A chance find has reconnected a Newcastle writer with a 200-year-old piece of her family history.
Cindy Lightburn, whose ancestors ran a well-known clockmakers’ business, is now the proud owner of a mahogany barometer, bearing her Maule family name, which was discovered in an antique shop in Northumberland.
Maule – which is Cindy’s maiden name – made clocks and watches on the High Street in Wooler for more than 100 years before the business moved to Blackett Street, Newcastle, in 1855, operating as a watchmakers and jewellers shop.
The family name remains well-known in Wooler and when Hamish Dunn, owner of a local antique shop opposite where the Maule family’s premises used to be, learned that a nearby antique dealer had chanced upon a barometer which bore an engraved plate reading “I. Maule, Wooler”, he called Cindy.
She said: “I’d never heard of a barometer in the family and when I went up there and saw it, it was unbelievable – a lovely surprise.”
She added: “They think it came from an estate, some property in Alnwick. It could have been a one-off, somebody may have ordered it – we’ve no idea.”
The banjo-shape instrument which dates, she thinks, from almost 200 years ago, has a hygrometer, measuring humidity; a mercury-filled thermometer; a clock; and a setting knob and spirit level next to the I Maule nameplate. It measures air pressure to forecast short-term weather.
“I Maule was my great-great-grandfather John and the ‘I’ was regularly used in place of the ‘J’ back in the day,” explains Cindy.
But the instrument was in a sorry state and needed major restoration.
Local clock and barometer enthusiast Peter Fenwick, from Morpeth, did most of the technical work while Cindy herself got hands-on in cleaning the blackened brass rims, covered in decades of built-up grime.
Several weeks of meticulous work later and the transformed barometer, re-silvered and polished, is now hanging in the hall of her home, a very special addition to the family-made clocks and watches the writer and freelance journalist has collected over the years.
The family business came to an end with Cindy’s grandparents, the long-gone shop in Newcastle’s Old Eldon Square a victim to changing fortunes during two world wars and cheaper imports becoming available from America.