Meet the man who keeps Metamec clocks ticking in the heart of Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 February 2020 | UPDATED: 08:08 22 February 2020
Twenty-five years ago, one of the largest clock makers in the United Kingdom closed its factory doors for the final time, leaving hundreds of people unemployed. Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop met with one of Metamec’s former employees to find out why he is still repairing the world-renowned timepieces.
In a little shed, neatly tucked away in the back garden of a mid Norfolk home, is a tiny room known simply as the workshop.
For more than 25 years, Dereham man Richard Walker has tinkered away at tens of thousands of clocks and watches, restoring them back to their much-loved former glory.
But there is one make in particular which keeps his phone ringing with new business - Metamec.
What began as an offshoot of the furniture manufacturers Jentique in about 1941 quickly become an international producer of domestic clocks and, despite shutting its doors for the final time during the mid 1980s, has retained its celebrated reputation.
Metamec was once the largest clock maker in the United Kingdom.
At its peak, during the 1960s and 70s, more than 750 employees produced 25,000 clocks per week from its headquarters in the market town of Dereham. And during the life span of the company, around 350 different models of clock were developed and sold.
But unfortunately its success began to take a steep decline, blamed primarily on the penetration of the German clock industry and imports from the Far East, and Metamec went into receivership.
Mr Walker, who now fixes Metamec clocks for a living, remembers that fateful day well, as well as many other residents who still live in and around the town today. They describe images of men and women crying in the street after receiving the news back in December 1984.
The 74-year-old, of Tipton Close, Toftwood, worked in many different departments within the company. He said: "I remember talking to many friends and asking them if they knew if something was going to happen.
"When we were told the news I asked myself 'what am I going to do now' and thought about doing my own business - but that didn't work out.
"Around 80 people were kept on but more than 600 people lost their jobs that day."
Mr Walker worked as a technician for the repairs of clocks which came back to the factory under guarantee, either from shops or customers, and he would fix around 30 a day. Now he is able to take his time and can spend up to two days working on a single item.
The grandfather of two, who will be celebrating his golden wedding anniversary to wife Pauline this August, was one of the lucky few who retained his job when Metamec was purchased in January 1985 by FKI of Halifax, West Yorkshire.
The company continued to use the name until 1993, until the site was taken over by Ross Consumer Electronics before its closure in 1994.
By that point, Mr Walker had been made redundant and reemployed there three times, but that year the factory's doors closed for good.
"Before I left, I bought loads of stock which was being sold off - workbenches, filing cabinets, spare parts. It's been in my workshop here ever since.
"The thing with Metamec is that they were such good clocks and now they have become collectables and, for me personally, I don't want to let that die. I want to keep the Metamec name going."
The name, which is derived from "metal-work and mechanics", is famed for producing clocks to an exceptionally high standard.
Its first model was a mains-powered mantle clock numbered 701 and produced in approximately 1947. It was the start of an impressive factory expansion that saw the purchase of new machines to allow the business to create its own movements, rather than import from other clock companies.
As well as 701, Metamec became a manufacturer of the iconic Sunburst in chrome and teak but Mr Walker's favourite is simply known as Man with Windmill, and it takes pride of place plugged in to the wall in his workshop.
However his favourite thing to fix may come as a surprise - mechanical watches is where his passion lies, as he spent five years in Norwich completing an apprenticeship in horology from 1963 to 1968. Despite this, he said he had "fond memories" of working at Metamec.
"Most of the people were quite friendly and you would have chats with them. Occasionally there would be some upset of people doing wrong.
"They used to have night shift staff but several hundred clocks would sometimes go missing on those shifts so they soon stopped that. There would also be raffles, Christmas dos - those were good times."
Speaking about changes within Dereham since the closure of the factory, Mr Walker, who was born in Scole, near Diss, described it as a once "thriving town" after moving there in 1970.
Since the factory's closure, Mr Walker has repaired clocks and watches from around the globe including places such as Australia, the USA and Sweden.
Ironically though, he very rarely picks up on the noise of a ticking clock or even its chimes.
"When I first started fixing clocks, everyone was asking to contact me," he said.
"They used to ring me to ask if would I look at their clock and I would say yes if you send it to me."
· Do you have memories of working at Metamec? Please write in to the Letters Editor at Archant Norfolk, Breckland Business Centre, Saint Withburga Lane, Dereham, NR19 1FD or email firstname.lastname@example.org or EDPLetters@archant.co.uk.
Wedding gifts and a happy work place, what are your memories of Metamec?
The factory was torn down in the 2000s and replaced with houses now situated on the road named in memory of the site's impressive history - Metamec Drive.
From all corners of the globe there are many memories associated with the clock makers and readers have been sharing a few of their own.
Rop Honnor, now lives in one of the homes on the former factory site in Dereham. He said: "There is a covenant in our deeds preventing us from making or selling clocks from the premises."
Vivien Jack worked at the factory in the 1960s before being moved across the road to work in the transport office at Jentique. She added: "My dad, Jimmy Head, was a maintenance engineer at both factories."
Lynda Barnes, who now lives in Ireland, said: "I have a Metamec clock which is still going strong."
Vic George said: "My aunts, Cissie and Jean Murray worked there, one at Metamec the other at Jentique.
"Our wedding presents from them comprised Metamec clock, Jentique table and four chairs and a Jentique sideboard. Technically seconds but to all intents and purposes they were perfect."
Keith Odgers, of Dereham, said: "I was born in London and my nan and granddad had a Metamec clock. Never thought I would move to Dereham in the 70s and live in walking distance of the Metamec factory. I never knew what happened to the clock."
Jenny Hewitt, of Norwich, worked on the kick pressers when she left school in 1965. She said: "Lovely happy days working with all the people - Pat Howes, Val Savory, Betty Howard, Susan Swann, and many more."
Jackie Venables, of Norwich, said: "I worked at the printers who printed the clock faces, L. F. Everett & Sons."
Beverley Letchford, who now lives in New Zealand, added: "My husband, John Letchford, worked there in the late 60s for a while. We had a Metamec clock which came to New Zealand with us."
Gail Mystic, of Watton, said: "I worked there 1976 to 1979. It was a good job. We use to go Norfolk Kitchen lunch times - they were the days."
Maggie Chapman added: "Memories included working with lots of lovely people. One special lady when I first started Metamec - her name was Rosalind - she mothered me and brought me an apple in every day.
"Fridays our wages were brought round in the morning to every department in little brown envelopes just in time to walk into town on lunch break to spend some in Woolworths."
Linda George said: " I worked in assembly and made loads of friends. It was always a happy place to be and everyone got on. We used to sing songs while we worked and that means happiness all day and every day."
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