Geoffrey & Museums etc correspondence.


Letters of 1941 to 1952 between Geoffrey Gowlland (b. 1903) and Museums and individuals, trying to locate instruments made by his grandfather and/or others which several people claimed to have seen in the South Kensington Museums.



Geoff to The Science Museum – 25th October 1941



Dear Sirs


The writer has been trying very hard to trace back some parts of his family history for the benefit of colonial relatives.


It is said that there are, or were, two Horlogues [see Glossary] in the Museum engraved “George Gowland 1570 Canterbury fecit”.


Would you be kind enough at your convenience to see whether this information is correct, and whether you could add to it in connection with the donor of the instruments to your Museum.


The point we are particularly interested in is to verify that the name is spelt with two “L’s” as our other information leads us to think that only one single “L” was used in the spelling of the surname prior to 1740; and secondly whether the date itself is correct as our other evidence would lead us to expect that the instrument would be dated about the middle of the 18th century.


As a student at the College of Science some years ago, the writer was thoroughly familiar with your Instrument Section and does not recollect seeing any Gowlland marked instruments so that it seems possible that they would be in your Reserve Stores.


Thanking you in anticipation of your kind attention to this small matter




The Science Museum to Geoff  -  6th November 1941



Dear Sir


In reply to your letter of 28th October, I have to inform you that a careful and extensive search has been made in this Museum for the two objects to which you refer, and I regret to say that no records of any “Horologe” by George Gowlland are to be found here.


It is possible however that the objects you mention might have been exhibited in the old “South Kensington Museum” which was divided in 1909 into the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Science Museum.  Many objects relating to Time Measurement were at that time transferred to The Science Museum, but a number of the more decorative exhibits remained at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and it is just possible that the two Horlogues by George Gowlland to which you refer, might be in the possession of that Museum.




Geoff to The Science Museum  -  8th November 1941



Dear Sirs


We are just writing to that you very much for your letter of the 6th instant.


At different times, at least three people have mentioned these instruments, and we do think that there must be something about marked “Gowlland” somewhere.


We are immediately writing to The Victoria & Albert Museum and thank you for this suggestion.


If you should at any time come across any old instrument marked “Gowlland”, we wonder whether you would be kind enough to let us know, as we are very interested in these.


Yours faithfully




Dr H Shaw, Keeper, The Science Museum to Geoff  -  12th November 1941



Dear Sir


I should like to thank you for your letter of the 8th November, and to say in reply that in accordance with your request I shall be glad to keep a look out for any odd instrument marked Gowlland.


Should I have the good fortune to come across any instruments so marked, I shall of course be happy to let you know.


Yours faithfully,





Geoff to Clock Department, Victoria & Albert Museum  -  14th November 1941



Dear Sirs


Several people have mentioned to the writer at different times the existence in the South Kensington Museum of two Horlogues engraved “George Gowland 1570 Canterbury fecit”.


We have been in correspondence with the Science Museum who inform us that they have nothing there.  They suggest it is possible that when the collections were divided in 1909 that you might have the instruments referred to in your collection.


We are very interested in these stories which come from different sources and which all agree in fundamentals.


From other evidence, we should have expected instruments of this type to be about 150 or 200 years later: if the date is correct, then the name to be spelt “Gowland” – one “L” only.


Would you be kind enough at your leisure to look through your records and see whether you have any trace of such instruments?


Yours faithfully





Eric Maclagan Esq, Director and Secretary, Victoria & Albert Museum, to Geoff  -  17th November 1941



Dear Sir


In reply to your letter of the 14th November, I beg to say that the instruments to which you refer are not in this Museum.


Yours faithfully





Broadhurst Clarkson & Co to Geoff  -  8th December 1941



Dear Sirs


We are in receipt of your letter of the 6th inst., reference GPG/MA.  We have nothing to offer you at the moment, but we will bear your letter in mind, and should anything come along we will advise you.


Yours faithfully






W Watson & Sons Ltd  -  8th December 1941



Dear Sirs.



We beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated the 6th instant, and would advise you that we have nothing in our stock of second-hand instruments bearing your name.  If in the near future we purchase anything of this nature, we will let you know.





Geoff to The Science Museum  -  9th March 1942



Dear Sirs


In November of last year we had a little correspondence with you about some instruments in the museum labelled “Gowlland”.


The writer has made several attempts to get in touch with you on the telephone but so far without success.


We are therefore writing to explain matters a little more and to ask whether you have an opportunity, if you would be kind enough, to see whether there is anything you can add to this information.


