The "Other" Hope-Jones
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The “Other” Hope-Jones


by Colin Pykett


Posted: June 2006

Last revised: 6 July 2020

Copyright © C E Pykett



Abstract.  All organ enthusiasts know about Robert Hope-Jones.  All clock enthusiasts know about Frank, his brother. But that seems to be that - there seems to be little knowledge of the one beyond the horizon of the other, and little historical cross-referencing between the two of them seems to exist.  This article does not purport to be anything other than an introduction to Frank and his work for those organ devotees who might be unaware of him, but hopefully it will be of some interest.  It draws some fascinating parallels between the technologies invented by the two brothers and between their personalities, and it ponders on the remarkable fact that both were ground-breaking innovators within their respective spheres of activity.  Both also seemed to have had an entrepreneurial appetite beyond the average.  The names of both men continue to reverberate today and it is this which makes it worthwhile looking at them in this article.



(click on the titles below to access the desired section)






The Synchronome


Dry Cells


Their Paths Diverge




Six Pips


The John Compton Connection







Appendix 1 - The Synchronome Clock System


Appendix 2 - Energy Consumption in the Synchronome Clock System


Notes and References




Above - the two are clearly from the same stock even if one was previously unaware of it.  For example, compare the pendulous lower lips and ear lobes.  Thanks to the publishers of The Organ for permission to reproduce the picture of Robert.




Frank in later life - looking the epitome of the famous, content and successful businessman that he was!  His face still bears those Hope-Jones familial characteristics all those years later.  Thanks to a correspondent who wished to remain anonymous for this picture.




All organ enthusiasts know about Robert Hope-Jones.  All clock enthusiasts know about Frank, his brother. But that seems to be that - there seems to be little knowledge of the one beyond the horizon of the other, and little historical cross-referencing between the two of them seems to exist.  Therefore this article has two main functions: firstly it is an introduction to Frank and his work for those organ devotees who might be unaware of him, and secondly it draws some fascinating parallels between the technologies invented by the two brothers and between their personalities.  Of course, if horologists should happen upon it, the article might also perform the reverse function of introducing our friend Robert to them.


The article ponders on the remarkable fact that both men were ground-breaking innovators within their respective spheres of activity, and that both also seemed to have had an entrepreneurial appetite beyond the average.  Above all, the names of both men continue to reverberate today and it is this which makes it worthwhile looking at them in this article.  To illustrate some aspects of Frank’s life and work I found it necessary to dwell also on some of Robert’s that might already be known to some readers from the organ world.  This was because it was their start in life as siblings which resulted in some elements of their later activities, and this became increasingly obvious as I was compiling the article.  To understand one it is necessary to know about the other.  You cannot understand honeysuckle if you only look at its separate strands.


But let us begin with Frank.  To horologists his name is synonymous with electric timekeepers and the Synchronome system in particular.  The latter is so important, both in itself and to this narrative, that I have described it in detail.  Curiously, these details do not appear frequently in the horological literature, presumably because they are assumed to be obvious to those of that brotherhood.  Therefore I considered it all the more important to record them here, albeit consigned to Appendices so they do not impede the flow of the narrative.  Some other details in the text which can be skipped without significant loss of comprehension have a smaller typeface.


Frank Hope-Jones was an extremely able, gifted man who was not only a professional horologist but one who played a key role in the early development of radio broadcasting.  Most importantly in the latter connection, his invention of the ‘Greenwich Pips’ time signal made his name almost a household word in this country between the two world wars, particularly as he gave popular radio broadcasts on this and related matters.  A list of his credentials makes impressive reading: 

Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (as was Robert);

Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society;

Fellow, Chairman, Vice-President and Gold Medallist of the British Horological Institute;

Honorary Member of the Horological Institute of America;

Honorary Member of the Horological Society of New York;

First Fellow of the New Zealand Horological Institute;

First Chairman of the Wireless Society of London;

Chairman of the Radio Society of Great Britain;

Medallist, the Royal Society of Arts, London, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, and the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia.

From this it is obvious that he was no ordinary man; he was known and fêted the world over both in specialist circles and in the popular media.  It is therefore well worth while spending more time looking at his achievements, in conjunction with those of his brother Robert.  The two of them cannot be looked at in isolation, as will become clear from what follows.




