Bakelite – and a perfect Wyn-win encounter

It started with a call out of the blue, delivered in a lovely Welsh lilt from a village near Carmarthen, west of Swansea. Two weeks later, over half a century of family history had been restored. And some Bakelite was gleaming on the Welsh dresser.


Enfield Bakelite mantel clock
I’ve got a clock. It doesn’t work.

“I’ve got an old clock that doesn’t work. How much should I pay to have it fixed?” asked Wyn.

It’s a nightmare of a question and the answer is tricky. He sent me a picture of the clock. He had been quite rightly quoted literally hundreds of pounds to service it. But the clock itself was worth only a fraction of the repair cost. Economically, it would be hard to justify doing it.

(When people baulk at how much a professional clock repairer charges for a complete overhaul of a Smith Enfield clock, I point them towards this article, quite old now but still relevant – “why I won’t be servicing your clock for £40”).

But clocks have histories. Their true worth lies in the stories they tell, the memories they evoke. How can you possibly put a value on that?

Housemaid to homeowner

Wyn had moved out of his family home at 16, leaving behind happy memories and his parents’ old Bakelite mantel clock whose ticking and chiming was etched indelibly into his being. It had been part of the soundtrack of his childhood.

Many years later, in 1986, his parents moved home again, taking with them the Bakelite Enfield mantel clock – a wedding anniversary present. They bought a house which had a long-established place in their family history. Deep in Carmarthenshire, Wyn’s parents moved back into the very house where his mother had worked as a humble maid when she was just eighteen years old. To return as the owners must have been a hugely proud moment.

Wyn’s beloved parents have now both passed. But 23 years after moving into that family home himself, Wyn yearned to hear the tick and chime of the mantel clock again, as a reminder of his parents and of his childhood.


He agreed to entrust me with the clock, and I promised to return it in no worse state than when it arrived. (That’s a promise I always try to keep!) I didn’t want paying, I insisted – I just wanted the pleasure of helping reconnect a man with his happy past.

A comfortingly familiar classic Enfield movement

The movement is classic Enfield, comfortingly familiar. Coaxing it back to life presented no issues. Amazingly, it required no re-bushing. The case was in Bakelite, a material I had never worked on before. And that too provided the surprisingly easy cosmetic uplift that brought the whole clock gleamingly alive.

You’re looking at the future, past


Bakelite is an early form of plastic. When it was created, and then patented in 1909, it offered a brilliant future. Strong, durable, mouldable, heat-resistant, non-conductive, scratch-resistant, it became a go-to material. Many kitchen, household and industrial items, including those new-fangled telephones and radios, featured Bakelite. In the 1920s, Coco-Chanel developed a range of Bakelite jewellery. In WW2, British army uniforms sported Bakelite buttons. There was even until recently a UK Bakelite Museum in Somerset. Sadly, its artefacts are now in storage, seeking a new home.

Coming clean

A suitable case for treatment

The case was wholesome. It had one slight crack on the rear panel where the door hinged. It didn’t compromise the operation of the door, so I left it. And just as I was preparing to return the clock, the plastic circular handle on the rear door snapped in its brittleness and needed repairing.

Enfield Bakelite mantel clock case
One slight crack on the rear of the case

But otherwise, a firm wipe down on the dulled, greasy thick dust film on the case worked wonders. Then the light application of liquid Brasso, thoroughly buffed off with a soft cloth, returned a fabulous sheen to the surface.

Work in progress

The mottled brown and black case was restored with a shiningly iridescent gloss coat. The same Brasso took the tarnish and blemishes out of the bezel. I simply used a damp cloth to clean the decades of fingermarks off the clock’s dial, always careful not to press too hard and compromise the painted black numbers.

And there it was, reassembled, in beat, striking once on the half hour and counting the hours on the hour, just as it would have done new. And it was ready to be homeward bound, accompanied by instructions on how to reattach the pendulum, set the clock in beat and adjust the speed.

Keeping the customer satisfied

“Better than I could have hoped for,” said Wyn when it arrived home. “It brings back so many fond and loving memories of my parents.”

Gee but it’s great to be back home – home is where I want to be.

And he sent me the picture of the clock restored to its rightful place, fittingly on the family’s Welsh dresser, in a homely lounge which no longer resounds to the sound of silence.

For me, for Wyn – a real Wyn-win.


To find out more about Bakelite – its history, properties and collectability – click here.

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