Four separate persons have asserted that they have seen these instruments, mostly in the 1920’s.  The most likely explanation of their inclusion in your Museum has been given by a correspondent in Bournemouth.


During the early part of this century, a Mr Maya (?) specialised in collection old scientific instruments, and advertised consistently week by week in suitable Journals.  He built up a very large collection of early instruments of all sorts and conditions, including the Gowlland instruments in question.


On his death, somewhere around 1909, his collection was split up into three parts.  The cream of it was given, left or lent to your Museum, one part was sold to Messrs Milliken & Lawley, and the other to Messrs Clarksons.


All my informants agree in saying that there were two Gowlland made Nautical Clocks or Chronometers.  We believe that at an early period these were usually termed Horlogues.


In addition, one of my informants is quite clear that there was a Sextant [marked “Gowlland”] exhibited in your Museum at one period.


The writer called one Saturday but found the Museum to be shut.


Armed with this additional information, do you think you could look a little further into this matter?


As one of the present-day representatives of a long line of Instruments Makers, the write is naturally keenly interested in productions of his forebears.  In addition, the way of spelling the surname, and the date, might lead to some other information in connection with the family which cannot be obtained elsewhere at the present time.


Yours faithfully,




Letter from H Shaw, Keeper, The Science Museum, London to Geoff  -  30th March 1942





I must apologise for the long delay in replying to your letter regarding early instruments by Gowlland which were thought to be in this Museum, but the various points raised in your letter have necessitated an extensive search though the Museum records.


I have made a complete investigation into the various suggestions you were able to offer, but I regret to inform you that I have been unable to trace any useful information.


With regard to Mr Mayall’s Collection, the bulk of which is supposed to have come to this Museum on his death somewhere about 1909, I have had a careful and thorough examination made of the Museum Inventory records between the years 1906 and 1914, but have failed to trace any name resembling that of Mayall, or any instrument bearing the name of Gowlland.


I have also consulted the officer (now retired) who was in charge of the Time Measurement Collections at the time to which you refer, but I regret that he has not been able to throw any light on the matter.


I fully appreciate your quite natural interest in the early instruments made by your forebears, and, should I come across any such instrument or any information on this subject likely to be of interest to you, I shall be pleased to pass it on to you.


I am, Sir, your obedient Servant     . . . . .  




Letter from Geoff to Dr Shaw, Keeper, The Science Museum  -  31st March 1942



Dear Dr Shaw


It was very kind of you to take the trouble which led up to your letter of the 30th March for which we thank you.


It seems so very curious that several independent people claim to have seen the instruments in your Museum in the past.  Unfortunately contact is only possible with one of these, so that I have not much opportunity of going further into the matter.


If by any chance such instruments should at any time come to your notice, I do hope you will remember to inform us.


Thank you once again for your kind attention.


Yours faithfully    . . . .




Letter from John Morris, Cresset Press, 11 Fitzroy Square, London W 1, to Geoff  -  5th November 1943



Dear Sir



Pressure of work has prevented me from replying to your kind letter of 16th October [no copy preserved, unfortunately] before this.  Thank you very much for your remarks.


I have not been able to trace very much about Mr Gowland; but I find that in Walter Weston’s “Playground of the Far East” (John Murray 1918) he is called Professor W Gowlland.  His name is also mentioned in the various Japanese official handbooks etc, and I understand that he had some official post in connection with the Mint at Osaka, probably engineer in charge. 


At any rate, I think you can be quite sure that the name is as spelled – that is, with only one “L” and not, as you suggest, with two.


I am sorry not to be able to give you any further information, and I doubt whether there is anybody now living who knew Mr Gowland.  I imagine that Mr Weston was about the last of his generation, and he died some years ago.  I met him shortly before his death, but he was already a very old man and his memories of Japan had already rather faded into the past.


Yours truly





Dr R S Clay, Fortis Green, London N 2  -  10th November 1952



Dear Sir


I was interested in your letter asking if I could give you information relating to the early history of your firm.


Mr Court collected particulars about instrument makers from all the sources he could find, and compiled a long list which is published in our book on the “History of the Microscope”, [sic] by Ch. Griffin.  I have looked into this list, but regret to say that there is no Gowland in the list.



I am sorry that I am not able to help you therefore.


Yours sincerely



Geoff to Mr Thomas H Court, The Newcomen Society – 30th October 1952


Dear Sir

In the “Edgar Allen News” of June 1952 [Edgar Allen Limited manufactured specialised steel – their quarterly magazine contained articles on all aspects of engineering, not simply concerning steel] was a report of a most interesting lecture given by yourself and Dr R S Clay on English Instrument Makers in the 18th Century.

