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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks Thomas Moore of Long Melford

I wrote not long ago about Thomas Moore of Ipswich (Clocks Magazine September 2013). He was a highly-skilled and inventive clockmaker and goldsmith, who became very famous and very wealthy. When he died in 1762 he left around £6,000 in money as well as several properties. But his oldest son, Thomas Moore Junior, is far less well known. I have recently been researching a little into his life, which seems to have been far from an easy one and very different from his father's.

Thomas Senior signed his clocks at his workplace, being Ipswich. But he seems to have developed a regular method of signing his name as 'Tho. Moore' or sometimes 'Tho. Moor' or 'Thos Moore' or even 'Thomas Moore'. After his death in 1762 his two youngest sons took over and they signed their clocks 'Moore', probably to indicate a partnership and also to distinguish their work from that of their late father. Thomas Junior signed his clocks 'T. Moore, Melford' again I assume to distinguish from his father's work, though of course the placename would identify him.

Thomas Moore senior was a hard-working and innovative maker of clocks and watches. In 1729 he invented a watch with an 'idiot-proof' winding system, to prevent the watch from being damaged by being wound the wrong way. This watch was capable of being wound up by winding in either direction. Not that the genteel owners would be likely to do that, of course, he said in his advertisement in the Ipswich Journal, but such as could happen when handled by lesser mortals such as servants, especially when they were in drink ("when the juice of the grape predominates", as he put it). He also made musical clocks, including one standing sixteen feet high and six feet square and playing fine classical music every three hours and showing astronomical indications, a clock supposedly, made for, but not bought by, the Empress Catherine of Russia. Another source suggests this clock was not made by him but he certainly owed it and demonstrated it as if it was made by his own hand. He also made musical bracket clocks, rolling ball clocks and inclined plane clocks, all very unusual at this early period for a provincial clockmaker.

Front view of the Moore clock
Front view of clock by Thomas Moore of Long Melford.
Click for closer view.

Thomas Moore junior was the eldest son of Thomas senior, born between 1711 and 1714. His baptism cannot be located so we cannot say the exact year but from other evidences I would guess it was about 1712. In 1725, when he was around thirteen, his mother died leaving Thomas, his younger brother, Roger, and sister, Sarah, as orphans. Then, three years later in 1728, their father re-married and he and his new wife, Susan, had four more children between 1729 and 1733, three of whom survived.

Thomas junior must have learned the trade under his father, though no formal apprenticeship exists. There may have been an informal document drawn up, as sometimes happened when father taught son, simply so that the lad would have proof of his training if he needed that later in life. That training would have ended about 1732. At that point in his life, as the eldest son of a prosperous and widely-acclaimed clockmaker, his future was assured. He would usually have worked alongside his father in preparation for one day taking over the business and any properties. That was normal for the eldest son, while younger sons got the leftover scraps.

In fact from the time of the Norman Conquest the law insisted that any property or land must be passed down to the eldest son. Testators sometimes devised ways around this by leaving property in trust for the lifetime use of younger children. However by the mid seventeenth century the law had changed to allow a testator to decide for himself what he would leave to each of his children. But the tradition often remained that the eldest son inherited the lion's share.

That did not happen in this case, which was very unusual. There seems to have been a terrible rift between father and son.

By now Thomas was twenty one and could do as he pleased – and did. Perhaps the new step-mother and new step-siblings proved too much for him and in September 1733 he upped and left home to marry a widow named Mary Maynard at Boxted, a tiny village of around a hundred inhabitants some thirty miles away to the west. This has all the signs of being a clandestine wedding, set as it was in a location remote from both their homes. There was nothing to draw them there but its remoteness from home. Thirty miles then was like three hundred miles today – a day's journey. It was remote not only from his father at Ipswich but even more remote from his father's younger brother, his uncle William, who was also a clockmaker further east at Woodbridge. It looks as if the family were neither consulted nor invited. My bet is that his father knew nothing about it till after the event, and there are indications that father and son had no further contact.

Left view of the Moore clock
Left view of clock by Thomas Moore of Long Melford.
Click for closer view.

In 1733 when 21-year-old Thomas Moore married Mary Maynard, widow of Zephaniah Maynard, she was about 33 and had an eight-year-old son, George Maynard. Zephaniah Maynard was born about 1700, had married Mary Boston about 1720, to whom three children were born at Long Melford, only one surviving infancy, being George Maynard. George later became a clockmaker and sometimes styled himself George Boston Maynard after his mother's maiden name.

But Zephaniah Maynard had also been a clockmaker. He was the son of John Maynard, an ironmonger of Long Melford, and had been apprenticed to the well-respected clockmaker Richard Rayment of Bury St. Edmunds on the 25th March 1715 for £20 – but only for 2 ½ years. (till Aug 1717). This unusually short apprenticeship (normally it was for seven years) implies he was perhaps older than the usual apprentice of fourteen and had maybe already spent several years training under his father.

