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The Vulliamy Archive

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Horologists to royalty, aristocracy and the very wealthy

The record of the Vulliamy family business in our archives contains eleven hand-written and bound volumes dating from 1797. The most frequently consulted section consists of the two volumes relating to the clocks made by the firm: Volume 1, from March 1797 to April 1809, detailing clock numbers 296-469; and Volume 2, from May 1820 to May 1831, clock numbers 746-1067. Each clock is listed on its own page or occasionally two pages, and details are given of the work involved in its construction. The name of the purchaser is also recorded as is the delivery address – a testament to the status of the Vulliamys as the horologists to royalty, aristocracy and the very wealthy.

The Archive also contains a single volume, dating 1846-1853, entitled Clock Jobbing Book. This lists the repairs and general servicing undertaken by the Vulliamy workshops over this period, an era dominated by government and royal contracts during the building of the new Palace of Westminster; out of the 260 jobs recorded, no less than 65 were on behalf of the Office of Works and a further 40 for Queen Victoria and Buckingham Palace.

Shop in Pall Mall

The Vulliamy shop in Pall Mall was run in a business-like manner as the evidence of the Daily Callers Books bears witness. Dating from 1852 to 1867, by which time B.L. Vulliamy was dead and the firm taken over by Jump, five books record the details of every caller to the shop and the minutiae of daily business. Judging by the entries in these books, the bane of everyday watchmaking was broken watch glasses and lost keys.

Two more books hold copies of letters written by B.L. Vulliamy from 1844 to 1850. Many of them are connected to his government contract work.

The final two volumes concern the business of the workshop. The first is the Watch Assistants Timesheets (1835-1837), which briefly describes the work undertaken on individual repairs and the time in hours used to carry them out. The second is the Assistant’s Watch Book (1843-1846), which lists the dates watch repairs were brought in and completed, details of the watches and the names of owners.

A public wall clock

The BHI Museum Trust’s collection contains a 19th century Vulliamy public wall clock, measuring 5ft by 4ft and built specifically for internal use, which came from Somerset House on the Strand in London where, following the final vacation of the building by the last of the government departments, it was deemed surplus to requirements.

Although the clock’s case appears to be mahogany, it is actually dark pine and has been painted to look like mahogany. No doubt this was a deliberate attempt to limit the overall weight of what was already a heavy timepiece.

The clock has now been carefully restored. The case was sent to a master craftsman Gerald Langley, while Jim Arnfield and members of the BHI conservation group painstakingly repaired and rebuilt the working parts. Along the way this meant recreating several missing parts, including the pendulum bob.

The Vulliamy Archive, which also includes loose documents relating to the clocks at Buckingham Palace and the Great Clock at Windsor Castle, can be inspected by members of the BHI by prior appointment.

For information and to arrange access, or to request an individual search:

BHI Members:

Please contact Briony Dickinson via +44 (0)1636 817610 or email briony@bhi.co.uk.

Non BHI Members & General Library Enquiries:

Please contact Alex Bond Collections Officer via +44 (0)1636 817607 or email alexbond@bhi.co.uk

 

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