Meet the man who made time flow again in Norwich
PUBLISHED: 16:05 04 April 2011
Archant © 2011
Rock climbing and clock making may not seem like the obvious combination but KATE SCOTTER finds out why Simon Michlmayr's two passions make the perfect partnership.
It was always a given that Simon Michlmayr would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a clockmaker.
As a child, his summer holidays were spent in his Austrian father Fritz’s workshop in Norwich, fiddling with clock mechanics and being fascinated by the work carried out by his dad.
More than 40 years on, Mr Michlmayr, now 46, continues to be fascinated by his job. “It’s a brilliant job,” said the former City of Norwich School pupil who grew up in the Park Lane area of Norwich with his father, mum Jill, sister Karen and brother Peter.
“I love my job – as well as fixing watches and clocks, we get to go into churches, cathedrals and all sorts of interesting places to work on clocks, it’s fascinating and a really interesting job.”
The most recent high-profile job Mr Michlmayr’s company, based in Ladysmith Road, off Silver Road, has undertaken is the fixing of Norwich’s City Hall clock.
It stopped during the first weekend of 2011, when the hands came to a halt at 10.30am.
At first, council bosses thought the cold weather had led to the lubricant in the timepiece freezing but major problems were uncovered.
It meant that the clock had to be completely stripped down and rebuilt at a cost of £13,000.
“The City Hall clock was a major overhaul job,” said Mr Michlmayr, who lives in Wicklewood, near Wymondham. “I’ve always wanted to look after the City Hall clock and have never had the opportunity to do so before. I was really pleased to do that.
“The clock had a combination of faults which had been exacerbated by the weather.
“We could have done some minor repairs and it would’ve held on for a bit longer but it wouldn’t have looked good if it broke down six months later and we didn’t want that to happen.
“The whole team put a lot of effort into it to make sure it was done quickly. We put in a lot of hours and people into it to make sure it got done.
“Everyone worked really hard and it was a big team effort.”
The job saw Mr Michlmayr and his team abseil down the side of City Hall’s clock tower to remove the clock hands.
“It’s a very big abseil and that was great fun,” said the keen rock climber. “I love rock climbing and have travelled all over the world to do it.
“Abseiling came from rock climbing – they’re different disciplines but it’s still working at heights and you get a feel for heights.”
Over the years, Mr Michlmayr has taken on a number of other high-profile cases.
The renowned clockmaker – who has run his current shop for 10 years and an outlet in Lawson Road, between Sprowston Road and Constitution Hill, for 15 years before that – helped GEI Autowrappers bring Norwich’s famed Gurney Clock up to date when it moved from Chapelfield Gardens to the Mall.
He has recently secured the job of fixing the clock at the Pavilion, the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital building, which has been out of action for more than 18 months and has been contracted to do the Guildhall clock.
One of his team’s biggest projects, however, was to reinstate the clock at Gunwharf Quays at Portsmouth Harbour in 2001.
Mr Michlmayr, who is married to Sharon and has a seven-year-old daughter Minnie, said: “The clock was blown off during World War Two so we built a new clock for that.
“We had to make four 14ft dials. When you come into and out of Portsmouth now, you see ‘our’ clock. It has a 10ft weathervane on top and we still go down there and maintain it. It’s the biggest clock we’ve ever built.”
The job, however, is not only concerned with fixing and making clocks and watches.
“It’s about uncovering history,” said Mr Michlmayr, who trained with his father before heading off to Hackney Technology College in London and then Switzerland to undertake the Watches of Switzerland Training Education Programme.
“We did one interesting dial at the building next to the army recruitment office in Magdalen Street. We couldn’t work out any of the artwork but it was to do with St Augustine’s. We found some pictures from the 1950s.
“Things like that can make the job really intriguing.
“It’s not just a job you are doing but finding out about history – how the clock was made, why it was made, there’s so much that goes into it.”
And whenever Mr Michlmayr, whose father owned shops in Bethel Street, Charing Cross and Pottergate before he became the service centre for watch company Omega, sees a broken clock, he cannot help but be intrigued.
“I walk around and look to see when clocks are not working,” he said. “I find it infuriating when I see a clock which is broken and generally get in contact to see if there is anything we can do to help. It’s an occupational hazard.”
But the one clock which Mr Michlmayr dreams of working on is Big Ben in London. “I know the clock, I’ve been inside the clock and I want to fix it when it breaks,” he said. “I want to abseil down it, it would be great.”
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