Well, if you are visiting the United Kingdom, there are a number of "Harrison" sites, National Maritime Museum (Royal Observatory), Brocklesby Park, various sites in north Lincolnshire (examples of joinery works), Nostell Priory, Guildhall in London (collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. Hope you can make it to Leeds. Presently the precision pendulum-clock is in storage, there is a little more conservation work to do, but mainly it is a matter of working up the project plan for the display and interpretation of this unique and highly significant object. Harrison's story just keeps rolling on into the future. The BBC has created a new project "A History of the World" in partnership with a lot of museums around the UK. The website goes live in a few days. There will be some TV programmes too. One of them will be about Harrison and this clock, filming this month, broadcast some time during 2010. My next article is for the Regional Furniture Society, just a short article, final draft sent to RFS editor follows:
John and James Harrison, joiners of Barrow-upon-Humber, North Lincolnshire
The August 2009 issue of the Furniture History Society newsletter gave details of a John “Longitude” Harrison (1693-1776) precision pendulum-clock of 1727 at Leeds Museums and Galleries. The article also placed the clock in the context of Harrison’s quest for precision timekeeping as the practical solution to determining longitude at sea.
There are a number of significant points about the clock at Leeds. Of the three precision pendulum-clocks it is the one in the most original condition. It is also one of the clocks on which Harrison continued his experiments with temperature compensation via the grid-iron pendulum. His own notes state that he removed the grid-iron from No. 2 (the Leeds clock) when he sold it, and that he continued the experimental work on No. 3, the precision pendulum-clock he kept for the rest of his life and the one that he used to test all his later clocks against.
The predominant, not-to-say accurate, but incomplete perception of Harrison is of a self-taught clockmaker and scientist, and Dava Sobel’s bestseller, Longitude, achieved remarkable success in raising awareness of his extraordinary achievements in this respect: a man of humble birth who taught himself clockmaking, and used his scientific and engineering intellect and determination to solve the most intractable problem of the 18th century. Harrison’s harnessing of the fourth dimension, time, to link points on the three dimensional globe, demonstrates an early foray into the waters of space-time. Ships’ chronometers revolutionised navigation and map-making, and were still being used for determining longitude until the advent of the Global Positioning System, a system which nevertheless retains precision timekeepers at its heart to calculate distances to triangulate a position.
New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell’s recent, fascinating book Outliers, aims to shed light on why some people can achieve extraordinary success. Gladwell’s premise is that, in trying to understand these “outliers”, too much emphasis has been placed on the individual: “we’ve been looking at the tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.” Applied to John Harrison his brilliance and extraordinary success cannot be denied, but was he really the lone genius he was made out to be in Longitude?
In order to properly understand his achievements much more needs to be known about his formative years. What indisputably has received less attention is the fact that he and his younger brother James Harrison (1704-1766), with whom he worked in partnership for a time, were very fine joiners, and that several examples of their non-clock works are still in existence. Their father, Henry Harrison, was after all a carpenter who had very likely been the estate carpenter at Nostell Priory, the country house of the Winn family, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire. It is therefore probable that Henry trained his lads to be the fine craftsmen they became.
The use of wood for the movements of John’s early clocks is, in some senses, incidental. Put simply, wood was their starting point and wood was the material that John and James knew well. However, John Harrison had an inventive and lateral-thinking mind and if, say, carbon fibre and high-density nylon had been available it is quite possible that he would also have been experimenting with these to see if they could help bring him closer to his goal!
Fortunately John and James Harrison’s early working life will be the subject of some more comprehensive articles and publications from Andrew King, who has been researching John and James and their early work, clocks and joinery. An RFS Journal article is planned, as is a book, both of which should greatly help with understanding their early influences. Further, there will be a BBC documentary on Harrison and the clock at Leeds, to be broadcast sometime in 2010 and a BBC website project, “A History of the World”, which will be online from January 2010, also has a feature on this unique clock.
When the BBC History of the World website goes live I will let the forum know via a posting, it will be soon though.