W.F. Bruce Antique Clocks & Barometers
“It’s about effort. We should look after and cherish things that people have made with care.” I wonder what came first: is Bill Bruce’s ideological stance regarding the importance of longevity and history informed by his enthusiasm for the restoring of antique clocks, or vice versa? One of the reasons he loves clocks is because the makers were “trying to build something representative of its time. Made to a standard, not to a price. They were made to be something to be proud of.”
He discusses the presence, sound and feel of clocks in a devout manner, and the horological grotto that is W.F. Bruce Antiques does a fine job of exemplifying why they merit such reverence. The two showrooms are impressive and would certainly warrant further discussion themselves, but we head downstairs into the workshop to explore the ‘mending’ side of things further. The work stations are packed with myriad tools, many of which are created by the workers themselves and, as such, do not have traditional names.
Does clock restoration require bespoke tools? “You don’t have to, but I always encourage it because you learn respect for them. If you make it beautifully, and you harden it and temper it and use it properly – not for levering open a paint can – it will last. It’s an attitude: we’re working on some very beautiful things here, it sets you off on the right trajectory.”
More than a shop, W.F. Bruce Antiques is in fact a kind of clock enthusiast’s warren, wherein wandering experts share their knowledge and enthusiasm for their craft. Bill’s work carries on the tradition of reputable Lewes clockmakers such as Richard Comber, whom Bill lauds, “not for the complicated way that he did things, but for building some quite ordinary things so beautifully. You almost never see one spoilt or ruined. He also made them with some consideration for people working on them all these years later, in terms of reducing friction for example”.
Clocks are often meaningful family heirlooms, and Bill sees the effect that his work restoring a broken clock can have on relatives. “Family members will ask you to fix it, and they’ll dissolve into tears when they hear it ticking and striking [again]. It’s elemental, very physical.”
The showrooms do a brilliant job of illustrating the peculiar physicality of antique clocks, and the weight, look, smell, sound of them certainly make an impact. Particularly after you discover that some are over 330 years old. I ask Bill what the lifespan is of an average longcase. “We don’t know yet. This clock was made in 1685: it’s in beautiful order. I would think the reality is, as long as we keep on producing generations of fine clockmakers – and there are some fine clockmakers around, not many, but they do exist – there’s no reason to imagine that that won’t be going in another three or four hundred years.”
Photos by Katie Moorman