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Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks Richard Ames, lantern clock maker

Richard Ames was apprenticed through the Clockmakers' Company in 1649 to Peter Closon, who was one of the earliest, best known and most prolific makers of lantern clocks. Richard was freed from his apprenticeship in January 1657, and immediately, in that same month, was married at St. James's Clerkenwell to Katherine Deverell. An apprentice was forbidden to marry until he had finished his training, and a breach of that discipline meant instant dismissal. A few married early and suffered the consequences, but most conformed. Some, like Richard Ames, were therefore desperate to marry as soon as ever they were free. As a freeman he may have been working in his own right at once from 1657. It is possible however that he worked for a year or two as journeyman for another, as most did till they could afford to set up independently. Usually it was for the former master. A newly-qualified clockmaker fresh out of his apprenticeship was usually penniless, so could not set up in business unless he came from a prosperous family and had parental backing.

His old master, Peter Closon, was last heard of in 1660 and is known to have been dead by 1662. He worked in Holborn, 'near Holborn Bridge', and it might be that Richard Ames succeeded to the Closon business as he too worked in Holborn, 'near St. Andrews Church in Holborn'. Richard's wife gave birth to several children, which were baptised at St. Andrew's Holborn from 1658 to 1668. These were: 1658 Katherine, 1660 William, 1663 Mary, 1666 Richard, 1668 Francis (a boy). He took successively senior roles in the Clockmakers' Company, being made Assistant in 1669 and Warden from 1676 to 1681. He worked in all for about twenty five years till 1682, in the September of which latter year he became Master of the Clockmakers' Company. Unfortunately he died in the following month, Thursday the twelfth of October 1682. His widow attempted to continue the business for a while, no doubt assisted by their son, William, who had almost ended his apprenticeship and was made free in the January following (1683). No clocks are recorded in William's name. During his years in the trade Richard trained several apprentices, the best known of which was John Ebsworth, who was also a maker of lantern clocks, as well as clocks of other kinds.

Richard Ames is known principally, if not exclusively, for lantern clocks. The first clock pictured here probably dates from the 1670s. The most immediately obvious aspect is that is a 'winged' version, that is it has a centre verge pendulum swinging between the trains. In this case the pendulum itself has an anchor-shaped 'bob' which projects at alternate sides with each swing into what are usually called 'wings' or sometimes 'bats' wings'. The wings are separate features which pin onto the normal doors. The doors on these centre-pendulum clocks have central slots in them to allow passage of the swinging bob if it swings wider than the width of the case sides. In this case the wings and the fluked (anchor-like) pendulum bob are restorations. Views differ on this aspect but one point of view is that these centre-pendulum clocks did not originally have fluked pendulums swinging into wings, but just normal bobs, that swung through cutouts in the door, and that therefore all 'winged' versions are restorations based on an incorrect example. It is difficult to say if this is correct, but so far we seem not to come across original 'wings'. Centre-pendulum examples seem often to have been chosen as the layout for a clock which was to have alarmwork, as a normal bob pendulum at the back could have been in the way of the alarm. They were therefore very popular with clocks which carried alarmwork.

One point of interest is that the ratch (the twelve-pointed star-like wheel which lifts the strike lever immediately behind the dial) has a matchstick man casting mark, which tells us something about his suppliers of castings. This mark is faint and difficult to see in a photograph, so for illustration I am using a ratch from a different clock of similar period by Thomas Milles of London. The matchstick man is the well-known casting mark of a brassfounder, whose identity remains unknown. This casting mark is found on certain mechanical parts, principally on one or more of the dial wheel, the ratch and the countwheel over a period of something like half a century. It is assumed therefore that it was a 'company' sign, rather than the mark of a single person.

This clock has two very unusual features worthy of comment. Firstly, as well as the normal striking hammer and the double-headed alarm hammer, it has a third hammer located at the front, which is operated by a simple trigger spring, causing it to ring a single blow at the half hour. Half-hour striking was something hardly ever seen on lantern (or other) clocks in England, which implies that there was no demand for it, and to use three hammers is exceptionally unusual. Yet I know of four lantern clocks by Richard Ames which have half-hour striking (just one blow at the half, sometimes called a 'passing' strike). Being triggered by a blade spring, this half hour bell will ring whenever the clock runs, whether or not the strike train is wound. This passing strike seems at first sight to be a baffling aspect. How could it be that Richard Ames had customers who wanted half-hour striking, when customers of other clockmakers did not? The answer, we think, is because he supplied the French market, where half-hour striking (one at the half) was popular. Some of his clocks have come to light in France. Similarly a good number of clockmakers of a somewhat later period had trading links with the Middle East, supplying them with what we now call 'Turkish Market' clocks. One or two traded with Spain and Italy.

front view of lantern clock lantern clock dial
1. A lantern clock by Richard Ames having centre verge pendulum (and wings), leaving room at the back for the alarm, dating from the 1670s. Click for closer view. 2. Close-up to show the fine dial engraving and the signature. It is signed 'Rich: Ames near St. Andrews Church in Holborne fecit'. Click for closer view.

Another feature is at first sight puzzling on some of Richard Ames's clocks, namely that he sometimes kept the old system (as used before the introduction of the pendulum) of having two driving weights (one for going, one for striking) and a right-hand hammer, even on some of his pendulum clocks. This would seem a bit contrary, in that he is 'modern' enough to be using the recently-introduced pendulum, yet old-fashioned enough to be still using the two-weight rope system and right-handed hammer, which were features used on balance wheel clocks before the pendulum arrived. There was a reason for this.

