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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks William Kipling of London, clockmaker and gentleman

You would think by now that most clockmakers were documented to some degree, but it is surprising how many times we look up a clockmaker only to find he is known by name only with a vague guess at dates and no real facts about him. This happened again recently when I came across a beautiful tiny travelling lantern clock made by William Kipling of London for what we usually call the 'Turkish Market'. More correctly this means the Ottoman Empire, which in the seventeenth century covered most of Eastern Europe, Asia Minor and all that territory surrounding the Mediterranean Sea to the east and south, including North Africa. A handful of London clockmakers specialised in clocks for this export market and William Kipling was one such, many of his clocks being of that type. I cannot help but wonder how London makers first got into this massive market, but massive it was, especially in lantern clocks, which continued to be sold there long after lantern clocks were out of fashion in England. These clocks are numbered in what we refer to as 'Turkish' numerals, which I am told are in fact a form of Classical Arabic, a language understood in the 18th century throughout a large part of the Ottoman Empire.

All the books told me about William Kipling was that he worked in Broad Street, Ratcliffe Cross, between about 1705 and 1737, another source said till 1742, another 1745. Such dates are never terminal, in other words he may well have been there years before and after those dates. If he had been a member of the Clockmakers' Company, the books would have said, so I assumed he was not, as those records have been well covered. For clock or watch makers who were not members of the Clockmakers' Company the first place I usually look is in the records of the Blacksmiths' Company, and there he was. He was apprenticed in the Blacksmiths' Company in September 1695 to Thomas Johnson, at that time being described as the son of Richard Kipling of Romaldkirk in Yorkshire, merchant, deceased. You can never be quite sure what trade a member of a Company followed, as lads were apprenticed in Companies where there might have been a previous family connection, perhaps an uncle or distant relative, even if following a trade quite unrelated to the name of the Company. For instance the Clothworkers' Company included a good number of early clock makers. But, since we know Mr. Kipling made clocks and watches (I resisted the temptation to say 'exceedingly good clocks'), we can assume that his master was also a clockmaker. Looking him up in the books confirmed that Thomas Johnson, although in the Company of Blacksmiths, was a clockmaker, well known for longcase clocks, and guess where - at Ratcliffe Cross.

Full view of clock
1. An extremely tiny arched dial lantern clock with hourly striking made for the Turkish Market by William Kipling of London, the dial measuring only 3 3/4 inches by 5 inches. Date about 1740.
Click for closer view.

It is surprising how often lads were sent to learn a trade in London from distant localities such as Romaldkirk, which is located in the furthest reaches of Upper Teesdale and was then in North Yorkshire but now in County Durham and is remote even today! I come across this frequently, yet it still surprises me. Why on earth did they send a fourteen-year-old country lad all that distance to live with strangers in the big city? Yet it happened all the time. And the answer was usually that he was sent to work for a kinsman or within a Company to which kinsmen belonged or members of families from the locality. In other words he had family friends or relatives there to keep an eye out for his welfare. And so it proved in this instance. It was often the case too that these lads were orphans, perhaps with an unsettled home life.

Even before William Kipling was born the Kipling family at Romaldkirk were sending their youngsters to be apprenticed in London, as were other families in the area. The earliest I know of was Charles Kipling (son of a William Kipling of Romaldkirk) who was sent to be apprenticed in London in 1679 to Thomas Hodgson of the Gunmakers' Company. Thomas Hodgson himself had come originally from Brough, not that far from Romaldkirk, when he had been apprenticed in 1660. Then Richard Kipling, another son of William, had been apprenticed there in 1690 to his older brother, Charles. So by the time our William Kipling went therein 1695, there was a whole cluster of Kipling family members from Romaldkirk working in London, to whom he must surely have been related as well as other craftsmen who came from his home locality. He was not trudging friendless, like a penniless Dick Whittington, to a city of hostile strangers. Even so, the fact that he went to London in September emphasises that it was important he make the journey before the frozen mud of winter made the roads impassable.

