Matthias Inhoff's Analysis of the Gowlland Clock

Emails from Matthias Inhoff of Canada in December 2010


Hello Rosemary,

Been perusing your family’s website and find the info contained therein very interesting.


I’m the gentleman who repaired/restored the Gowlland clock here in Kelowna [Canada], between 1996 and 2002. All I can say is that it was both the most difficult and frustrating repair I have taken on. My father, who is a Master German Clockmaker, upon looking at it, said to me: "Pack it up and return it: I wouldn’t touch it!".

In the end, it became more of an issue of "Who is going to win – me or the clock?". In the end, I think I made about $0.10 / hour for all of the time I put into it. There were times that it almost had me beat, where I couldn’t look at it for weeks at a time. But somehow, I was always drawn back to it to attack and work on it some more.

I picked up the clock in late 1996. It also came with a shoe-box of miscellaneous, uninstalled parts, wrapped in a newspaper from the early 1950’s. Sorry, but I did not take a picture of it. The clock movement and parts were extremely dirty, filthy and covered in a lot of dust which clearly substantiates that the clock was not in working condition for many, many years.

Yes, it is extremely complex. However, the majority of the astronomical functions (moon rise & set, sun rise & set, as well as the deviation to sidereal time) do not appear to work correctly. That said, the indicators move around; but I believe that they are not correct. This is due to the fact that the gears driving them are all pretty much alike, especially in the tooth count.

The Day, Date and Month indicators work correctly. It even automatically moves the date forward the appropriate number of days to give the correct 1st of the month indication. It also adjusts for leap years, if I remember correctly. Unfortunately, all dial movements are driven off the hour chime, so if that one goes out of sync, then the dial indications do also. However, there is a manual correction lever that allows for forward-reverse drive of these functions, to allow for a bit of adjustment. The hardest part was trying to figure out the synchronisation between all of these gears and their functions, so that they function correctly.

I too have been interested in the clock’s history and at one time had hoped to write an article on it for one of the horological magazines - I may still want to do this in the future.

At this point, I would like to offer you some information that I found on and within the clock regarding its repair history etc.

It is in fact, an eight day movement.

The rear plate has an inscription on the interior   "Cleaned 1842 , Halifax  N.S."  .  I presume that this is Nova Scotia, which leads me to wonder when this clock came to North America. Given the size, type and style of the movement, I would presume that it was built in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s. I would also expect this clock to operate for a considerable length of time before requiring service. Therefore, this would agree with the first cleaning inscription found of 1842. Also of note is that the various dated inscriptions are in differing handwriting and etching styles, except for the corresponding inscriptions on the dial.

Another inscription states  " Rebuilt G.L.G.   1869"  with an  " X,I,T. "  inscribed below it.   I presumed that this was a reference to George L. Gowlland, but my understanding is that if that was so, he was very smart for his age (if it was the one that lived from 1838)!

There is an inscription on the going-train (the one that is responsible for the timekeeping) cable drum  " A.J. McGlellan  1902 ".

As the main escapement was broken and resoldered (not in the correct position, which explains the fact that the clock was not seen to be working for many years, possibly from when the Montreal picture was taken until 2002, when the clock was (finally) returned to its owner. The broken escapement definitely would have caused the main weight to come crashing down, creating quite a bit of havoc with the various gears, levers etc., which was substantiated during our repair. There were major repairs to the drum and its attachment, keeping power spring etc. done at some time. It also appears as if the main drum was redone, as it is the only one that is smooth and without any cable guide grooves. Some of the work involved some pretty shoddy soldering work. The clock also has a "keeping-power spring mechanism" on the main drum to allow it to keep going while the clock is being wound.

Further, there is an inscription hidden on the back of the dial " cleaned May 10   1842" , with another one " cleaned 1906".

The first of these (1842) would correspond to the cleaning of the main movement.  What is more interesting, though, is the fact that this inscription is written sideways, between gears II & VI (as I labelled them) towards the center.  As such, it would appear that all of the intricate mechanism behind the dial would have been built well before that time, effectively preceding G.L.G.’s birth!   Very interesting, to say the least. There is no evidence then that the intricate dial was built in the late 1870-1900’s, as the consulting expert suggested!   My reasoning for this is based on the fact that the existing dial does not appear to have been altered.  The name Georgius Gowlland would then refer, in all likelihood, to its maker, a George Gowlland.  As the clock has been in the family as an heirloom and never appears to have been sold or put up for auction, then I do not believe that the repair date "cleaned May 10   1842" was added by someone at a much later date.  There was no reason to “forge” anything, alter the provenance or make it appear to be what it wasn’t.