Robert and Frank were two of the nine (possibly ten) children born to William and Agnes Hope-Jones who had married in 1853.  Robert arrived in 1859 and Frank, the youngest, in 1867.   At first the family lived in a style of considerable opulence in Hooton Grange, a large mansion of almost stately home proportions on the Wirral [12], but things changed suddenly and considerably in 1872 when the boys’ father died.  That year the family crowded into a small semi-detached house whose chief characteristic was extreme ordinariness, a stark contrast to their former lifestyle which could only have amplified the shock of William’s death.  However it is possible this cataclysmic change was partly the result of deliberate choice on Agnes’s part rather than one entirely forced on them by some adverse consequence of her late husband’s estate.  Robert, thirteen that same turbulent year, was immediately sent to a good fee-paying school which most if not all of his six brothers, including Frank, also attended in their turn.  This suggests that Mrs Hope-Jones, gentlewoman though she was, was rather more hard headed and able to cope in trying circumstances than the usual archetype of simpering Victorian womanhood which Dickens loved to depict.  She was clearly determined to do the best for her children with the assets available to her, and she attempted successfully to eke them out as long as possible.


When he was seventeen, in 1876, Robert became an apprentice at Laird’s shipbuilders in Birkenhead.  Frank was still a little boy, and in view of his later interest in and aptitude for things mechanical and electromechanical, he must have been fascinated by what he heard from his older brother of the then-exotic and burgeoning world of engineering so important to Britain’s supremacy in the world.  When Robert moved on rapidly to assume a senior position in a local telephone company a few years later, it is not only probable but certain that Frank must have gained much knowledge from his brother of batteries, electromagnets, relays and the other things which obviously moulded his subsequent career.  Batteries and magnets.  With them, one brother changed the world of organ building.  The other changed that of clocks.  Both remain famous for their work.  It is remarkable.


By the early 1880’s we find Robert as organist and choirmaster at the newly built church of  St Luke, Tranmere.  Frank was also musical – he played the cornet and may have sung in his brother’s choir.  By 1890 Robert had resigned from the telephone company and established himself as an organ builder.  He had just rebuilt the organ at St John’s, Birkenhead using an electric action of  his own design, much of which was entirely novel.  In particular, the circuits and engineering concepts he used were advanced for their time.   They owed much to his experience as a telephone engineer and it is doubtful that most other organ builders of the day could even understand them, let alone duplicate them.  By then he was 31 and Frank 23.  It is interesting to speculate how closely Frank was involved in the St John’s organ project, because it was the product of much spare time effort on the part of sundry choir members and friends from the telephone company.  It would be surprising if he had not been drawn in as well.  Indeed, by 1893 Frank was identified as company secretary on the letterhead of Robert's first business venture, The Hope-Jones Electric Organ Company Ltd, so it is obvious the two were working closely at that time [16].


The Synchronome


A few years later, by the time Robert had achieved fame by building several large organs such as that at Worcester cathedral (1896), Frank was well into launching his own career as a designer and maker of electric clocks.  According to the records of the present-day company Tann Synchronome, he founded his Synchronome Company of London in 1895 when he was 28.  


To understand the antecedents of this key event it is necessary to look at some of his precursor activities and thinking.  Not content with merely adding an automatic electric winding facility to conventional weight-driven or spring-driven clocks, in which he showed little interest, Frank wanted to simplify their mechanism as much as possible.  More than that, he had a vision which led him to develop a timepiece of such accuracy that it was used by astronomical observatories throughout the world until displaced in the 1950’s by wholly electronic devices.  To appreciate the novelty of his work it is necessary for us to review, as he must have done, the properties of the traditional mechanical escapement that had hitherto been used in pendulum clocks.  As it swings, such a pendulum periodically releases an escapement which also gives it an impulse to keep it going. Two major shortcomings of this arrangement are the continuous friction set up between the pendulum and the escapement, and the fact that the impulse occurs at the wrong point of the oscillation of the pendulum – instead of impulsing the pendulum at the base of its stroke when its speed is at a maximum, the impulse occurs when it is scarcely moving at all, or sometimes even moving in the opposite direction. 


From his earliest work it is quite clear that Frank understood fully the surprisingly complex physics of the apparently simple pendulum.  He realised that a pendulum is a resonant oscillator whose energy transmutes continually from a state in which it is fully kinetic (at the base of its swing) to one where it is entirely potential (at the extremities).  It is identical in principle to an electrical resonant circuit in which the stored energy shuttles between the capacitor and the inductor.  It cannot be purely coincidental that the time when Frank was refining his ideas overlapped with the activities of Hertz, Marconi and others who were beginning to understand the properties of electrical resonance in the tuned circuits used for their early work on wireless telegraphy.  Because the basic physics of all resonant systems is the same, he and the others must have absorbed at least some of it from the writings of people such as Oliver Lodge, and his keen interest in radio (of which more later) lends support to this suggestion.  All of them understood that it was important to minimise the energy losses in their resonators, whether they were electrical or mechanical, if they were to work successfully.