From the apprenticeship details we know that William was born about 1680/81 and that is father was Richard Kipling of Romaldkirk. I found that Richard Kipling had been married there in November 1673 to Jane Hutchinson. The couple had several children baptised there from 1674, though the record of William's own baptism about 1681 seems not to have survived. Richard seems to have died in October 1681, leaving William orphaned almost at birth. Richard's widow, Jane, appears to have re-married in 1690, and by the time he was fourteen he had a stepfather and several stepbrothers/sisters - yet another reason he was sent off to London to learn a trade. Perhaps his prospects there amongst his own kinsmen in London were better than at home with a step-family.

William would have finished his training in 1702. It was customary to work a year or so as a journeyman, usually for the same master, but we are led to believe that he was working on his own at Ratcliffe Cross by 1705, which sounds about right. The next thing I found was his marriage on the 4th August 1715 at St. Benet's Paul's Wharfe, London to Elizabeth Johnson. Could that be co-incidence, or was it yet anther instance of an apprentice marrying the master's daughter?

Thomas Johnson had been apprenticed in the Blacksmiths' Company in June 1662 to Richard Drake (freed about1669?). Thomas himself had been born in Stepney in 1649. He and his wife, Elizabeth, lived at Ratcliffe Cross in the parish of Dunstan's Stepney, and their eleven children, many of whom died in infancy, were baptised there. And sure enough Elizabeth Johnson was born in 1692, the daughter of Thomas. Thomas Johnson made some fine clocks and took several other apprentices through the Blacksmiths' Company between 1681 and 1703. Lantern clocks and several longcase clocks are recorded by him, including one with 1/4 seconds pendulum and a month one signed variously 'Thomas Johnson, Ratcliffe Cross', 'Tho. Johnson at Ratcliffe Cross Fecit' and 'Thomas Johnson, London '. He is believed to have been associated with William Clement, on exactly what grounds I am not sure. When William Kipling and Elizabeth Johnson married in 1715 she was 23 years old; he was 34. William had known her since he had been taken to live in her father's household as a fourteen-year-old apprentice in 1695, when she was only three.

Thomas Johnson seems not to have been heard of after about1703, when he took his last apprentice. It may be he died about then and William Kipling may well have taken over his business, as 1703 is the first year we have of his working in his own right. This would make more sense than to assume they were both trading simultaneously as rivals. Did William Kipling continue to work in his late master's premises, perhaps alongside his master's widow and their three or four surviving children? It was another twelve years before William and her daughter Elizabeth were married, and it seems likely Thomas Johnson did not live long enough to see them married. It might even be that such a marriage was beneficial to both parties, as keeping the old and new business under the same roof. Their children were baptised at St. Dunstan's Stepney, the old Johnson family church: December 1716 William; 1719 Elizabeth (died 1719); 1722 John; 1724 Jane.

Clocks compared
2. The extremely small size of this clock can only be measured by seeing it alongside a normal lantern clock, this one by Thomas Hutly of Coggeshall, Essex, stands about 15 inches high.
Click for closer view.

William Kipling took his own apprentices through the Blacksmiths' Company, who were: March 1708/90 James Pepper from Gransdon, Huntingdonshire - later at Shefford, Bedfordshire?; May 1716 James Sowerby from ?Croswick, Yorkshire; June 1716 David Penleaze from Tysoe, Warwickshire working later in London; January 1720/21 William Boyd from London; February 1723/24 George Langstaff from Romaldkirk, Yorkshire - this later link showing how he was still keeping up the old connection with Romaldkirk. Longcase, bracket clocks, lantern clocks and watches are known by William Kipling.

I am not sure what became of their oldest son, William, but he seems to have died young. Their younger son, John, worked in the business with his father from about 1745, and some clocks are known signed by 'William and John Kipling'. John Kipling, watchmaker of Stepney, died in 1750, his will proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on the 27th April. It is surprisingly uninteresting mentioning just his wife, Mary . The father outlived his son. It could be that the tragedy of John's death caused William to retire, though he was already 69 years old, and, as we shall see later, had already made his money.

