For sale an early Twentieth Century bell framed sextant by Heath & Co of Crayford, London.
This luxurious and complete example is comprised of a rare bell-shaped frame supporting an index arm with Vernier and clamp release with adjustable magnifier over the top. The divided arc is completed in silver and is signed to Heath & Co, Crayford, London below with a serial of J420 above. It has three index and horizon shades, The back has an original mahogany handle with a brass ferrule secured through the centre which allows the sextant to be locked into position with the case for transit. The sextant is released from the case by pushing the brass button with the words patent engraved on the face.
The sextant retains its original mahogany case with brass fittings and an astonishingly complete set of accompanying accessories. It has a certificate of examination from The National Physical Laboratory at Richmond dated to 1912 on the inner lid and a tag at the front stating the model, “20th Century Mark I Sextant. The case is opened by an unusual push button mechanism at either side of the lid.
Heath & Co was founded by George Heath in 1845 with some evidence pointing towards him having been trained by the famous navigational instrument maker, Henry Hughes. The elder Heath was obviously successful but little further detail seems to exist of this early part of the company’s history.
In 1863, Heath took his son George Wilson Heath into an apprenticeship and just nine years later in 1872, he took over the business either as a result of his Father’s death or retirement. I suspect the former given the few short years he had worked since the completion of his studies.
The most informative detail relating to George Wilson Heath appears across two very similar obituaries which were written upon his death in 1937. Published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Plymouth Brethren Movement, I have provided the latter as it is slightly longer:
“George Wilson Heath, M.I.Mech.E., F.R.G.S., M.R.L., virtually created the firm of Heath & Co, optical and scientific instrument manufacturers. He was apprenticed in 1863 to George Heath, the firm founded by his father in 1845. His apprenticeship terminated in 1870, and two years later he became proprietor of the business. In 1882 the firm was reconstituted as a limited liability company and George Wilson Heath built two factories at Crayford and New Eltham to cope with the firm’s growing requirements. He specialized in the design and manufacture of navigational and thermometrical instruments. Mr. Heath’s inventions included many mechanical improvements in nautical instruments, ship’s compasses, course correctors, sextants, and thermometers, especially those used for marine refrigeration. Mr. Heath had been a Member of the Victoria Institution since 1889.
An article on the firm appeared in the Sidcup Times on 29th May 1953, p.7. It states that George Wilson Heath and Frederick Thomas Heath were sons of the founder. George Wilson had two sons, George Andrew (eldest 1881 – 10th Sept. 1945) and Harold E. (a director in 1953). His death occurred at Sidcup on 24th May 1937, in his eighty-eighth year. He was buried in Sidcup Cemetery, 126 Foots Cray Lane, Bexley, Greater London, next to his wife Helen Jane (Buist), she died on 6th Oct. 1918, age 70, daughter of Andrew Buist.
Fulwich Hall (Plymouth Brethren) was founded by George Wilson Heath. He conducted tent missions at Dartford, Crayford, Slade Green and Erith. The work at Dartford was commenced in 1905 as a tent mission in Shenley Road. The tent was replaced by a wooden hut, before the present church building was erected. The name Fulwich Hall was derived from the name of the road before it was changed to St. Vincent’s Road.”
Little is known of George’s brother Frederick, but he seems also to have been a manger at an optician’s factory. Whether he was employed at Heath & Co is unknown. What is interesting to discern from his obituary, is the strong influence that religion played in GW Heath’s life. The Plymouth Brethren were an evangelical Christian group that broke away from the main Church in the 1820’s and his membership of the Victoria Institute points towards how active he was. The Institute was formed in the 1860’s in response to Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and was originally headed by the Earl of Shaftesbury to defend biblical truth in the face of these new revelations.
Aside from his fervent religious faith, Heath also found time to create the Hezzanith trademark which is so commonly found on quality marine instruments and thermometers from the period. I suspect that the trademark was formed from the Hebrew term “Hezzani”, meaning ambition, determination and professionalism, as it was easy to incorporate the letters of Heath into a fitting title. Heath was also responsible for at least eleven patents relating to both marine instruments and thermometer during his career.
The company was eventually incorporated into WF Stanley & Co in 1936 as was the equally famous business of JJ Hicks before it. The business of Perken Son & Co also followed suit during this time and the three were amalgamated by Stanley to become Heath, Hicks & Perken, a business which primarily focused on the production of thermometers.
Many mistakenly consider the Heath & Co business to have had a direct link to the famous eighteenth century London maker, Thomas Heath, but both Thomas Heath and his partner Tycho Wing died in the 1770’s where after it was taken over by Thomas Newman.