In the case of pendulums, this meant that the friction due to the escapement had to be minimised or done away with altogether.  Only when this was achieved would the timekeeping of a pendulum clock be improved, because a low-loss resonator resonates more sharply at its tuned frequency – it has a high Q factor.  It is difficult to make a pendulum with low frictional losses oscillate with a period other than that for which it was designed, whereas if the losses are high it can be persuaded more easily by its escapement to swing at the wrong rate.

Frank’s vision was to use electricity to realise the long-sought-after goal of a free pendulum, one which was not connected to the traditional lossy mechanical escapement.  In achieving this goal he also invented a mechanism of a simplicity that was transcendental in its beauty of conception.  It is fascinating that Robert, too, had a long term vision in his field of endeavour which also relied on electricity and which went decades beyond anything he ever did with organs during his lifetime: he invented the idea of the pipeless organ using additive synthesis which is still used in some of today’s digital organs [5].  Both saw the realisation of their respective insights in terms of magnets, coils and batteries, indeed engineers had nothing else at the time we are speaking of (the 1890’s).  Thus again we see a intriguing parallel between the two brothers in their ability to set visionary long term goals for themselves using the basic technology of the day.


A partial implementation of Frank’s ideas was first applied by him and G B Bowell to an old skeleton pendulum clock of the type which reposed under a glass dome, and it is said that this clock had once been in the children’s nursery at Hooton Grange.  Whether this was so or not, such a clock was definitely modified in the mid-1890’s, and it represented an early version of what he called the Synchronome remontoire or electrically-maintained pendulum.  It is now in the London Science Museum.  Most of the mechanism in this clock was discarded in favour of a novel system which impulsed the pendulum every half-minute by means of a weighted arm which was then immediately reset by an electromagnet.   However this clock still retained its escapement wheel and pendulum-operated pallets, and therefore the pendulum was not a free pendulum as Frank wished.  Subsequently he so simplified the Synchronome mechanism that there remained only a single toothed wheel in the entire system, and in that form the pendulum was virtually free.  Moreover, the impulse occurred as the pendulum was near the base of its swing due to an impulsing mechanism of subtle design.


But Frank went yet further.  Because the Synchronome pendulum was impulsed by an electric circuit every half-minute, he saw that the same electrical impulse could be used to drive not only the hands of the clock itself, but as many other hands on as many other subsidiary dials as desired.  This became the Synchronome system in its final form which was later to be found in countless premises world wide.  All dials would indicate exactly the same time, and the pendulum controlled clock (Figure 1) would keep near-perfect time.  Many readers of this article will doubtless be able to remember the clocks on the walls of their schoolrooms or workplaces which “ticked” loudly every half minute, maybe while they were in the silence of an examination hall.  Not all such commercial systems were necessarily made by the Synchronome Company after its original patents expired, but they used similar principles.  Typically a Synchronome system would keep time to within a few seconds per week.  The system is described in Appendix 1 for those who desire more information.


Dry Cells


A Synchronome clock system was able to run on dry batteries for months, even years, on end because the impulses every half-minute were so short, indeed dry cells were Frank’s own recommended means of powering a Synchronome system [3, p.52].  The association of dry cells with the two brothers is fascinating in itself.  Appendix 2 to this article proves that dry cells would have been entirely adequate for the job, should there be any lingering doubt.


Robert also fiercely maintained at the start of his organ building career that a single dry cell would power the actions of his largest organs for several months [1, 2].  The claims made by the two men for their respective technologies were therefore almost identical to the letter.  Unfortunately, while Frank’s statements were truthful, those of Robert were wholly false.  I have discussed this in detail elsewhere on this website [2].  This discrepancy throws light on their characters, a subject discussed later on.


Their Paths Diverge


By the early years of the 20th century Robert had built a large number of organs in Britain, many of which were very small yet with distinctive characters quite the equal of his large and better known instruments.  Some had only a single manual with a handful of stops, but even they sported a Diaphone on the pedals!  Few Hope-Jones organs exist now, and knowledge of the smaller ones has never been widespread.  An article elsewhere on this website describes a typical two manual Hope-Jones church organ of the day which does still exist, though now heavily disguised [6].


The year 1903 in which he turned 44 was inauspicious for him however, as he was accused of an indecent act which could have led to prosecution under contemporary law.  The allegation was never proved, indeed all the evidence is that it was promptly withdrawn.  Nevertheless he left for the USA together with his wife, whom he had married in 1895.  The public appetite for scandal was at least as voracious then as it is now, no doubt heightened by celebrated cases such as that of Oscar Wilde a few years previously, and continuing tasty morsels of alleged Royal misdeeds.  This might explain why some of the Hope-Jones dynasty understandably renamed themselves plain ‘Jones’, and therefore it might be significant that Frank did not.  (Jones was in fact the original family name prior to Robert and Frank’s parents who first made it double-barrelled).  We have noted already several parallels between the interests and work of the two brothers, and this fact might indicate a continuing bond between them after this difficult time.