About this time (about 1750) William Kipling was succeeded at Ratcliffe Cross about by Charles Bosley, whose family also came from Stepney and some of whose earlier clocks have a plaque engraved 'Charles Bosley, successr. to Mr. Kipling. London'. Charles Bosley was born about 1711, and trained under his father, Joseph Bosley, who was also born in Stepney and died in 1737. Charles Bosley is believed to have lived on till 1771.

For a while I was unable to trace what became of William Kipling after 1750. A William Kipling, gentleman, of St. Leonard's Shoreditch, died in 1757, his will proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. This did not seem like our man, as he was in the wrong location and our man was not, so far as I knew, a 'gentleman'. In fact this did prove to be William Kipling the former clockmaker, now styling himself a gentleman. His will was dated August 30th 1757 and was proved on the 19th November 1757, implying he was sick when he made it. It established that his only surviving child was his daughter Jane, now the wife of the Reverend Roger Shackleton of the parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, and implies that William, now aged 76, was living with his daughter and husband at the same 'address'. William left £500 to his grandson, Thomas Shackleton, when of age and then only a baby. Everything else, including three properties in Ratcliffe and 'my household goods, plate, linen, china, jewels, clocks and watches', was left to his daughter, then after her death to her husband, Roger, then, after his death, to grandson Thomas.

But he mentions his nephew Henry Kipling, of Great Russell Street, gentleman, 'son of my very good brother, John Kipling'. A little more research found that brother John had married at Barnard Castle in 1694 to Ann Sowerby, their son Henry being baptised there in 1699. Henry was his next nearest kin if his daughter's family was left without an heir. In the event of Henry Kipling's death without heir, then everything was to go to one Anthony Sowerby, no doubt a relative of his late brother John's wife. So his own family was ultimately down to a single descendant, grandson Thomas Shackleton.

Door of clock
3. The original side doors survive on this clock and are beautifully engraved, again in the Eastern manner with the Crescent Moon as a central motif.
Click for closer view.

Armed with this new information I found that his daughter, Jane, had married the Reverend Roger Shackleton at Aske's Hospital, Shoreditch on the 7th November 1749. At the time Roger and Jane were both thirty years old. Roger may have been of poor health as he made his will in March 1750/51, leaving everything to his wife and any child of his she yet might have, in trust with his father in law, 'William Kipling, gentleman', and cousin-in-law, 'Henry Kipling, gentleman, of the parish of St. George's Bloomsbury'. Several thousand pounds were involved. By 1750 then it seems William Kipling was already retired, 'a gentleman'. He would have been helped on his way to gentility by whatever he inherited from his own father and from his wife's father, clockmaker Thomas Johnson. It maybe these inheritances which helped him set up in his own business in the first place.

Roger Shackleton died on the 30th August 1757, his will was proved on the 2nd of November. This had proved a very sad household for Jane. Amazingly William Kipling had signed his will on the very day Roger died! Did he have it written up ready and waiting and perhaps Roger's imminent death brought forward his signing of it? Oddly Roger was a named beneficiary, yet he died the day William signed his will, so could never have inherited. This is a situation I have not come across before. Could it have been chance, or a deliberate ploy on the old man's part, to name Roger as a potential beneficiary knowing he could never get his hands on it? Within three months William Kipling himself had died, his will proved only twelve days after that of Roger. Widow Jane was left a very wealthy heiress, well provided for with the Shackleton inheritances and those from her father.

In the study of old clocks the genealogy is really only needed in so far as it gives defined dates within which we can tell the age of clocks or watches. For example we have in the past sometimes assumed that William Kipling's clocks dated, by their advanced styling, from the 1760s or even later. But now a known date of retirement of 1750 puts a different light on things. But often too the genealogy is engrossing in its own right. It not only puts a bit more flesh on the bones but it helps us to realise that families then had the same sort of complex relationships, tragedies and triumphs as we all have today, even if some of them are unfathomable. We know a bit more now about William Kipling but we will never understand the relationship between William Kipling and his son-in-law, and why he made his will the day Roger died. My feeling is that William always had his eye on the money. Still we can admire William's life journey from apprentice boy to self-styled gentleman in one generation - not bad going William!

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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