The 1906 inscription was horizontal, just below the center arbor and covered up by the "Day" bracket. This would indicate to me that whoever scratched that one on the dial plate did not in fact, disassemble the entire dial.

The clock had (and presently has) a Graham deadbeat escapement [see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadbeat_escapement#Deadbeat_escapement  for details] The use of this escapement is most interesting, for, even though Graham popularized it in 1715, it was invented earlier.  As such, this clock would have been an extraordinary timepiece in its’ day.  The Owner and I redesigned / reverse-engineered it, and manufactured a new escapement anchor to replace the damaged one.  We used information published in the early 1900’s on its design as the basis.  Three slight variations were made and my father (Heinrich Inhoff, Master Clockmaker from Montreal – born and trained in Germany) and I heat-treated and hardened them to give it a long service life.  Different versions were made as we knew that the dimensions would change during the hardening process.  The second one we did is the one that is presently installed in the clock. The clock is extremely accurate in timekeeping.

It is my belief that the majority of the changes were done in 1869, when "GLG" rebuilt the clock. In all likelihood, some of these involved the chime and gongs. The gongs are coiled, using flat metal and have a very nice sound to them. I don’t know what was changed, as some of the Gowlland craftsmanship posted on your website was of very fine workmanship. However, if that was the case (i.e.- if "GLG" added the chimes, both Westminster and Whittington, to be exact) then the dial must have been altered. As it is, the "Strike / Silent" and "Westminster / Whittington" dials flank the day window below the handshaft. Both must have been done at the same time. It would then suggest that these two dials were added at a later date. However, this would/could not have been so as the clock was a 3 weighter (chime-time-strike) from day one! Hence, it is my belief that the changes were done to the gongs and their hammers, possibly including some of the drive levers. Again, this is contradicted by some of the dial features.

An interesting discussion I had with some clock collectors/experts [ http://mb.nawcc.org/showthread.php?t=4931&page=2 ]  brought forth, from a Mr Harold Bain: "Well, 1767 definitely predates the writing of the Westminster music, which dates to 1797: it wasn't likely used in tall clocks until after its use on the Westminster Palace clock that we know as Big Ben, which was first started in 1859." 

These two chimes can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whittington_chimes and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_Quarters

There is evidence that the chime and strike flies were altered, including their rear attachment arms. This is borne out by the fact that the rear plate was somewhat "savagely" cut out and filed. However, the style of workmanship does not match that of the rest of the clock and dial itself. So possibly, this was done by someone later in an effort to slow down the speed of striking/chiming by adding material to the flies, which are soft-soldered to their pinion shafts. Maybe it was done by the same person that attempted to repair the massive damage to the going train.

I would like to find out when the clock stopped working and when the picture in Montreal was taken.

Hope this info helps you track down more on the clock's history. Now that my curiosity has been piqued again, maybe I’ll have to write that article after all.


Matthias Inhoff  

INHOFF clocks

2565 O’Reilly Rd.

Kelowna, BC     V1W 2V5

Tel-   250-763-2468

email:  inhoff@shaw.ca

In response to the above John asked whether Matthias would agree to his findings being published on the Gowlland Family website, to which he replied:-

I have no problem with that. Like I stated, maybe one day I’ll write something about it, something that the then Owner and I had discussed at the very beginning.

I’d say I’m the only one around (living, that is) that has seen it in its most intimate details. Kind of wish I had taken more pictures of it at the time: however, I didn’t have a digital camera at the time. When the pictures were developed, quite a few were not quite in focus.

It’s just that I don’t quite share the expert’s point of view, especially as he never saw the actual clock. (He was hired by the owning family some years ago to give an opinion)

[John’s note - As to dating, the George who has been thought to have done the work was born in 1867 [here], and was registered as "George Gowlland". However, as his biography explains [here], he had himself baptised at the age of fourteen, at which time he took a second forename "Castle", presumably a reference to his grandfather George Castle Gowlland. To further complicate the nomenclature, he later used "G L Gowlland" on two microscopes he made – again, see his biography.

