Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s weekly career journey series.
This week we’re chatting with Billy Marshall, founder of Marshall Clocks, a clock repair company based in York.
At only 26 years old, he’s at an unusual age to work in this trade.
Thinking he’d become a musician, the plan changed when the pandemic hit and life came to a standstill.
Thankfully, he hasn’t looked back since he threw himself into horology.
Here’s how he made it happen.
Hi Billy. When did you first get introduced to antique clocks?
As a young child in a pushchair, my parents used to sit in front of their longcase clock. I would watch the pendulum swinging back and forth for hours.
At a similar age, I have a vivid memory of going on holiday to Bamburgh Castle and pointing out every single clock I saw. Not being able to say ‘clock’ at the time, or even ‘tick tock,’ I used to shout out: ‘ta too!’
I learned the basics as a teenager, watching my father repair and restore antique clocks. Through university, I earned money buying and restoring old clocks, then selling them on for a profit.
What made you decide to make this your career?
After studying French Horn at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I was hoping for a career as a performer.
I graduated in the summer of 2019, and – having studied music all my life – decided to work in a clock shop during my gap year.
In 2020, though, the world changed. As all the classical concerts were cancelled – and with no foreseeable end to coronavirus – I decided to make horology my career.
What kind of training have you done, or is it a skill you learn more through experience?
As a third-generation clock repairer, most of the machining, repair, and conservation skills I learned through watching my father from a very young age.
I gained a lot of commercial experience working in a team of esteemed horologists in a shop just outside of London.
Did you work for a company before starting your own? What was the transition like?
Yes, I worked for a large and well-established company in London for a number of years.
After deciding I wanted to move out of London, the two options were either to apply to other clock workshops around the country, or set up on my own. I took a big leap, and decided to set up my own company.
During the last two years of working in London, I saved every penny to buy my own equipment (small lathes, a milling machine, a watch-cleaning machine, etc).
I was very lucky that my father had some of the machines and tooling I needed to get started. Some of the tools I use every day once belonged to distant ancestors – I have several hammers engraved with the initials of my grandfather and great-grandfathers.
The transition was hard – I wasn’t just working on clocks anymore. Now, I speak to customers, reply to emails, create and update the website, create a brand on social media, and keep track of my finances. It’s a lot more stressful, but also more rewarding.
What’s it like being young in a typically old industry?
It doesn’t phase me at all – I love working with artifacts that have such a rich history, and people will always want their clocks restored.
These objects often have a lot of memories attached to them, too, so it’s a pleasure to breathe life back into them.
Being young also provides opportunities. I’ve loved growing my Instagram account, and engaging with other clock makers, restorers, or just people who are interested in the art. It’s great showing people what’s involved behind the scenes.
An average day in the working life of Billy Marshall
8.30am: Arrive at the workshop and set up for the day.
9-10am: Disassemble a clock movement.
10am-12pm: Meet customers for consultations, or deliver clocks back to existing customers.
12-1pm: Assess clock movement, come up with a conservation strategy and start work on it.
1-1.30pm: Time for lunch.
1.30-5.30pm: Continue working on clock movement and take any client calls as they come in.
5:30-6pm: Respond to client emails.
What do you love most about your job?
The best part of the job is returning a working family heirloom back to a customer. It always makes their day.
It doesn’t matter whether the clock is worth £30 or £30,000 – every clock is like a piece of kinetic art, and has sentimental value to someone.
What do you dislike the most?
As my own boss, the hardest part is knowing when to stop working, and take some time off.
For the first year, I worked seven days a week. I’ve now learned that time off is just as important as time in the workshop.
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