably both examples of the ‘notes on a postcard’ which Gould took with him to the microphone when giving his ‘Stargazer’ talks at the BBC.

H3 and the RAS Clock

In September 1937, when Gould was on holiday with Dodo at Sheringham, he received a note from Maxwell to say that H3 had stopped. Apparently a group of boy-scouts ‘had been dancing a jig around the case’ and the timekeeper had objected. In fact, Gould had never been confident about the cross wires on the balances, and it was now going to be necessary to fit new ones, as well as new axial wires for the balances, which would unfortunately mean transporting H3 back to Ashtead for a while.

After a visit to pack the timekeeper on 14 October, Gould wrote to Maxwell, one of the more pressing issues being some form of payment, in advance, for the work to be done. He said ‘I hate asking for money in the ordinary way before I’ve earned it; but at the moment my need is urgent. Take it that, whatever happens on this occasion, I shall not make such a request again’. H3 arrived at Ashtead again on the 19 October 1937 and began the next stage in the extraordinary saga of its repairs and overhauls. As it turned out, the timekeeper would not be put back on display at the National Maritime Museum for almost ten years.

Another ‘Harrisonian’ commitment at this time was a visit, on 1 November 1937, to the Royal Astronomical Society to strip and service the Harrison regulator, which had been proving somewhat unreliable, the whole job taking just 4 hours flat. Later in the month he would return to fit a new stop detent so the clock could not be ‘overwound’.

(p.307) Torrens and ‘Nail and Cork’

On 10 September Gould lectured to the British Horological Institute on ‘The Chronometers of the Clockmakers Company’, a lecture which was reported in the Watchmaker and Jeweller, and the Horological Journal (HJ) in December 1937. The Horological Journal report, which extended to five pages, prompted a letter in the February issue of the HJ from the noted amateur horological historian David Torrens who was Professor of Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin. Torrens, whose horological knowledge was by then encyclopaedic, pointed out very politely, that Gould’s claim, supported that evening by Frank Mercer, that the early chronometer makers ‘must have worked by trial and error, and by rule of thumb …’ was rather misleading.

In a two-page commentary titled ‘Nail and Cork’ Torrens simply pointed out that these early chronometer makers were primarily watchmakers and that the hand crafts used for making chronometers were basically very similar to the well established systems used in watch making where a multitude of special tools were used. Torrens also stated what was already evident to those who wished to face facts: the chronometer industry was rapidly shrinking; this we know had been the case since the First World War.

The chronometer was, he noted, wholly unsuited to mass production, as the market is too small, the materials used do not suit this kind of production and much of the materials and tools have to be bought from abroad, making the financial viability unlikely on a large scale. He ended with an affectionate look back to the times when craftsmen could take their time to do a job to the utmost of their abilities and produce first rate work, something he implies, not seen today in chronometry. Torrens, who like Gould, knew the world of the chronometer maker intimately, was fully aware that though some makers had gone out of business, there was at least one company, Thomas Mercer Limited of St. Albans, which was ‘bucking the trend’. Not only was Mercer’s staying in business, but they were just then beginning to adopt something like mass-production techniques to chronometer production.

Frank Mercer saw Torrens’ note as a direct criticism of his business, and immediately submitted a scathing and verbose report, published the next month in the HJ. So sarcastic and vehement was Mercer’s reply to what he called ‘this onslaught’, which he described as ‘grossly misleading’, (p.308) that one is tempted to suspect that he ‘protesteth too much’, and that Torrens had touched a raw nerve. Mercer ended with a snipe at Torrens’ amateur status as an historian: ‘if I were to infer in a like manner [sic] upon my medical friend’s ground, I would suggest that in this—our age—we are smothered with a flood of patent medicines and cures…’. Probably because of the tone of Mercer’s letter, Torrens decided not to respond and the question was not further discussed. One would normally have expected Gould to have joined in such discussion, but there was a very good, but sad, reason he did not.

Notes:

(333.) Ibid. Ref. 22, 7 March 1936.

(334.) Ibid. Ref. 22, 25 April 1936.

(335.) Gould’s literary agent at the time was James B. Pinker & Son, Arundell St, The Strand.

(336.) Ibid. Ref. 22, 7 March 1936. Methuen’s files on the matter still survive, and note: ‘MS was to be delivered in Aug’38. Up to Sept 13 it had not come in. Half the advance of £75 is due on del. y and approval of MS. Agent is Pinker’ A further note, in resigned tone, simply remarks: ‘Let this sleeping dog lie’.

(337) Ibid. Ref. 22, 5 December 1936.

(338.) For a further explanation of this puzzle, see Martin Gardner, ‘Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions from Scientific American’. G Bell & Sons Ltd., London 1961.

(339.) The huge glass and iron building called the Crystal Palace, originally constructed in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition in 1851, had been moved immediately after the end of the exhibition to an area in South London which was then itself given the name of ‘Crystal Palace’. The structure caught fire and was completely destroyed that night in December 1936.

(340.) S.M. Ref: 116/48/8.

(341.) S.M. Ref: 116/48/9.

(342.) Gould to Ward, 5 October 1937. Private collection.

(343.) Ibid., Ref 1.

(344.) Gould to Maxwell, 22 May 1937. NMM 5.

(345.) Plate VIII in John Harrison and His Timekeepers depicts the timekeepers in these first showcases.

(346.) Ibid., Ref. 326.

(347.) Kevin Littlewood and Beverley Butler, Of Ships and Stars, Maritime heritage and the founding of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The Athlone Press & NMM, London, 1998.

(348.) Ibid., Ref. 314, 10 May 1937.

(349.) A copy is preserved in the NMM library, Ref: D1190.

(350.) Office Control and Management, January–September, 1948.

(351.) The Orrery restoration notebook is at the end of the S.M. file ‘Royal Observatory’ Ref: 775.

(352.) Illustrated London News, 18 December 1937.