Time is of the essence for dedicated clockmen

SUCH is the reputation of Edinburgh clockmakers James Ritchie & Son, established in 1809, that it seems the firm will be around until the end of time.

It has been operating these past 45 years in Broughton Street, and the hands-on men currently in charge, Ian Anderson and Alan Wilson, felt it was high time they were moving. Both are intent on perpetuating the Ritchie name and traditions, even though they have gone their separate ways.

It was a classic push-that-came-to-shove case. Ian explains: "Alan and I split in 2006. His speciality is outside clocks and he continues to trade as James Ritchie & Son (Clockmakers) Ltd. I've newly set up only a few blocks away, here at 35a Dundas Street, as James Ritchie & Son Watch and Clockmakers.

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"Confusing maybe, but we're more into retail, from grandfather clocks down. So we are keeping the name in the New Town. You might call us the old hands of the New Town.

The respective roles of Anderson and Wilson are clearly defined. One is virtually anchored in Edinburgh, the other in West Lothian at Broxburn.

West Countryman Ian, 58, became a Ritchie man 15 years ago. A man obsessed, on the face of it. "I eat and sleep clocks," he told me. "It's a passion and I don't mind saying so." Within seconds he conceded: "Although it affords us a comfortable living, watch making/repairing is a quirky trade. It's not rocket science, yet it has to be an exact one. We don't have a lot of youngsters coming into the trade from school but we'll train them, give them an apprenticeship, virtually from scratch.

"We have the expertise and the space to train up youngsters. The staff here are all Ritchie-trained. Germany makes most clocks now but, thinking ahead, who's going to be around to restore antique clocks 20 or 30 years from now?"

Fifer Alan Wilson, 56, has lived in Kirkcaldy all his days. Alan was an accountant when he joined Ritchie's in 1984. He was looking after the books when, he says, clocks got to him.

"I caught the bug from the company's then managing director. He had a practical grasp of the business and I learned from him. Ian and I were later to buy out the business," says Alan.

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"We service most of the outside clocks in Scotland, as well as some in the north of England and Ireland. These include two dozen in Edinburgh, where we have a rolling contract with the city council that has endured for decades.

"Of those, six are pillar clocks, among them Morningside, Tollcross, Lothian Road and Tron Square.

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"People keep enquiring about the clock that stood on the roundabout at the top of Leith Walk, removed a few months ago to make way for the trams.

"I can reassure them that it's safe in the council's storage facility at Penicuik. What they possibly don't know is that it was originally a lamp standard clock at the top of Waverley Bridge.

"In the late 1800s it was converted to a free-standing clock and moved to the junction of Queensferry Street and Princes Street outside Binns, now Frasers.

"It was later moved from there to the top of Leith Walk. A whole lot of people out there will want to see it de-mothballed and back in the public eye before long.

"We relocated to Broxburn five years ago, mainly because it's close to the motorways, convenient for our engineers heading to all parts of the country.

"But it's a relatively short hurl along the road to Princes Street and the Balmoral. We are still responsible for the hotel's famous tower clock, still sending men up there to ensure it's three or four minutes fast to spur travellers to catch their trains on time, changing it to the correct time only for midnight on Hogmanay."

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So with Ritchie's, a name that has stood for quality in and around Edinburgh for a couple of centuries, time is still of the essence, its future assured, safe with a couple of old hands.