Curator’s Choice – Capper Pass Time Clock

Posted: 19th April 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Capper Pass Time Clock

As the Collections Curator for the museums service, working cross-service, dealing with collections care and documentation for thousands of historic (and often pre-historic) objects, I work with a vast range of wonderful interesting items every day. I also look after two large storage warehouses full of objects from every museum in Hull, including transport, archaeology, social history, art and maritime history, so choosing a few highlights from the stores has not been easy.

This unusual item was found hidden at the back of several other large historic objects, when we moved our museum storage facility in 2016. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, with its large numbered wheel, wooden cabinet and clock face, but I was interested by the design and aged appearance. The faded label attached was the only clue as to its origin, stating the words ‘Capper Pass’.

I later discovered ‘Capper Pass’ was the name of a metal smelting company based on the outskirts of Hull at Melton, operating between 1937 and 1991, mainly dealing in tin, but also producing silver, lead, copper and gold. The plant was designed by a firm called Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners for the sum of £170,000, including a row of houses for plant workers to live in. It was also connected via rail to the Hull and Selby Railway Line. The plant was a major employer, starting out with 75 employees in 1937 and by 1952 over 400 people worked there with three blast furnaces operating simultaneously, melting down raw ore to separate out the pure metal, that could then be used to make a never ending variety of objects by other manufacturers. By 1980 the plant was creating 10% of the world’s tin production.

The object found in the museum store could easily date from the earlier period of the Capper Pass plant (late 1930s or 1940s). It is a radial clocking in machine, the design originally invented by Alexander Dey of Glasgow in 1888. The clock ensures that the exact time is known when the employee arrives and leaves the premises. Each worker would move the large leaver on the side so that the pointed end corresponded with their personal employee number on the dial. The punch would be registered on the paper roll on the large drum inside the cabinet, which could then be used to calculate wages at the end of the week, so a fundamental piece of equipment for both employer and employee.

The machine will require further study in order to ascertain the exact make and whether it has a serial number which would give it an accurate date, but I believe it is most likely to have been made by the International Time Recording Company, based in New York, with subsidiary businesses in the UK, opening outlets around the country including Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle. The company was eventually purchased by International Business Machines (IBM), which was one of the major founding corporations of the modern computer industry, responsible for introducing the first commercially available personal home computer in 1981.

It just goes to show that museum objects (particularly those hidden in stores) have a wealth of history just waiting to be discovered. In this case a dusty old label has led to a links to a major Hull industry and the birth of the computer revolution.

Written by Collections Manager Caroline Rhodes

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