Weekend on the Waveney

After catching up with friends for the first time in 17 years, we’re having a short break in Suffolk, drawn to this part of the country having read the books by Roger Deakin – Waterlog, Wildwood and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm – the latter about the place where he lived from the late 1960s.

The rambling farmhouse had an ancient moat in which he swam almost daily. In the grounds was a shepherd’s hut where he often wrote, once observing that he had “a weakness for sheds or huts of all kinds”.

On the Caught By The River blog, Justin Partyka writes:

Walnut Tree Farm features prominently in Roger’s writing, which clearly reveals the important role that the place had in his life. It was a home for him in the truest sense of the word. And it was at Walnut Tree Farm that Roger dedicated almost four decades to the practice of bioregionalism, developing an intimate knowledge of his local landscape and the natural world around him. Here he swam in the moat, slept in a shepherd’s hut, crawled in the hedge, and worked the land: sawing, chopping, raking, hoeing, mowing, scything, planting, harvesting, and building. Because, as Roger wrote in his note book: “People ask how a writer connects with the land. The answer is through work.”

Life at Walnut Tree Farm became the subject, in 2004, of a Radio 4 programme, The House, which recorded the creaking of the ancient house at night, with mice scurrying behind the wainscotting, owls hooting in the dark beyond, and the rain beating a tattoo on the barrelled tin roofs of the outhouses. A year later came The Garden, while Cigarette On the Waveney dealt with his trip, by canoe, down the Suffolk river. Roger Deakin died in 2006, aged 63.

Roger belonged to that tradition of topographical and literary writers who had one foot in the library and the other in distant fields. The poems of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and Lawrence were as immediate to him as today’s newspapers. In his introduction to the Common Ground anthology, The River’s Voice (2000), he wrote: “Mutability is also evident in all the forms of things in the river, which always wants to round everything to its own patterns of flow and is forever in a state of flux itself. Where others might meditate on their mortality with the help of a skull, my desk is cluttered with stones and sticks from rivers I have explored and swum all over the country.” Roger’s writing and campaigning opened up the woods and the rivers for many others. He changed the weather. [Guardian obituary]

Today, just before the lovely spring weather broke and the wind and rain stormed in, we did a short walk by the Waveney, from Syleham Mill along the river to to Instead Hall Farm, then up out of the valley into the fierce wind, before descending again.

We’ve been staying at Earsham Park Farm B&B near Bungay. Bobbie Watchorn provides excellent breakfasts – fresh fruit salad and meusli, traditional English breakfast items and toast from home-baked bread. The house is full of interesting objects – Bobbie’s art works (particularly liked the expressive dog sculptures) and very many clocks originally collected by her father, all melodiously chiming the hours.

Most impressive were the grandfather clocks, particularly the early 20th century model in the dining room, originally a London bank ‘regulator’ with lovely church bell chimes. She told how, a couple of weeks after her father died, the clock stopped. When a clock repairer was summoned he discovered that the culprit was blu-tack her father had used to make some small repair and which had fallen into the works!

This got me interested in the history of grandfather clocks. After a bit of googling, this is what I discovered.

In 1582 Galileo Galilei discovered that you could use a pendulum to keep time. He studied pendulum clocks, and drew the first designs for a grandfather clock. In 1656 Christiaan Huygens applied what Galileo had discovered and built the first working grandfather clock.

The first grandfather clocks did not keep time well. An early grandfather clock could lose as much as ten minutes a day. In 1670 William Clement noticed that by making the pendulum in a clock longer he could make the clock keep better time. His longer pendulums required longer cases. The new clocks were called long case clocks, later renamed to grandfather clocks.

In 1721 George Graham noticed that temperature changes in the pendulum of a grandfather clock would made it run slow or fast. Graham improved the grandfather clock by compensating for the temperature changes in the pendulums. His changes lead to grandfather clocks that were accurate to 1 second a day.

The terms “grandfather”, “grandmother”, and “granddaughter” have been applied to longcase clocks. Although there is no specifically defined difference among these terms, the general perception seems to be that a clock smaller than 1.5 m (5 ft) is a granddaughter; over 1.5 m (5 ft) is a grandmother; and over 1.8 m (6 ft) is a grandfather. The fashion for Longcase Clocks lasted approximately 200 years – from 1660 to 1860.

In the early 20th century, quarter-hour chime sequences were added to longcase clocks. At the top of each hour, the full chime sequence sounds, immediately followed by the hour strike. At 15 minutes after each hour, 1/4 of the chime sequence plays, at the bottom of each hour, half of the chime sequence plays, and at 15 minutes before each hour, 3/4 of the chime sequence plays. Almost all modern mechanical longcase clocks have at least Westminster Quarters, and many also offer the option of Whittington chimes or St. Michael’s chimes, selectable by a switch mounted on the right side of the dial, which also allows one to silence the chimes if desired. [Wikipedia]

The origin of the term grandfather clock

During the 19th century, two brothers named Jenkins worked as managers at the George Hotel in Piercebridge, County Durham, according to the story told to Henry Clay Work in 1875. One of the brothers died and the clock began to lose time. Repair attempts were made by the hotel staff and local clockmakers, but failed. When the other brother died at the age of 90, the clock broke down altogether, and was never repaired in remembrance of the brothers.

Work decided to write a song about the story of this clock in 1876, which he called ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’. The song became popular, and it is from this song that the current usage derives. [Wikipedia]

Shown left: Grandfather clock by John Cleak of Bridport. Circa 1790. Mahogany case with moon phases. 12″ arch dial with moving moon phases,subsiduary seconds and date dials and four seasons in corners depicted as ladies dressed in gold.

See also



One thought on “Weekend on the Waveney

  1. Dear Gerry – searching online for some info about John Cleak the clockmaker, I stumbled upon you site and I own the very long case clock in your picture. I bought it for a birthday present for my husband a few years ago. Kind regards Nicky Fishburn

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