His father always known simply as "George" was born in 1838 [here]]

A clock such as this may only cross one in a thousand clockmakers’ path once in a lifetime, and most will never see one except in a museum. I’ve been to quite a few museums, but have never seen a clock like this. Looks like Gladys never found anyone to repair it either. She certainly appears to have been "handy and mechanically inclined". She should have been proud to have assembled it herself. (Wonder if she had a large soldering iron…and attempted the repair herself, like she mentioned. Always been trying to track down that culprit!).

Also forgot to mention: there was a little blue Wartime Ration Coin (embossed, around the size of a quarter) being used as a spacer for the reverse-forward handle gear.

Don’t think I have a good picture of it though (shows on scan 0007 & 0010, right side).




Scans 13, 15 & 23 below show the condition when I received it!




Scans 33 & 34 below are the "extra pieces" in the shoebox! 


Scans 41 & 43 below show the soldered anchor, after I removed the gobs of extraneous solder. It could not have worked!


Scan 45 is a picture of myself (a few years back!) cleaning the bottom support plate. The "before" and "after" contrast is quite apparent.


I know the then-Owner mentioned to me that he had tried to get it repaired in a few places (Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and around here), but they all turned him down. Guess I was a sucker for punishment and couldn’t pass this once in a lifetime opportunity up. My dad, a Master Clockmaker from Germany, now retired, told me he would never have tackled it. So I think that was a large part of the driving force, because I only learned the trade by looking over his shoulder.

(a)   Did you have a machinist in the family between 1767 – 1820?

(b)   Who was G.L.G., as I didn’t find any middle initials in your family tree around 1870?

(c)  When is the earliest your family can document the existence of this clock?

[John’s answers to these three questions were:

(a)    Not that we know of.  We had supposed the maker was George (L) Gowlland (1867 - 1927), known to have been a skilled instrument-maker (click here for his biography).  Subsequently it had seemed feasible, if the clock were older than earlier thought, it might have been his father, George Gowlland (1838 - 1911), also a skilled instrument-maker.  The only George who was an adult at the time 1767 - 1820 might have been George Gowlland (1740 - ?), about whom we know neither his occupation nor his date of death: he was the son of Joseph and Susannah Gowlland, our earliest known ancestors.  He might therefore have been a machinist; but we simply don’t know.

(b)    No George Gowlland was baptised with a middle initial "L" but, as explained in his biography, two microscopes turned up in America described as having been made by "George L Gowlland", which implies that he sometimes added the "L". As his biography makes clear, he evidently "sailed close to the wind" on many occasions, and this may be the explanation - spurious repair dates are frequently found, apparently.

(c)    Geoff Gowlland was "on the hunt" for this clock in the early years of the Second World War, mainly concentrating on the London Science Museum and trade companies in this field  -  see the compilation of his letters here.  Interestingly, he had been told (by his Uncle Charles, presumably, according to the later reference to "a correspondent in Bournemouth") that the inscription mentioned "Canterbury"  -  this we now know to be incorrect.  However he also mentions (here) "Four separate persons have asserted that they have seen these instruments, mostly in the 1920’s".  This seems to be the earliest date mentioned.   In 1961 Uncle Charles amplified his remarks by writing to Geoff "So far as I know, the first mention of Gowlland as Instrument Makers was in 1561, when the name was engraved on a dial as Maker.  It was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851".   This claim should be treated with some scepticism, however.

Obviously we are hopeful of more facts regarding these uncertainties coming to light in the future.]

In conclusion [Matthias writes], it is entirely possible that the clock, in its present form, is a “marriage”.  This means that an existing movement and an existing case have been brought together to form a complete clock.


Therefore, the clock movement could have been built some time before 1842 (when it was presumably “first” repaired and cleaned) and fitted to a case, bearing the “1767” inscription. Was this part of “G.L.G.’s” rebuild? I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.


At the end of the day, it is a most interesting clock and whoever designed, built and modified it, must have been very skilled in a number of trades (clockmaking, machining, mathematics, possibly astronomy etc. -  the list is long). 


No matter what, it's a very interesting timepiece to say the least. Somebody made it. Maybe somebody else modified it. In any case, hats off to them!


And all that work, without the use of "modern" calculators, computers and/or CAD. Strictly laying these things out by hand.

There are not many of us (clockmakers & repairmen) who could have done it!


The biggest question is the actual date of manufacture of the whole, or the various parts, of the clock.  For an interesting on-line discussion from a few years ago  by members of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Inc of America, click here.