The short verge pendulum system was introduced into English clocks by Fromanteel in 1658, though it seems that not all clockmakers took to it at once. Many makers of lantern clocks kept on making for a good half century yet the traditional balance wheel examples, which had already been in production for over half a century, even though they knew the pendulum was more accurate. Others, like Richard Ames himself, turned fairly soon to the new pendulum system. The reason some kept to balance clocks is that they were known to be cheaper. A letter survives dated 1696 from Jasper Harmer of London, who supplied lantern clocks to country retailers, and priced a pendulum clock at three pounds ten shillings (£3.50p), which he explains was only slightly dearer than the alternative of a balance wheel version which would have cost three pounds five shillings (£3.25p). Additional reasons some kept the balance wheel system as opposed to the newer pendulum may have been that they were less fussy about being level, and that the makers had their production systems organised for balance clock making and were reluctant to change.

At the same time as the pendulum was applied to enforce timekeeping on clocks in England, that is in the year 1658, another device is thought to have arrived, which was the 'endless rope' drive. This was a rope fitted in a loop in figure eight fashion in such a way that it would drive both the front going train and the rear striking train at the same time, with the one winding. Hereafter the clock could be driven by a single weight, used in conjunction with a tiny counterweight, the purpose of which was merely to keep the rope taught so that it was less likely to slip on its ratchet spikes. All that was needed was for the strike train to be reversed in order to wind from the opposite side, as previously the strike had been designed so that it's weight was on the opposite side to that of the going train, in order to keep the clock balanced on the wall to avoid it slewing round when winding. The new continuous rope system involved placing the hammer on the left instead of on the right. It might be deduced that a right-handed hammer on a lantern clock means a clock, which was originally built with a balance wheel escapement, and for most clocks that would be true. But not in every single case. A balance-wheel clock had a right-hand hammer, but not all right-hand hammer clocks were balance wheels.

view of clock from the right dial wheel and ratch
3. Right-hand view of the Richard Ames lantern clock, showing the divided trains to permit the centre pendulum. Here he still positions his hammer on the right as in a balance wheel clock in order to allow separate winding of each train. Click for closer view. 4. A dial wheel and ratch showing two matchstick man casting marks, the one on the ratch unclear but the one on the dial wheel fairly sharp, taken in this instance from a lantern clock of the 1650s by Thomas Milles of Shoe Lane, London. Click for closer view.

This new continuous rope system was an improvement on the old and was adopted instantly by almost all makers of lantern clocks and remained in use ever after on thirty-hour clocks. But there were one or two exceptions, such as Richard Ames. These exceptions were made by clockmakers for an express reason. There were one or two clockmakers who decided to keep the two separate weights, as previously, which therefore meant keeping the right-hand hammer, even though they might build their clocks with a pendulum (whether with verge or anchor escapements). Some makers kept two-weight drive just some of the time; some kept it all of the time. Richard Ames was one who kept two weights on some of his clocks, as in the ones illustrated here, and some commentators have wondered why this should be so. The reason is that this clock has a strike train and an alarm, as do some of his others. Common sense would dictate that if you have an alarm clock it would be positioned in or near the bedroom, where it would not be a good idea to have it striking all night. The two-weight system gave the owner the option not to have the clock striking, by simply not hanging on the strike weight, or not winding it, which amounted to the same thing. This was the point, that the two-weight system let the owner choose whether or not to use the strike, whereas the continuous rope, single-weight, system forced you to have striking. Richard Ames kept two weights for his alarm clocks, but a single weight for his non-alarm models.

Some others makers, as for instance most of the Lancashire 'school' of lantern clockmakers, few though they were in number, used two weights (and therefore the right-hand hammer) even with anchor escapement clocks without alarms, presumably for the same reason, namely that it allowed the owner the choice of whether or not to run the strike train.

A second lantern clock by Richard Ames was examined recently, and this one would seem to pre-date the other, being made in the 1660s. It was built originally with balance wheel control. Either Richard Ames was not yet aware of the new pendulum system, or not yet confident enough to have gone over to using it, or was making a balance version as a cheaper option for a particular customer. This clock too had alarmwork, positioned outside the movement on the backplate (it was in fact removed later). With two separate winding ratchets and two weights, the owner had the option to have it striking or silent. But this particular clock went through an interesting change later. It was converted to the new verge pendulum system, which conversion it still has, but the pendulum was located very oddly outside the left side of the movement, instead of its usual place at the back of the clock. The reason for this was presumably because the converter wanted to keep the alarmwork, which already took up all the available space outside the backplate. To position a verge pendulum (or any other pendulum for that matter) at the back would have meant scrapping the alarmwork. This is the only reason I can think of why he would set it so oddly at one side. The support cocks for the pendulum are ancient but not as neat as the work of Richard Ames himself, and the pendulum backcock is quite crudely made of iron. The holes can be seen on the left of the top plate, where the cock originally was positioned for the balance wheel. Ironically the alarmwork and the backplate to which it would have been attached were removed later anyway! But the sideways verge pendulum is interesting evidence of the historical developments of this particular clock. It also explains the origins of the centre-pendulum ('winged') type of lantern clock, in that it arose to allow the alarmwork to continue to be used at the back.

Several lantern clocks have been recorded by Richard Ames. They are usually signed 'Richard Ames Neare St. Andrews Church in Holburne Fecit' or 'Rich: Ames near St. Andrews Church in Holborne fecit', or 'Richard Ames neare St. Andrews Church in Holborne Londini fecit', or some variation on that theme - or just simply 'Richard Ames London'.

A longer version of this article was first published in Clocks Magazine.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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