Subsequent to Robert’s emigration the paths of the brothers diverged, with Robert continuing to expand the technical envelope of organ building while Frank did the same for horology.  The key feature of Robert’s work in the USA was his implementation of the fully unified organ which he had outlined as long ago as 1891 [1].   In this scheme ranks of pipes were no longer associated with a single department but were instead ‘floating’, enabling any rank to be played from any keyboard and at any pitch.  The originality and sheer cleverness of his circuitry and novel components which enabled this to be done is still seldom appreciated, probably because few people today take the trouble to analyse and understand it.  At the time it was ground-breaking.  It was, of course, used to the full by Wurlitzer in their theatre organs, where a single extended rank of Tibia pipes, say, was represented on all the keyboards and pedals at many pitches.  On a wider front, the debt owed to Robert by any organ builder today who uses an electric action is seldom realised or acknowledged.


In 1908 Frank was granted his patent for the Synchronome clock system and he never looked back.  But within a few years came the first world war, and in the year it broke out another cataclysm descended on the Hope-Jones family when Robert gassed himself, alone in a gloomy rooming house aged 55.  His widow returned to England, and the following year the Institution of Electrical Engineers (the former IEE is now the IET) published an obituary [7].  He did not live to see the way that Laurens Hammond (like Frank, a clockmaker) used his additive synthesis ideas to produce the Hammond Organ of the 1930’s, nor the similar methods used by Leslie Bourn and Wallace Fair in the Compton Electrone of the same era.  He could not have lived to see the fully digital Bradford Computing Organ of the 1980’s which, again, used exactly the ideas of additive synthesis which he had propounded to an audience at the RCO nearly a century earlier.  Can there be any other person who has contributed so much to the basic enabling technology of both pipe and electronic organs?  It is unfortunate that today he does not always get full measure of the recognition and acknowledgement that is rightfully his.  Although he is often called ‘the father of the theatre organ’, perhaps another epithet should be ‘the father of the electronic organ’.




Meanwhile, Frank was branching out into yet another sphere in which he retained an interest to the end of his life and to which he contributed fulsomely.  This was radio, or ‘wireless’ as it was known in Britain for many years because of its roots in wireless telegraphy.  By 1913 The Synchronome Company was manufacturing its ‘Horophone’ (Figure 2), a receiver with a crystal detector designed by Frank to bring in time signals, weather reports and news broadcast in Morse code from a few high powered wireless telegraphy stations such as that at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  Speech and music broadcasts were virtually unknown mainly because of technology limitations, and the concept of broadcasting for purposes of public entertainment was still some years away.  The Horophone was built to the meticulous standards one would expect from a clock making firm.




Figure 2.  'Horophone' by The Synchronome Company Ltd and an advertisement for it (1913)


Frank also chaired the inaugural meeting of the influential Wireless Society of London that same year, no doubt partly because he was by then a prominent member of the British Horological Institute.  From the first, he campaigned loudly against the restrictive legislation, monopolies and taxes which still unfortunately characterise broadcasting in the UK to this day.  Under his leadership the ranks of the Wireless Society were swelled by professionals representing bodies such as the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institution of Electrical Engineers, although he never allowed it nor himself personally to lose touch with its amateur roots and interests.


Six Pips


After the first world war the BBC was eventually formed in 1922, though it was at first the British Broadcasting Company rather than the publicly funded Corporation it became subsequently.  In April 1923 Frank gave a radio talk on the subject of British Summer Time in which he ‘counted himself out’ during the last five seconds.  Immediately after the broadcast he suggested the idea of an automatic clock to some studio engineers which would provide five audible ‘pips’ as a time signal.  The idea was taken seriously by the BBC and discussed with Frank Dyson, the Astronomer Royal, who for some reason added a sixth pip (presumably on the basis that, if you can’t think of something important yourself, you simply mess about with other people’s ideas).  The upshot was that in February 1924 the ‘Greenwich Pips’ time signal was broadcast for the first time.  The system used a clock designed by Hope-Jones situated at the Greenwich Observatory where its timekeeping could be easily corrected.  Its mechanism controlled the output of an audio oscillator which generated each broadcast pip.  And who fronted the programme in which it was introduced to the listening public?  Frank Dyson of course, the very man who had not invented it.


Later Dyson presided at a dinner at which Frank was the guest of honour. Hope-Jones was handed six orange pips on a plate, whereupon he made a flamboyant presentation of the sixth pip to Dyson.  Nice one Frank!


The John Compton Connection


Although Robert’s connection with the former John Compton Organ Company was foundational, even Frank could claim a tenuous one as the following shows.


