Ask Tim English the time and a dozen antique clocks will probably chime the answer. After a lifetime career at Sunnybrook Hospital in medical supplies and as an assistant dialysis technician, Tim retired and literally has time on his hands.
“I sort of fell into collecting old clocks about two-and-a-half years ago,” explains Tim.
“My wife Karen bought me one in an antique store when it took my fancy as she knew I liked the mechanical aspect of old machines.”
His collection has grown since then and Tim now has clocks of every type and age. Some chime and some don’t.
“Mind you, it tends to drive my wife batty,” admits Tim, “so to keep the peace I turn off the chimes at night, but I personally love falling asleep with a room full of ticking clocks.”
Ticking, tocking and chiming comes with the territory Tim will explain, and he proudly shows you around his growing collection.
If you have no knowledge of antique clocks, Tim will quickly fill you in on the history and variety of Ogee wall clocks, gingerbread clocks, beehive clocks, banjo clocks, steeple clocks, triple-decker clocks, and tall case clocks.
Tim stands in front of a handsome six-foot high Grandfather clock with its majestic tick-tock and Westminster chimes. “The case alone is a work of art”, he explains. “People often forget these tall case clocks come in three sizes: the most recognizable is the grandfather clock, but there is a grandmother clock and a grand-daughter clock too.”
As well as collecting antique clocks, Tim will spend hours in his basement workshop restoring them and repairing them when he can. “Sometimes I have to send them out,” admits Tim, “but skilled clock repairers are dying out and there aren’t any college courses in clock repair. Nobody is serving as an apprentice any more, and there are fewer and fewer technicians who know how to fix clocks including the public clocks on town halls and other buildings.”
The whole concept of regulating our lives by the clock is a relatively new concept in human history, although time-measuring devices originated with the sun-dial and the hour-glass. Our ancestors measured time by the natural rhythms of daylight and the seasons and it’s doubtful that anyone asked “What time is it?”
“By the middle-ages the forerunner of the clock technology known as the mechanical escapement mechanism began to appear,” explains Tim. “Large tower clocks were built in European town squares, cathedrals and monasteries. It was really the beginning of time measurement as we know it today.”
The invention of portable clocks and eventually the wristwatch took several more centuries to evolve, and the advent of the iPhone seems to have brought about a steep decline in wristwatch use.
“The new Apple watch might change all this,” says Tim. “But you know, I still like a digital alarm clock in the bedroom as you can’t see the time on any of my antique clocks at night!”
The industrial revolution brought about the need for better time measurement, and the developing railway system needed accurate timekeeping and the introduction of time zones across vast areas.
“Probably the most famous clock of all is in the Palace of Westminster in London, England ” Tim points out, ”but although it’s known as Big Ben, that’s actually the name of the bell. Not the clock. It’s the second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world”
Collecting, restoring and repairing antique clocks is a serious business, and Tim belongs to the Quinte Timekeepers Chapter of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors whose members hold regular meetings and workshops in Belleville, Ontario. But Tim’s hobby isn’t always serious and Tim and his wife Karen like the social aspect too.
They live in Canterbury Common, in Port Perry, and for a New Year’s celebration party event, they arranged for a display of antique clocks to be on hand.
“Tim had them set up to strike the midnight hour in different time zones,” explains Karen. “We started off at 9:00 pm and kept going! As someone remarked – it’s always Noon somewhere in the world. A lot of toasts were drunk that night and nobody really cared if we were a minute or two to out!”
Whether you have the new Apple wristwatch, a smart phone or still carry a pocket watch, time is always on your mind these days. Our lives seem ruled by the clock, but in the quiet of Tim English’s home that steady tick-tock is a soothing reminder of another age.