Zephaniah died in September 1732, presumably leaving his widow, Mary, and his eight-year-old son with no source of income, except perhaps the remains of his clockmaking business, which she could hardly have run on her own. She could have had no support from Zephaniah's father, John, who was long dead. Zephaniah's business cannot have been extensive as he was in business only just over ten years. No clocks have yet been recorded by him and the only documentation of him as a clockmaker is in the record of his apprenticeship. So Thomas Moore junior moved away to live with his new wife and ready-made child presumably at her late husband's fully-equipped premises in Long Melford. But the signs are that their early years were a struggle.

Only two or three longcase clocks and a lantern clock have so far been documented by Thomas Moore junior at Long Melford. There survives a record that William Thackeray gave a clock by Moore of Melford to the poet Edward Fitzgerald, which must have been in the later nineteenth century.

Of course there must be many others I don't know about, but he was clearly not a prolific clockmaker. Yet he was in business for 21 years. Long Melford was a village with less than two thousand inhabitants. Why would clients patronise the son when the father's reputation was widely known as he had already dominated the trade for many years around Ipswich, which had a population of ten thousand?

Top view of the Moore clock
Top view of clock by Thomas Moore of Long Melford.
Click for closer view.

The lantern clock pictured here is the only one so far recorded by him. It must date from after 1733, but I would have thought not long after. It is a conventional lantern clock, which by now were becoming outmoded everywhere except in East Anglia. It may be they lingered here as a means of supplying the less prosperous with a clock, as they would have been cheaper than a longcase. In appearance this clock is very much like the lantern clocks his father made at this same period, though most of his father's clocks were far grander than lantern clocks. It has the same frame, same type of dial centre engraving with signature at top centre, same chapter ring style with lozenge half-hour markers, same frets, radiating lines for the dial corners (though his lower corners are hatched a bit differently, perhaps to personalise the work as his). The engraving could be by the same engraver. Whether that engraving was done by the Moores themselves or not we don't know, but I would guess it probably was. Apart from the signature this could easily be mistaken for a clock by Thomas's father.

But there is a vital difference. The top and bottom plates are each made from two pieces of brass joined 'invisibly' in the centre. The joint is incredibly well done with amazingly accurate workmanship with the result just as rigid as if it were a solid sheet of brass. Just how he joined these pieces I don't know, though a rivet at each side suggests it was by a tongue-and-groove method. If so, it is impossible to see it. Why on earth would he do this? Why was he making life hard for himself spending all that time jointing separate pieces?

There could be only one reason. He was short of brass sheet and short of money to buy more. He therefore used smaller waste off-cut pieces to make do. He was obviously struggling financially. The clock is beautifully made, the wheels crisply cut, all parts finely finished. The clock was every bit as well made as any lantern clock by his father. The engraving is just as good as his father's and I suspect done by Thomas himself. I doubt he could he have afforded to pay an engraver. It was not skill he lacked, nor time – just money.

This must surely indicate a break from his father, whose workshop must have been crammed with cast brass sheet. Was young Thomas too proud to ask for help or the father too stubborn to give it? Family fall-outs become entrenched and bitter.

Base view of the Moore clock
Base of clock by Thomas Moore of Long Melford.
Click for closer view.

Thomas was buried at Long Melford on the 8th January 1755. He was about forty three. He must have made some financial progress in his short career as in his will he left property to his wife, Mary, and daughter, Susan. To his stepson, George Boston Maynard, he left 'the stillyards and engine with its appurtenances for the measuring of hay in Sudbury'. The stillyards, or steelyards, was apparently a kind of balance weighing machine, presumably of considerable size, and probably a device that Thomas had made himself. It was installed at Sudbury because that was a central meeting point of several roads and would be a convenient location for transporting the hay.

His stepson, George Boston Maynard, made clocks at Long Melford for over thirty-five years after Thomas's death until his own death there in 1789. He was sixty four. He is thought to have sold clocks at one period at nearby Lavenham, where he was briefly a partner with the widow of clockmaker Thomas Watts from about 1777 to 1779. He appears to have remained a bachelor.

Thomas Moore senior's second wife, Susan, died in 1761, Thomas himself in 1762. The first bequest in his lengthy will was one of £300 to his granddaughter, Susan, daughter of his alienated son, Thomas junior. It seems that with his wayward son now dead, Thomas held no bad feelings towards his grandchild, his son's only offspring. It was a family reconciliation of sorts but too late to benefit either the father or the son. The clockmaking business passed to his two sons by his second wife, Edward and Hatley, both bachelors. Not one of his sons produced a male heir to carry on the family name and business. The business effectively ended with the death of Edward in 1788, after which time Hatley was in poor health and retired till he too died in 1796.

Thomas Moore senior's daughter, Elizabeth, married Thomas Freestone and their son, another Thomas took up clockmaking, being apprenticed in 1770 to his cousin, William Moore of London. Thomas senior left the Freestones several bequests, including £200 to this grandson, Thomas Freestone, who set up at Ipswich and later at Bury St. Edmunds. But he seems not to have been very successful, being twice recorded as going bankrupt.

And so the Moore clockmaking business became extinct after a run of over a century. Would things have turned out differently if Thomas junior had stayed at home? Who knows?

Copyright © 2014 Brian Loomes

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