The late Brian Wigglesworth spent his long and interesting career at the firm, and he once sent me the following anecdote (which I believe he also subsequently published):

“It might amuse you to hear that every clock in the John Compton (North Acton) factory was controlled by a Frank Hope-Jones Synchronome clock.  A long-case pendulum clock which lived on the wall in my boss's office and was powered by a vast dry battery, to drive all the repeater clocks throughout the factory. 

Because the ... clock controlled every aspect of factory time keeping, my boss, Leslie Bourne [sic] , was most concerned that the battery should never run down, so guess who was (for a while) required to check the battery voltage every month and check the time, against the BBC, every week?    

We did have occasional small time keeping problems, which we resolved by placing coins on top of the pendulum in the traditional manner.  It always fascinated me to watch our time keeping adjustments on the [main] clock being followed by every other clock in the factory”

( Leslie Bourn was one of the originators of the Compton Electrone).


It is also worth reminding ourselves of the connection between Robert Hope-Jones and Compton, as it is a story not told often enough.


Well prior to Brian Wigglesworth’s anecdote and before moving to his north London premises, John Compton had first set up business in Nottingham about 1902 after a spell working for C S Lloyd of that city.  I was brought up in Nottingham, and from personal experience of some of  Lloyd’s organs I can tell you that he was a wholly unexceptional organ builder whose unadventurous outlook may have frustrated a young turk like Compton.  This might explain why, like some others of the day, Compton beat a path to the door of Robert Hope-Jones who by then was well established and famous, no doubt to see what he could learn from him.  It is significant that Compton’s activities until the firm finally folded over half a century later rested on three main features:


1.  The universal use of electric action with circuits, home-made relays and other components whose design can be related directly to those invented by Robert.


2.  Using this form of action, Compton was able to use extension, borrowing, duplication and unification to any degree he chose.  This was seen in his smallest instruments, such as the Miniatura range, as well as the largest ones, and of course in his theatre organs.


3.  A pipeless organ system, the Electrone, using additive synthesis just as Robert had suggested in the 1890’s.


As well as importing all this technology Compton also copied some of Robert’s extreme tonal ideas, and the rather unpleasant, muddy, diapason-dominated sound of his organs bore a strong resemblance to those of Hope-Jones.  He also used diaphones, another H-J invention.  In his organ at St Osmund’s, Parkstone was a pedal stop labelled ‘Harmonics of 32 foot’, an absurd nine rank flute mixture derived via extension from a single rank which is typical of the bizarre features found frequently in his organs.  Today it is inexplicable that such idiosyncratic examples of organ building usually attract admiration in a Compton organ (the one mentioned has a Historic Organs certificate!), whereas they would be dismissed out of hand if by Hope-Jones.  I wonder why.




Three publications by Frank are worth noting.  His ‘Synchronome Miscellany’ [9] was a pamphlet which described the work of his firm from around 1913, and it was reprinted and updated several times.  ‘Electrical Time Keeping’ [10] was a standard horological work on the subject.  ‘Electric Clocks and how to make them’ [3] is an engaging and approachable work intended for the amateur horologist, which he edited and partly wrote.  The popularity and importance of these publications is shown by the fact they have all since been reprinted or made available in facsimile form.


A rarer book simply entitled 'Electric Clocks' appeared in the early 1930's though I do not know its publisher.  Its Foreword was by the above-mentioned Frank Dyson, then the Astronomer Royal.  It traces the development of the electric clock and describes a large number of different systems.  This book does not appear to have been reprinted and it can command a high price - one example seen online in October 2012 was being offered at £120.




It is interesting to compare the personalities and character of the two brothers, and in doing so I shall only use evidence which is uncontroversial or obvious.  Much that has been written about Robert in particular illustrates nothing more than thinly disguised homophobia on the one hand or uncritical sycophancy on the other.  I want to avoid this here, and therefore it might be appropriate to declare my own position.


I have studied Hope-Jones and his organs over many years and in some depth, as material elsewhere on this website and in the published literature will confirm.  Having played some of his few surviving instruments, as well as simulating one of them digitally [11], I find them unattractive from a musical, tonal and aural point of view, although their subsequent evolution into the ‘Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra’ resulted in a different product admirably suited for its new role in the cinema.  However the architecture of all his organs at an electrical level is impressive even by today’s standards, and by the standards of the day it was incredible.  As a visionary, Robert probably has no equal in the entire history of organ building, and the evolution of both pipe and electronic organs in the twentieth century followed largely the pathways first illuminated by him.  I believe that many of those who have criticised him so loudly were in no position to do so because of a lack of understanding of matters largely beyond their ken or because of vested interests in other directions.


