Culvertons Antiques

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Surrey clock repair specialists see the light !!

28/02/2013 1:54 PM

This impressive late 19th century clock awaits the attention of Culvertons’clock repair specialist based in Surrey- this lighthouse clock has a French eight-day movement and is in need of servicing, the striking mechanism needs to be reinstated and a piece of the casing that is missing from the rear of the plinth is to be replaced using contemporary materials.

 This clock was presented to John H. Bull, founder of The Bull Line fleet, by its shareholders ‘in appreciation of his exertions on their behalf ’ – as the inscription on its splendid brass plaque attests. Well over a century later, this clock is regarded as a rare and interesting object within the world of nautical antiques. The ‘exertions’ to which the appreciative shareholders referred had resulted in the successful building-up of a fleet of commercial sailing ships, an achievement which had begun in 1881, a mere six years beforehand, with the registering of ‘Commerce’ a 254 tonne cargo ship sailing from the south coast port of Newhaven and listing John Henry Bull and his cousin Neil Campbell Bull as joint owners.

Despite the premature death of his relative and business partner, John H. Bull was not deterred with the venture. By 1895 he was the owner-manager of 10 of the 13 sailing cargo ships operating out of the port, and unusually was financed by a total of sixteen shareholders (until then it was customary for the ownership of vessels to be split between one or two people and certainly no more than five). Clearly he must have had good business acumen and powers of persuasion to obtain the necessary working capital from those shareholders, especially taking into consideration the timing of his endeavours which, when sail was slowly having to give way to steam, might have been construed as a foolhardy investment.

Why, then, did the Bulls invest in their first sailing ship in 1881, at a time when the railway network was in the middle of a massive expansion plan appearing to negate the need for coal to be transported by sea –a trend echoed by the decline in the number of sailing vessels registered in coastal ports?

Location, location, location provides the answer: the port of Newhaven had recently been acquired by the London Brighton South Coast Railway (LBSCR), and the company had promptly started developing the port to improve facilities for the Newhaven-Dieppe passenger crossing. By 1880, through an intensive dredging programme, the depth of water within the harbour was greater, enabling larger steam-ships to use the port, but equally the sailing vessels of greater draught  that were in time to make up John Bull’s fleet.  These he was able to pick up inexpensively, as they were older, larger craft withdrawn from service on the more exotic and longer routes to the Americas and the Mediterranean and now permanently stationed at local moorings by their owners. Bull purchased them to run coal from ports near the coalfields of South Wales back to Newhaven, a contract he ironically secured from the LBSCR whose needs for large amounts of coal to fuel their cross-channel steamers on their frequent daily crossings to Dieppe could not be met by their own transportation arrangements, by rail, of coal from the Midlands. Closer to home Bull also managed to pick up a lucrative contract supplying coal directly to the Eastbourne Gas Company down the coast. But the opening of a rail link via the Severn Tunnel in 1886, enabling coal from South Wales to come to Newhaven by rail, other extensions of the rail infrastructure, further improvements to Newhaven’s facilities and competition from now more economic steam-powered colliers would all contribute to the slow death, within a few years, of the Bull Line with its elderly fleet of slow sailing ships. By 1907, when John Henry Bull died, only one such ship remained registered to the Bull Line – appropriately named the ‘John Bull’.

This lighthouse clock, an unusal example of Victorian craftsmanship, must have been witness to many an interesting conversation between John Henry Bull and his shareholders at a time when sail still could compete with steam. The case stands over two feet high and is constructed from cut and turned slate with the addition of columns and inlayed bands of marble –the outlines of the doors, windows, decoration to the top and numbering to the dial were created by chasing directly into the slate and then applying gold leaf into these exposed areas.

Clocks and other instruments especially those incorporated within models with an industrial connection, are now keenly sought after. Culvertons have clients interested in acquiring such items, and are able to carry out any repairs and restoration if, as with John Henry Bull’s lighthouse clock they show signs of wear and tear.