Was there high-quality, wholesale, clock movement manufacture in seventeenth-century London?

There is a fascinating article in the latest edition of Antiquarian Horology, just starting to arrive through people’s letterboxes, setting out a remarkable research question which cries out for some crowdsourcing of data—hence this blog post. For those who don’t receive a physical journal, the editor has conveniently made it the sample article for this quarter. You can download it here.

Hands of a clock signed John Davis of Windsor, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.

Hands of a clock signed John Davis of Windsor, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.


The article updates and highlights an observation made forty years ago, that there are a host of common features observable on a range of late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century English clocks which, taken all together, suggest the movements may have originated from the same manufactory, despite being signed by a range of well-known makers.

Put simply, it is suggested a range of prominent makers (or perhaps retailers) bought in largely finished movements from a single source, and arranged for their casing/signature/final finishing.
This is clearly a very well-understood practice in the watch world from a relatively early date, and was certainly common practice in the clock world later on. For example, Thwaites produced movements for a wide range of other clockmakers and clockmaking firms, and on a large scale. The question remains, how early did this standard practice emerge, and is there sufficient physical evidence to allow us to draw firm conclusions?

Distinctive click-spring from a clock by Edward Burgis, c. 1695–1700

Distinctive click-spring from a clock by Edward Burgis, c. 1695–1700


Jon Parker has collaborated with a restorer and collector who have in turn spent decades documenting the evidence, identifying what they argue are a clearly observable set of designs for clock parts which are highly characteristic and suggestive of a common source. Jon has assembled an article that walks the reader through all these features, with clear illustrations of examples, allowing the reader to make comparisons with any clocks to which they have access. The features range from highly stylised features on the hour and minute hands, to details of hammer heads, and particular shapes of the lobes on back-cocks or hour bridges, or patterning such as the rings on set-up ratchets or count wheels, or the form of click-springs, and much more besides.

The key element is that Jon’s piece is a call to arms! More data is needed. And it is not difficult to look for it. This is a massively worthwhile project to support, and whatever the outcome, if you can supply data you can play a part in improving our understanding of clockmaking practice in London in the period 1660–1720. Please do get involved!

James Nye

Count wheel from a longcase signed John Aylward of Guildford, c. 1695.

Count wheel from a longcase signed John Aylward of Guildford, c. 1695.

Back cock on a longcase clock re-signed for Robert Seignior, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.

Back cock on a longcase clock re-signed for Robert Seignior, c. 1680. © Harris (Belmont) Charity.


Characteristic lozenge-shaped hour bridge, with bevelled edges, Aylward, c. 1695.

Characteristic lozenge-shaped hour bridge, with bevelled edges, Aylward, c. 1695.

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2 Responses to Was there high-quality, wholesale, clock movement manufacture in seventeenth-century London?

  1. Nick Mitchener says:

    I have a few if I can help. I have a clock by Thomas Speakman. All the dial parts have signatures, some two. I think engraver and dial maker. The clock had a broken hour hand when I found it. Some time later I saw a John Andrews 30 hour at auction and recognised the hands, though the clock was a different age and size the hands were clearly by the same maker. I had one made to match. John Andrews is known to have collaborated with Edward Speakman, Thomas’ brother. The Andrews clock also has signatures on the dial parts but different.

    Thomas Speakman was master to John Burrows. One unusual feature of my clock is that the 5th pillar is a plain brass cylinder. A friend has a John Burrows that has the same plain 5th pillar.

    I can provide pics of my clocks (and his) they are also both on the NAWCC forum.

    Nick

  2. Sue Hines says:

    We have a month going longcase by John Davis of London dated about 1698 with a similar centre arbor to the one shown in your article from Belmont House made by John Davis of Windsor. If I remember correctly this Belmont clock can be found on the first floor landing. I hope this helps. Best, Sue..

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