Alan Midleton is an authentic, passionate and enduring English horologist, president of the British Horological Institute.
1. Describe briefly your childhood
I had a generally happy London childhood. There were almost weekly visits to the zoo with my father and my mother would take my sisters and I to different museums and exhibitions which no doubt had a bearing on my choice of later career. My school life was not so happy as my school placed great emphasis on sport which has never interested me.
2. As a child, did you have any driving ambition?
In common with numberless other young boys, I wanted to be a locomotive driver and I was an enthusiastic train spotter. However, the demise of steam killed the romance of this dream. Nevertheless, I spent many hours in the Science Museum, South Kensington, studying the controls of the locomotives displayed there in case of a renaissance of steam locomotion. It has not happened yet.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
I must have been about five years old and went to stay with a friend who lived on a farm in Hampshire. I believe it was the first time I had left London and I was struck by the silence of the countryside, particularly in the early morning and evening. I decided then that I would live in the country in the future although finding anywhere quiet today is not easy.
4. Have you ever had another profession?
I did work in the banking sector in my twenties but I found the idea of looking after other people’s money for the next forty years rather depressing. When I told my department chief that I was leaving to become a clockmaker, his look of complete astonishment and disbelief is a memory I will always treasure.
5. What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in?
From an early age, I have had a consuming interest in history, and museums are the places where history becomes three-dimensional and bursts into life. I have always had a greater interest in the past than in the future so it is not surprising that I gravitated towards the museum world where the study and conservation of artefacts of the past is its core business.
6. What is the worst job you have had to do?
I am tempted to say my fledgling career in banking but I will confine my answer to Horology. Shortly after I had finished my horological training at Hackney Technical College, I was asked if I would look at a striking stable clock which had not worked for a number of years. Climbing into the roof of the stable, I found that the clock movement was missing and reported this to the stable manager. “Look again” he said, handing me a shovel. Returning to the stable roof, I discovered in an alcove a mound of pigeon nests and droppings around four feet tall. The clock was somewhere inside and I spent the rest of the day and the next exhuming the movement from its grave of moist pigeon excrement with my bare hands. I can still smell it to this day. This was probably the worst job I have ever had to do and certainly the most unpleasant. To add insult to injury, the job of repairing the clock was given to someone else.
7. What’s been the hardest moment of your life so far and how did you overcome it
These two questions can be answered in two words; illness and optimism.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you?
A difficult question to answer as I cannot say that any one person has had an overwhelming influence on me. Over the years, many fine clocks and watches have passed through my hands and I am constantly inspired by the ingenuity and workmanship of past horologists, some of them famous, others barely known. All of them have had an influence on me.
9. What are you most proud of?
Throughout my working life in horology, I have kept close to the organisation that trained me in this discipline, the British Horological Institute. I have worked for the Institute both as its museum curator and librarian and also as a tutor in the excellent BHI training program. The presidency of the BHI is the highest honour that can be awarded in the field of British horology and my election to this office in 2014 was both the proudest and the most humbling moment of my career.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something; someone thinking of taking a similar path to you?
11. Name three things on your bucket list
I do not have a bucket list as it seems to confine your life to a series of tick boxes. It could be that I lack imagination or maybe I am just content (smug?) with my life as it is.
12. Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 year’s time?
I think this is rather like trying to predict which horse will win the Grand National in ten year’s time.
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