In 1882, Queen Victoria ruled an Empire, whose parabolic arc was still rising, stretching across the World and upon which the Sun never set.
On May the 4th of that year in a small Yorkshire town called Yarm, a child (one of 12) was born and named Archibald Clapham. he was not to know then that he would spend the greater part of his life in one of the furthest and loveliest parts of that Empire, New Zealand, and leave a great legacy in a small Northland town called Whangarei.
Clapham’s Clock Museum is about to celebrate both Archie’s 130 th birthday and 50 years of Clapham’s National Clock Museum. What does a young man do, born into a large family with an un-sympathetic father? Obviously, run away to sea!
And travel as far away as possible seeking fame and fortune.
He found both in NZ.
Young Archibald was a child of the Industrial Revolution and, along with a sense of adventure, Archie was a budding engineer. it is said that on his seventh birhday his father gave him a small music box, and this started a life-long fascination with all things horological. Over his life, along with his professional career as an engineer, his interest and pleasure also included collecting not only clocks, but anything mechanical he could take apart, fix and put together again. His other great passion was soccer, pursueing the beautiful game. he was so good at it that he represented NZ twice against Australia. His “cap” is on display in the Museum.
Eventually Archibald Clapham settled in Whangarei, buying a farmhouse and land and started to seriously collect all types of clocks and music boxes, aided by a very generous inheritance. it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy! With his money he was able to travel around the country to various auctions buying clocks, in the days when no one knew their value and cared less.
Archie was well known for making his home available to visitors, sharing not only his clock collection with them, but also his garden and swimming pool. They came in bus loads and he loved it. I have not read what his wife thought of all of this!
One of his grandsons on a recent radio interview about Archie’s life called him “a hard case”, and he was certainly that. A short NZ Film Unit documentary on him, dated 1946, revealed his great sense of humour and the affection people held for him as he shared his sometimes rather bizaar time pieces with them. There is the whistling manakin,the barking dog,the dancing dolls, the Highlanders in their mini-skirts and twitching eyes everywhere!
Finally at the end of his interesting life Archibald Clapham gifted his precious collection of clocks to the people of Whangarei. Clapham’s Clock Museum is a fine legacy to a man who loved his family, enjoyed his community and through a particular passion for clocks, has left us with a treasured collection that is unique to this country.
This collection, that has grown to over a thousand pieces, has seen five homes over the past fifty years. Starting in John Street in 1962, it has made it intact to its present site at the Town Basin. The designers of the Museum obviously knew nothing about clocks, but those that have worked there over the years have been dedicated to the memory of Archie Clapham and his collection, sharing their knowledge and love of clocks to all locals and the many overseas visitors who are really amazed to stumble on this storehouse of exraordinary treasures.