In conversation with historian Adam Hart Davis
Updated: Feb 5
Adam Hart Davis is a scientist, author, photography, historian and broadcaster whose career has seen him present numerous TV programmes including 'The Clock That Changed the World'. This BBC History documentary explored John Harrison's career as a horologist and his greatest contribution to British history, solving the Longitude problem through the designing and building clocks.
Hart-Davis has taken an interest in Harrison clocks after learning about them through his line of work, and I have been in touch with him over the last few years to share my journey of creating Harrison replicas.
He's shared some thoughts with me regarding his fascination with Harrison and interest in creating replicas.
What is it that you admire about John Harrison’s clocks?
They are beautiful. The wooden movements are superb. The one at Brocklesby Park still keeps good time after 298 years, in spite of the wooden teeth on the cogwheels. I am particularly fascinated by the grasshopper escapements.
Why do you consider it important to make of replicas of iconic historical pieces such as John Harrison’s clocks?
It allows you to discover so much about the methods and skills of Harrison himself. Some years ago I made a wooden clock myself – a crude thing with a wooden weight, a wooden pendulum, and an escape wheel with oak teeth, arranged radially. I was delighted that it kept approximate time for some 30 seconds. This project showed me just how difficult it is to build even the simplest wooden clock!
A replica such as those that Matthew makes represents a priceless piece of chronological history, and it is a beautiful thing.
How did you first come to know about Matthew King’s work in horology?
I first became interested in John Harrison in 1991, while filming a programme for the series Local Heroes (then for Yorkshire TV). Subsequently I was invited to Leeds Museum to see a Harrison clock being taken apart. I think I met Matthew then, but all I can really remember was the clock, lying in pieces on the bench.
Matthew later invited me to visit him in his workshop, and I became aware of the amazing work he was doing. Building replicas of Harrison clocks reveals a mass of information about how Harrison worked, and about the materials he used. I also find both Harrison’s clocks and Matthew’s replicas amazingly beautiful. My admiration for Matthew and his work is great.
Many thanks to Adam Hart-Davis for sharing these insights with me. For more information about Adam Hart-Davis, please visit his website.
For more information about Harrison replicas, please read the story behind the John Harrison replica.