Some anecdotal material suggests that both Robert and Frank were probably not inclined to suffer fools gladly, though this can be a characteristic of almost anyone at the top of their particular tree, and most such material is probably worthless in any case.  Even if it were not, it is unreasonable to expect any gifted person to remain a shrinking violet at all times and with all interlocutors, some of whom can themselves exhibit unpleasantness.  However, if it existed, it is not a trait which dominated the personality of either brother, because there is abundant evidence of their interest in and care for their fellow men.  Robert was clearly held in great esteem by many of those who knew him, such as his choir members at St John’s, Birkenhead, who willingly assisted him to rebuild the organ there in their spare time together with colleagues from the telephone company.  Earlier, his choir had resigned en masse with him when he had trouble with the priest at St Luke’s, Tranmere.  When he left for America in unpromising circumstances some of his former employees followed him.  None of this supports in the slightest the unkind and unfounded smear that has been written or implied about his character.


As for Frank, he never lost interest in the common man, the amateur, and he would have used that word to mean one who loves the subject rather than in its pejorative sense.  Nowhere is this better seen than in ‘Electric clocks and how to make them’ [3].  The mere title and the book itself, edited and partly written by the country’s leading exponent of the art, are touching in their unaffected homeliness.  This is confirmed by the following statement which appears in the Preface: 

“Thus horology offers a striking example of the value of  the amateur in invention.  A profession is very apt to get into a rut; it needs to be shaken up by the amateur who approaches the subject from a fresh point of view, uninfluenced by the traditions of the craft or the dogmas of the text books and capable of immense enthusiasm"

Unconsciously or not, Frank was modestly describing himself even though he was by any standards not an amateur but a professional of the highest standing.  If ‘horology’ is replaced by ‘organ building’ the same statement could have been written by, and it would have applied to, brother Robert.  How similar they were.  The book goes on to describe how to make a Synchronome clock, the patented components for which were offered to the amateur direct from the factory provided they were for personal use only.  Frank’s lifelong involvement with radio societies also demonstrates this same benign and caring element in his makeup.


There is quite a lot of evidence that Robert was extremely helpful to other organ builders, just as Frank was to amateur horologists.  Thomas Threlfall, the wealthy brewing magnate who was chairman and major shareholder of his first company, was reportedly exasperated by the free consultancy which Robert apparently doled out to almost anyone who happened along.  John Compton was almost certainly one - we have already seen how strongly Compton’s business benefited from the technical and tonal foundations laid by Hope-Jones, with little apparent acknowledgment of the fact, and this was also true of others such as Norman and Beard.  It must have been a considerable relief to firms such as these when their troublesome erstwhile competitor with his formidable backers suddenly vanished from the British organ building scene.  Little time was lost by some in using Robert’s patents well before they had expired, in the certain knowledge that he was thereafter in no position to protect his interests.  Various authors have even speculated that some of those who maintained Hope-Jones’s organs after his emigration may have sabotaged them in order to gain lucrative rebuilding contracts [13].  It is certainly the case that some of them suddenly collapsed with myriad faults for little apparent reason, yet today this is invariably taken as evidence that his mechanisms were ‘unreliable’.  Whether these allegations are true or not, there is little doubt Robert was badly used by some whom he had willingly assisted not many years previously.


Both men had strong entrepreneurial instincts, having set up their own companies at a relatively early age.  Robert was clearly less successful than his brother in the world of business though, judging by the frequency with which his ventures failed.  This was partly due to the proportion of time he spent in research and development aspects to the detriment of running the business itself, and his pursuit of time-consuming trivia which ate into profit without improving sales.  A reflection of the same trait was his insistence on including every conceivable facility that his electric technology offered, regardless of whether it was any use to a church organist (quint couplers for heaven’s sake? An organ that could be played from outside the church?  A stop tab to open the swell shutters?  Sforzando effects?  The list is almost endless, yet Compton nevertheless lengthened it).  In his later years, particularly during his time with Wurlitzer, he also became obsessive about achieving an unachievable level of perfection in the shipped product.  Throughout his career he had difficulty working comfortably with others at Board level – like many innovators he was an autocrat, not always a good team player, and wanted to run the whole show.


Both brothers were to some extent flamboyant and enjoyed projecting an element of theatre.  Robert, always a snappy dresser as surviving photographs show, was an early cycling enthusiast from his teens onwards at a time when heads would have turned in the street as he passed by.  Frank’s dramatic public presentation of the ‘sixth pip’ to Dyson has been mentioned already, and he obviously felt at home behind a microphone.  These characteristics are of a piece with their liking for business and dealing with customers. 


