Our clocking-in machine or ‘time recorder’ has been central to welcoming visitors since the Coffin Works opened in 2014. Visitors take their admissions tickets and ‘clock in’ for a tour, just as many Newman Brothers’ staff used to clock in for a shift at the factory. It’s always a topic of conversation, as our front-of-house volunteers will attest (I can hear Mary recalling the many times she’s bonded with a visitor over stories shared).
This is why it’s such a powerful object, because although we’re preserving a factory and its contents in situ as if time stood still, the memories that our clocking-in machine evokes for people are still very much living history. And it doesn’t even matter that the memories are not specific to Newman Brothers; making connections and feeling a sense of shared history in the past is what museums do best.
But let’s get to the point
If time recorders could talk, we’d ask “How old are you exactly?” and “how long have you been at the factory?”. These are the questions we’ve been asked more times than I can remember. When it was restored in 2014, I was told it was circa 1940s, with some 1960s modifications, and that’s the line we’ve been telling people for the last six years.
But now, through a chance find in a Newman Brothers’ business ledger that we acquired just two years ago, it appears that we now have the answer! Flicking through the ledger, I came across a page entitled ‘Office fixtures and fittings’ and an entry below illustrates that a ‘time recorder’ was bought on “31st July 1937” for a whopping £22, 6 shillings and six pence.
Is this ‘the’ time recorder, the one that sits proudly in our shop today, continuing to clock in visitors to the Newman Brothers’ manufactory? Most likely, yes. And to put this into context, that price back in 1937 is approximately the equivalent of £1,500 today, so an investment indeed. Newman Brothers certainly got their money’s worth out of it considering how long it was in use, and we’re continuing to keep it alive and kicking 83 years later so it can continue to clock the goings on at the factory for a few more shifts yet.