Sheffield clock and tool maker is the only one of his kind in the world and supplies Buckingham Palace

He supplies clockmakers’ tools for Buckingham Palace and is the only person in the world still doing this elite engineering.

Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 10:09 am

Meet Malcolm Wild, a proud Sheffielder whose life’s work has always been on time.

The 85-year-old is currently making an order of clockmakers depthing tools for the palace, which has scores of timepieces that depend on his tools for essential maintenance.

In simple terms, the tool is used to fix a clock's gears. They can take nine months to make and cost £950. By royal approval? Without them, time might stand still in the hallowed halls.

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Sheffield clockmaker Malcolm Wild. Picture Scott Merrylees

The first depthing tool he made was in 1977 when Malcolm went self-employed and it sold for £75. How times change and if anyone is qualified to talk about that, Malcolm is your man.

Born John Malcolm Wild, he went to school at Low Edges and failed his 11-plus after not enjoying his studies.

In fact, he couldn’t wait to leave and started work aged 15 working for Pneumatic Components Ltd on Eyre Street in Sheffield city centre.

“My dad had an electrical business but mum didn’t want me to join him because she didn’t think it would work out,” he says.

Sheffield clockmaker Malcolm Wild. Picture Scott Merrylees

Among many jobs, his father did the electrics for the beautiful Yorkshire Bank building on Fargate in the city centre and although father and son wouldn’t work together, dad helped his lad by mentioning Malcolm was looking for work to a pharmacist friend.

“The pharmacist knew people at PCL and that’s how I started, in the tool room doing precision work,” he says.

“Then I went in the drawing office to train to be a draughtsman.”

All the skills he would need in later life were being learned at an early age. Malcolm took evening classes so he could get into the engineering course at what was Sheffield Polytechnic.

But his training stopped as he did national service from 1958-60 and when he came out a chance encounter directed him towards clocks.

The MD of PCL was moving house and left boxes of the Model Engineering magazine outside his office.

Malcolm picked them up and found an article on clockmaking by Claude Reeve, renowned for inspiring model engineers to build one or more clocks.

“It fired my enthusiasm and was how I got into horology,” says Malcolm, a father-of-one.

Horology is the study of mechanical time-keeping devices and Malcolm is now a renowned expert in the field. But that comes later.

He left PCL in 1968 to join engineering firm AG Wild on Charlotte Road, Lowfield, which made roof supports for mines and then moved to Singlehurst Hydraulics in Pitsmoor as a draughtsman.

He got involved with inspection and maintenance work, all of which broadened his skill set.

This timeline was smooth until 1977 when the clock stopped for Malcolm after a bust-up with his boss over a lack of opportunities.

“I walked out,” he says and wondered what would be said at home.

“My wife said ‘stick to your guns, work for yourself’,” he says. She was loyal and he loved her.

“My wife was the best woman who ever walked the earth.”

He met Maragret at the former Locarno club on London Road and she always backed him.

Sadly, she died at 84 in 2020.

“I would not have been able to spend many long hours in the workshop without Margaret’s support. It was she who enabled me to achieve the things I did,” he says.

“All I had was £300 to start out, but I’d started my own workshop at 15 and had made a lathe.”

It was a beginning and what he did was to set up a business called J.M.W. (Clocks) based from his home near Graves Park, making specific horological tools.

Renowned for crafting at the highest levels of skill and precision, each Wild tool is presented in a specially fitted case for lasting protection. They are all stamped made in Sheffield.

“I’m a proud Sheffielder, always have been,” he says.

Examples of the tools include clockmakers staking tools which are used for riveting. These take six months to make and cost £850.

But he started by making the depthing tool.

“It was difficult getting the accuracy but I developed it over the years and improved. I’m still doing them now, the only one in the world who is,” he says.

The work is done on lathes in his shed and attic. He also fixes and restores clocks, often bought half made or poorly restored but transformed by him.

His pride and joy is a replica of a Victorian regulator. It is jewelled precision and the escapement design - the part which beats seconds - is the same as Big Ben’s.

The detail is incredible so no wonder it took five years to make.

Malcolm is surrounded by clocks in various states of repair and the ticking is inescapable.

“Don’t be getting more clocks,” he’s told by his daughter Louise, who lives in Dronfield.

One of his best creations is a skeleton clock which is a copy of James Condliff skeleton clock. Condliff is known in particular for his superb regulator and skeleton clocks.

As you might expect, Malcolm is well respected.

He was awarded the British Horological Institute’s Barrett Silver Medal in recognition of his major contributions to the craft and practice of horology.

It’s fitting because his interest started with a correspondence course run by the BHI and because he had been an engineer and a draughtsman he found he was getting good marks.

The BHI’s decision to award Malcolm the medal pays particular homage to his creation of specific workshop tools, and as the author of acclaimed horological books, including his most important title, Wheel and Pinion Cutting in Horology: a historical and practical guide.

He is a keen advocate of continuing horological education and donated a number of products for use at clockmaker and watchmaker training workshops at Upton Hall – home of the BHI, and is an Honorary President of the Sheffield Branch of the BHI.

Not bad for a lad who failed his 11 plus.

Happily, Malcolm shows no sign of slowing down.

“I’ll carry on for as long as I can,” he says.

“People always say I don’t sound 85 and I don’t want to be a doddering old bugger.”

His tools are sold worldwide and he’s always worked, even in the grim depression of the early 1980s.

“It was bad, I was knocking on doors, asking for work,” he recalls.

Malcolm can count legendary little mester Stan Shaw as a friend and owns one of the last knives Stan made before he died in February last year.

It is an exhibition knife with 12 blades.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” says Malcolm, respect from one craftsmen to another.

“Stan didn’t do drawings, it was all in his head,” he adds.

Fortunately, Malcolm has shared his knowledge which is why the BHI honoured him. He was pleased by the accolade.

“I was honoured to have been presented with the Barrett Silver Medal,” he says.

“I have spent the past 40 years designing and manufacturing tools and writing books for clockmakers and watchmakers, and I am most grateful to know that they are shared and used across the globe.”