One unfortunate aspect of Robert’s character which does not surface in Frank is that he was not averse to economising with the truth when it suited him.  It is probably going too far to call him a compulsive liar, but the dry cell story alluded to above and discussed in detail in [2] confirms the statement.  If it had only happened on one or two occasions it might have been regarded merely as one of those promotional excesses which many businessmen fall prey to.  But to propagate an impossible myth repeatedly, both verbally and in writing, over some years demonstrates the pleasure which Robert apparently derived from pulling the wool over people’s eyes.  It is most unfortunate that he degraded himself and his achievements in this way.




Frank’s Synchronome Company lasted for the whole of his working life, and its name lives on today in Tann Synchronome.  When he died in 1950 his obituary, like that of his brother 35 years earlier, was published by the Institution of Electrical Engineers [8].  Today he is mainly remembered within horological circles, where some amateurs continue to try to outdo Hope-Jones with new pendulum timekeepers.  His Synchronome pendulum and derivatives were used by astronomical observatories until about the time of his death, when they were superseded by atomic clocks.  With the passage of a further half-century the fact that his name was once almost a household word thanks to radio has now slipped from the public consciousness, but that does not diminish the contribution he made to the life of the nation and the world.


That contribution can be related with little doubt to the vision, enthusiasm and innovative talents of his older brother, Robert the organ builder, who must have first aroused his fascination for the technology which subsequently fashioned his entire life.




Appendix 1 – The Synchronome Clock System


The Synchronome system consisted of a main clock or transmitter, not necessarily with its own dial although it usually did have one.  It could drive virtually any number of subsidiary dials.  The clock mechanism used between the wars had evolved into the form illustrated in Figure A1-1, and the subsidiary dial mechanism is shown in Figure A1-2.


All of the mechanism of the main clock was supported on a cast A-frame with its surfaces machined flat.  The pendulum was of “seconds” length, meaning it took one second to swing from one extremity to the other, therefore its period was two seconds.  It was about a metre long and it supported a weight of about 7 kilograms.  The pendulum rod was usually of invar, a nickel-steel alloy with a very low coefficient of thermal expansion at room temperature.  The rod carried a small and very light jewelled hook which advanced a 15-toothed wheel one tooth per complete swing.  The simple beauty of the design arose partly because this was the one and only wheel in the entire mechanism.  Note that the wheel was not required to operate the hands on a dial as this was done electrically.


The wheel rotated once per half-minute, and at each revolution a vane attached to it pushed aside a catch which released a weighted arm onto the pendulum.  Mechanical contact then occurred between a roller on the arm and a curved pallet attached to the pendulum rod.  The clearances in the mechanism and the curvature of the pallet were such that the impulse given to the pendulum was gradual, reaching a maximum at its lowest point.  This also was a design feature of considerable subtlety.  In Frank’s words [3, p.32] “it will thus be quite clear that the pendulum is perfectly free to oscillate normally at all times except when it is in the middle of its swing; not only is the escapement detached, but it operates at zero, thus bringing about the combination for which horologists have aimed for years without success”.


The battery voltage appeared at the bottom of the L-shaped gravity arm, and as the pendulum continued to swing to the right while receiving its gravity impulse, this point of the arm eventually touched the armature of the electromagnets.  In doing so it completed the electrical circuit, which included all the dials in series, and the armature then threw the arm rapidly back onto its catch.  The same electrical impulse advanced all the dials by one half-minute.  It is the most enthralling thing to watch in operation and also frustrating, because until you know how it works you have to wait impatiently for the next half-minute to elapse before you can see again the rapid transitions of the moving parts, which take place in less than a tenth of a second!  A rather pleasing animation of the mechanism is available on the Internet [14], but contrary to what its sound effects imply, the pendulum swings in almost complete silence except for the click every half-minute.  For those used to the ponderous tick-tock of an ordinary long case clock this seems curiously uncanny at first.


The appearance of the electromagnet coils can give a clue to the age of a Synchronome transmitter clock, and also to that of the magnets used in Robert’s organs.  The earliest ones were green because of the silk or cotton covered wire used to wind them, as this was universal during the late Victorian and early Edwardian era before enamel covered wire had been used.  Electric bells, relays and telephones from that period used such wire, and it is likely that Robert would also have used it for his early organ magnets.  These latter, incidentally, were wound by a small army of female workers supervised by his wife at his first organ factory in Birkenhead.  If an early Hope-Jones organ electromagnet does not contain coloured wire it is possible that it is not in original condition but has been rewound.














Figure A1-2.  The Synchronome subsidiary dial mechanism.


The subsidiary dials were simple, consisting of a single electromagnet which advanced a toothed wheel at each received impulse by means of a pawl.  The wheel drove the minute hand directly and the hour hand via the usual gear train.