My family has been connected with the light engineering industry for a long while, and during the 19th Century at least four of my forebears were engaged in instrument making.

From the notes of the lecture, it appears that you have made a collection of names and addresses and I wonder whether you would be kind enough to advise me whether there are any Gowllands (spelt with double “L”, please) at all.

My family lived round and to the north of Canterbury in Kent.  There is another family (spelt Gowland – one “L”) who mostly have lived in Durham.

On the Family Tree which I have been preparing for anumber of years is a Stephen Gowlland, born 1772, sometimes described as a cooper, but on other occasions as an engineer.  He was a Freeman of the City of Canterbury.

One of his brothers, Thomas, born 1799, was a tinsmith, who worked in Sun Street, Canterbury.

My great-grandfather, George Castle Gowlland, born 1804, was a nautical instrument maker of Ratcliffe, London E.1.

My grandfather, George Gowlland, born 1837, was an optical and microscope maker of Highbury.  Most of his products went under the name of “Henry Crouch”.

[Contemporary confirmation of this seems to be impossible  -  Geoff always insisted that this was the trade name George Gowlland used, but at the moment there seems to be some uncertainty about it – one archive mentions a “visit to Henry Crouch’s factory”, and another refers to a “lecture given by Henry Crouch”]

One of the brothers of George Gowlland was named Arthur, born 1832, and he was a watchmaker of Enfield.  Another brother, Alfred, born 1839, was an engineer in Holloway, North London.

From the notepaper [Geoff was writing on Gowlland Limited’s headed paper] you will see that both my father and I are Surgical and Ophthalmic Instruments makers, and it is rather interesting that both my schoolboy sons are showing a very decided bent for light engineering already [wishful thinking on Geoff’s part, as far as his younger son was concerned].

Information of the kind you possess is so very difficult to come by that I assure you that I would be most grateful if you happen to have any entries in your records of which you could let me have copies. 

Thanking you in anticipation of your co-operation.

Yours faithfully ….




Geoff to Dr R S Clay  -  13th November 1952



Dear Sir


I am very grateful to you for your kind letter of the 10th November but I am disappointed that there are no Gowlland entries.


I had seen your book “History of the Microscope”, but the references in the report of the lecture made it sound as though Mr Court had additional names on his own list.


It was always been claimed in my family that very few of us made instruments under our own names, and indeed two of my cousins, who work in other engineering fields, both use trade names and not their own surnames.


Yours sincerely




Dr G H Adams, Director of the Science Museum, to Geoff  -  4th March 1954



Dear Sir


With reference to your letter of 21st October, 1953, I have recently come across the following information which may relate to the clock you mentioned.


James Gowland [one “L”] took out Patent No 7456 in 1837 for a “certain improvement in the mechanism of timekeepers”.  It was a device for communicating motion to a balance through the balance spring.  He exhibited a tourbillon remontoir chronometer incorporating this and also a model of the escapement at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  He also exhibited an improved free pendulum regulator; skeleton clock with improved compensation pendulum; models of Earnshaw’s escapement; an electric clock; an improved anemometer; and various specimens of watches.

He was a watchmaker, turret clockmaker and chronometer maker at 11, Leathersellers’ Buildings, London Wall in 1835 and at 52, London Wall in 1851, and died in 1880. 

I shall be interested to learn whether he can be identified as a former member of your family.

Yours faithfully  . …..



Geoff to Dr G H Adams, Science Museum -  11th March 1954


Dear Sir

I thank you very much for your interesting letter of the 4th March.

There is little doubt that this chronometer shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition was the original of the story I have heard from several sources.

Personally I have no doubt that the James Gowland referred to is a member of the well-known Durham family who have kept the same name since the middle of the 16th Century.

I believe that the direct descendants of this James Gowland are still in business as jewellers – the present firm being Messrs Gowland Bros Ltd of 48 Cornhill, London E C 3.

The surname of our family has changed slowly from Cowland in the 16th Century to Gowland in the 17th Century, and the Gowlland spelling was adopted at the end of the 18th Century.

Most of the family lived either in or close to Canterbury in Kent, and latterly in the East End of London.

I would like to say how much I appreciate your kindness in following up my letter of the 21st March: I am naturally disappointed that it was not one of my family’s instruments that was exhibited.

 Yours faithfully,