Clocks in Past Time Environment

Berezhan watch manufacture was the first and only factory to produce “time witnesses and judges” in the Russian empire. It was built in 1789
When watches worth several thousands of dollars sparkle on wrists of bankers and other business sharks, I recall postcards with old towers, city clocks and sandglasses. How could people think out such devices to register every moment of our destiny! So, “The ancient clock still works, the ancient clock, witness and judge. When you used to enter my home, it sang hosanna to you, ringing all bells…” (A song by Alla Pugacheva).

It is a pity that postcards failed to reflect the watchmaking craft in Gorki District of Minsk Region. There is such a period in the Belarusian history, which has not yet revolutionised the world watchmaking business. However, Berezhan watch manufacture was the first and only factory to produce “time witnesses and judges” in the Russian empire. It was built in 1789.

What were they, Berezhan-Gorki watches? I called chief of the Mogilev region ethnographic team Vladimir Moiseyevich Livshits. Until recently he was director of Gorki ethnographic museum. But Vladimir Moiseyevich could add little to what had been already laid down by dry words in the encyclopaedia. But Livshits came across many ancient clocks in his quest for rarities.

“Actually, watches are not my hobby, though as a museum worker I was always interested in looking at them, thinking what kind of museum section I would place them… But unfortunately, I have not researched things related to Berezhan watch manufacture…”

Though, traces of the watch manufacture are so entangled today that even historians have a hard time finding them. The very village of Berezhan, where following an order of prince Potemkin a Swede named Nordstein set up a unique enterprise, was located in Dubrovo County of Gorki District in the end of the 18th century. Today there is no such village on the map neither in Mogilev nor Vitebsk regions. If we talk about the old history, we should remember that in 1794 Empress Catherine II ordered to relocate the enterprise to Yekaterinoslav (today it is Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine).

Grodno musicians and collectors pay closer attention to antique watches. Therefore, it was Grodno that hosted a remarkable exhibition several years ago. Under the title “You Can’t Tell Time to Wait You!” workers of Grodno State Historical and Archaeological Museum brought together a collection of pocket watches, wall clocks, long-case clocks, tower clocks, mantelshelf clocks, sandglasses, sun clocks and even the so-called portable chronometers. On the whole, around 100 exemplars were on display. There were only two movable clocks. One came from Italy, the other — from England. They were born in the 19th century. The oldest exhibit was a chime clock of the Jesuitic Cachedral of Grodno. To be exact, the exhibition showcased the hour plate, which was transferred to the museum after the original clock was restored.

Now the chime clock itself still gladdens hearts of Grodno residents and city guests. If you come to Grodno, visit Sovetskaya Square. Admire the light silhouette of the Jesuitical Cachedral, have a close look at the ancient clock. By the way, they say the mechanism has been kept in good condition since the 16th century. Perhaps, the chime clock is the oldest one in Europe… So, the Grodno sightseeing attraction is of a special kind. It is not by accident that city dwellers hurry to Sovetskaya Square even on new year nights.
Let us return from Grodno to Minsk region and pay a visit to old Dukora estate in our quest for old clocks. The time gradually erases its traces. Dukora Castle, which is well-known thanks to a picture by Nikolai Orda and many descriptions made by diligent travellers, who always stopped at the borough on their way, is an old history. Here is an impressive gatehouse, which will not last long but still guards the entrance to the castle. Once it was decorated with an attractive chime clock. I wonder how long Oshtorpa owners expected their work to last when they built a palace in Dukora, planted a park, and placed the conspicuous clock? Several years ago Pukhovichi enthusiasts published their idea to launch the Dukora chime clock in a local newspaper. But as it often happens it ended in talk. While in Dukora me and old ethnographer and first director of Pukhovichi district museum Vasiliy Nikitovich Svistun came up to the castle gatehouse.

“We could place a wonderful exhibition in the gatehouse! Even the clock would be able to decorate the building, to many it would remind of the brevity of life”, said Vasiliy Nikitovich as if he had been looking at the past times. As one of the most active collectors of Pukhovichi land information, he was most offended with the gatehouse fading away.

And winter in Dukora plays its own tune… “You can’t turn life around, time can’t be stopped even for a while. Though the night is long and my home is lonely, the ancient clock still works…” (the same song by Alla Pugacheva).

Ales Karlovsky

Postcards from
Vladimir Lihodedov’s collection
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