The Synchronome pendulum would keep time to within a few seconds per week, and to effect an improvement it was necessary to reduce still further the residual losses due to friction with the air and in the suspension, and remove the need to rotate the 15-toothed wheel.   This was done, not by modifying the pendulum itself, but by using it to provide the motive impulses for a second free pendulum maintained in a temperature controlled and evacuated vessel.  This synchronised two-pendulum system was invented by W H Shortt, and in this form Frank Hope-Jones’s original ideas remained in use until the mid-twentieth century in astronomical observatories the world over.  The Shortt system kept time to within a few seconds per year, and it was only displaced when Louis Essen’s atomic clocks became available from the National Physical Laboratory.  The Shortt system can also be seen in animated form on the website referred to earlier [15].


Appendix 2 – Energy Consumption in the Synchronome Clock System


Every half-minute the Synchronome impulsing mechanism required approximately ½ ampere for about 1/15th of a second [3, p.32].  All the electromagnets of the entire system – the main clock impulsing mechanism, main clock dial (if any) and all subsidiary dials - were connected in series.  Each magnet coil had a resistance of around three ohms [4].  Therefore the voltage required depended on the number of dials in the system, and it had to be chosen so that the necessary current of around ½ ampere would flow.  Thus, as an example, the main clock plus its dial alone would have a total resistance of 6 ohms, requiring a voltage of  3 volts which could be obtained from 2 dry cells in series.  More subsidiary dials would require more cells.  The number of cells required was confirmed by Frank Hope-Jones himself [3, p. 52].


Every hour, the current of ½ ampere was drawn for a total of 120/15 seconds which equals 8 seconds.  Every 24 hours it was drawn for 192 seconds.  Therefore the current was drawn for 7200 seconds (2 hours, representing a consumption of 1 ampere-hour) over a period of 37 ½ days or approximately one month.  In other words, each cell of the battery must have had a storage capacity of at least one ampere-hour to work the system for one month in round figures.


Both the peak current of ½ ampere and the required storage capacity were well within the capability of dry cells.  Large dry cells (‘Flag’ cells) are still available today with a 40 ampere-hour capacity, a figure which would be realised under the low rate of discharge considered here.  Therefore the claim that the Synchronome system would run for well over a year using large dry cells is confirmed.


Notes and References


1.  “Hope-Jones at the College of Organists”, C E Pykett 2004, currently on this website (read).


2.  “Hope-Jones and the Dry Cell”, C E Pykett  2003, currently on this website (read).


3. “Electric Clocks and how to make them”, edited, updated and partly written by F Hope-Jones, 1949 (reprinted Argus Books Ltd, 1977).  It is unclear which parts of this book were actually by the hand of Hope-Jones, though the fact that some chapters were attributed explicitly to different authors implies that those which were not were written by himself.  One is entitled to assume that he agreed with everything in the book because nowhere does he say or imply otherwise.


4. The resistance of the magnet coil was estimated to be about 3 ohms from the winding details given at page 41 of [3].


5. Robert outlined his ideas for a pipeless organ using additive synthesis in the lecture given to the forerunner of the RCO (see [1] above).


6.  “The Hope-Jones Organ in Pilton Parish Church”, C E Pykett,  Organists’ Review, November 1993.  Also currently on this website (read).


7. Robert Hope-Jones, MIEE, obituary.  Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1915.


8. Frank Hope-Jones, MIEE, obituary.  Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1950.


9. “A Hope-Jones Synchronome Miscellany”, F Hope-Jones, 1913-23  (reprinted TEE Publishing 1995).  As with [3], it is unclear exactly how much of this work was contributed by Hope-Jones himself, though parts of it obviously were not.


10. “Electrical Time Keeping”, F Hope-Jones, 1940 (reprinted NAG Press, London 1976).


11. "Re-creating Vanished Organs", C E Pykett 2005, currently on this website (read).


12. For unaccountable reasons, both Robert and Frank are frequently claimed by Wales as two of its famous sons

 (see, for example,, accessed 22 December 2009).


Another website (, accessed 22 December 2009) claims that Robert was among some  "Manchester Engineers & Inventors" and that he was born "in the village of Hooton Grange".


Yet another maintains that his first and famous electrified organ at St John's, Birkenhead was in some mythical church of  "St John's, Hooton Grange".  Obviously a lesson or two in geography would be in order for some in that part of the world!


13. See, for example, Clark 1993 ("An Apparently Controversial Instrument", Relf Clark, BIOS Journal 17, 1993, Positif Press Oxford, p.59).


14.  Synchronome animation:


15.  Shortt pendulum animation:


16. An 1893 letterhead identifying Frank as company secretary of The Hope-Jones Electric Organ Company Ltd is displayed in the Hope-Jones Museum at the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust in Manchester.