The late Phillip Gale.

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He belonged to that post-war generation of craftsmen, who still went through long apprenticeships to gain their skills, and honed them further as effective journeymen.

Phil was born in Guildford on October 11, 1947 and spent his school days at North Mead Primary School and Larch Avenue C of E Secondary School, which later became Bishop Reindorp School.

Phil originally wanted to be a silversmith. For some reason there was no training available locally and instead he became apprenticed at Stevens the clockmakers in Guildford in 1963 and attended Hackney College to study the British Horological Institute (BHI) course on day release for the next four years.

Good grounding

By his own account, homework was often done at the last minute on the train into London.

Although it seemed an almost Dickensian existence in the Guildford workshop, he obviously had an aptitude and acquired a good grounding, working on clocks, watches, automata, musical boxes, barometers and bird boxes.

After five years and two further years as an improver, Phil applied for a job as a civilian instrument maker at the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) workshops in Aldershot. His former boss did not want to lose him but couldn’t match the pay of £23 a week.

Phil worked for a number of years at the REME where his experience extended from military issue watches and office clocks, to all manner of instruments, instrumentation, calibration and optics that were in use by the armed forces - speedometers, binoculars, rangefinders - you name it.

He also witnessed the (what we would now call tragic) destruction of countless fusee dial clocks, the cases being burnt and the brass sent for scrap, as government offices moved to electric clocks.

Again, he felt he was being held back by being too good at what he did and hence too valuable an employee to lose; but this was never reflected in better pay. He eventually became responsible for writing some of the technical manuals describing the procedures for overhauling all sorts of equipment.

Bodmin bound

Phil married Sally in 1971 and after four years at the REME, while they were holidaying in Cornwall, Phil passed a factory in Bodmin advertising for instrument makers. He called in and was offered a job.

Realising they would never be able to afford a house in Guildford, he took the job and moved with Sally to Bodmin in 1975 to work at Flann Microwave.

His work there involved, among other things, precision gold soldering waveguides, in which the solder flowing around the inside corners had to be radiused to fine tolerances.

He was also taking in clocks to repair in his spare time at home and soon they were in a position to take out a mortgage and buy a small property in Nanstallon and so began their long association and involvement in the Bodmin community.

Later they bought a tumbledown cottage with a few attached fields at Criggan, moved into a tiny caravan on site, and while Phil continued to work at Flann Microwave, evenings and weekends were spent rebuilding the cottage.

After 15 years with Flann the time came to return to clockmaking full-time with a move in 1990 as a self-employed clockmaker to the prestigious clockmakers Galbraith’s which had opened a premises in Fowey.

Although self-employed he was put in charge of overseeing the workshop. Some years later he left to set up as an independent clockmaker in his own workshop at Criggan and never looked back.

Many associations

Phil was always an active member of the BHI, becoming a fellow in 1994. He joined the Antiquarian Horological Society, and the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors.

He became a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1999, Freeman of the City of London in 2000, and Liveryman of the WCC by 2002. He was extremely knowledgeable and was always bemoaning the lack of apprenticeships and youngsters coming into the trade.

His knowledge was encyclopaedic and he seemed to know everyone. He had a lot of high-end clients and high-end jobs having worked on Quares, Knibbs, Tompions and Mudges in his time. But he was never too proud to take on a 1970s German mass-produced clock for a neighbour, or a friend’s neighbour.

Although in recent years he had narrowed his field of work to mostly high-end jobs, his craftsmanship and knowledge covered all aspects of horology and allied items.

He was one of the few people in the world who could overhaul singing bird boxes, including re-feathering the birds – and for that work he had clients from around the globe. But they were skills he was happy to share and desperate to teach and pass on.

Horology was not his only interest, of course. Like many of his generation he had been a train-spotter and loved steam engines and any aspect of heavy engineering. But also the fine arts; and history in general and of Bodmin in particular with his long involvement with the Bodmin Museum; and almost anything concerning the skills, history and traditions of Old England in its industrial age.

Carpe Diem

Phil was ever optimistic and positive, characterised by his cheery nature; his generosity of time and know-how; and his willingness to get involved, both in local and in national affairs.

He lived by his motto ‘Carpe Diem’, and seize the day he did - usually with both hands.

He was a kind and considerate man, never forgetting to call, visit or write to the bereaved partners of friends and colleagues who passed away.

Phil was a true gentleman right to the end and will be very sorely missed.

From family