There’s no time like the present

The English watchmaker George Daniels (1926-2011) was one of the few modern craftsmen who could make a complete watch by hand, including the case and dial. A former Master of the Clockmakers’ Company of London, he was awarded its Gold Medal as well as the that of the British Horological Institute.

George Daniels (right) created 37 watches, not including prototypes, applying himself relentlessly to the major task of redesigning the mechanical watch escapement to compete on equal terms with the quartz watch, which had threatened its future. The two most successful of the revolutionary escapements created by Daniels are the co-axial and the independent double-wheel, both of which found international support in the notoriously conservative watch industry. These escapements represented the first advance in their practical design since the invention of the lever escapement in 1754, first applied to the clock, later to the pocket-watch.

Obituaries for George Daniels appeared in the major newspapers, but none matched the invention and eloquence of the famous epitaph on the grave of another watchmaker, George Routleigh, who died in the village of Lydford, Devon, in 1802.

It used to be thought that Routleigh had composed his own epitaph, but it is now known that the words were published in an American almanac in 1797, the work of a free black American astronomer and mathematician called Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), who was also an amateur clockmaker.

Over two centuries, the stone lid of Routleigh’s tomb on which the epitaph was inscribed became so worn that it was in danger of being lost. So the decision was made to place the original lid inside St Petrock’s Church where it now hangs on the wall. In reads:

Here lies in horizontal position
The outside case of
George Routleigh, Watchmaker
Whose abilities in that line were an honour
To his profession:
Integrity was the mainspring,
And prudence the regulator
Of all the actions of his life.
Humane, generous and liberal
His hand never stopped
Till he had relieved distress;
So nicely regulated were all his movements
That he never went wrong
Except when set-a-going
By people
Who did not know his key.
Even then, he was easily
Set right again:
He had the art of disposing of his time
So well
That his hours glided away
In one continual round
Of pleasure and delight,
Till an unlucky moment put a period to
His existence;
He departed this life
November 14, 1802
Aged 57,
Wound up,
In hopes of being taken in hand
By his Maker,
And of being
Thoroughly cleaned, repaired and set-a-going
In the World to come.

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3 comments on “There’s no time like the present

  1. Peter Horsfield says:

    The cleverness of the epitaph has slipped my cogs. I’ll need a minute to wind myself up again to face the world.

  2. Erin Green says:

    I’ll have to find something equally fitting about beads for my epitaph.

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