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What's He Building in There? spacer Issue 4
What's He Building in There? - At Clifton Engravers
by Richard West
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On Donegall Street is an engraver and fixer of clocks called Jack Clisdell. He has been in the building 30 years and to all appearances it has not changed much in that time apart from the collecting dust. The large blank door and impersonal buzzers are not very inviting. When the door is opened you find an old board listing companies that are probably long gone and some hand painted signs. Clifton engravings is on the second floor. Jack says that when he arrived the building was straight but since then with the troubles and them knocking down buildings to extend the bank (which never happened) 'you couldn't play marbles in it now with the slope in it'.
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Jack learnt his trade after he bluffed his way into Smith's, then the largest clock makers in the UK. A friend of his then wanted to set up an engraving business, 'an engraving machine is a money making machine' he said. He promised Jack a percentage of the profits if he would come and work with him. Eventually Jack ended up with his own business and has now been doing this kind of engraving probably longer than anyone else in the city. The fixing of clocks, which he used to do more of, has now almost completely died off. These were mains powered electric clocks which have been replaced by battery powered alternatives. He says that these old clocks could run forever if you put a little oil in them and were easy to fix if something went wrong. Today's clocks however are full of plastic parts that rot and can't be mended.
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'For years I kept parts on these shelves, you couldn't open the drawers for them. Out in the corridor there's a couple of bags with thousand of hands in them, I don't know why I ever kept them.' Jack has been clearing out the stuff he has accumulated in his time in the building. 'I must have put out a hundred bags', he says. Most of his business is small pieces of engraving: rings, lockets and plaques. The best work is trophies and plaques that come back every year to have a new winner inscribed on them. Some of these have been coming back to him since he started.
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He has no concern about this business being taken by more technologically advanced companies. 'I know people with computers, they can't do the simplest things, they send them over to me,' he says. He works with all metals including gold and silver and he gets in some old trophies that are made of silver but now increasingly the things he is given are electroplated.
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The future is unclear. He has no lease for his office. 'The building was on the market for twenty years and no one wanted it. Now it's changed hands twice in the last few years.' There are also other small indicators that things are changing in the area, a photographer from a Cathedral Quarter magazine came in to photograph him 'he stood on the desks and everything' and some Spanish photographers came and took photographs, 'they took hundred of pictures of the paint peeling on the ceiling!' Across the road, Sam the flute-maker has been shifted out of two premises by Laganside and it seems inevitable that rents will become higher and cheap places to work more difficult to come by.
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What's He Building in There? - At Clifton Engravers
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