Collecting Antique Clocks A 'New' Clock by Samuel Ogden
The Ogden family of clockmakers were numerous and prolific, and I have written about them frequently. It covered several generations and counties. All its members were related in a genealogy whose roots are still not altogether clear, despite years of research. The Ogden surname originates in the Pennines region of the Lancashire/Yorkshire border, where there is more than one place of that name. There was a mysterious clockmaker called Thomas Ogden, who was apprenticed in London through the Clockmakers' Company to the well-known lantern clock maker, Thomas Knifton, of the Cross Keys in Lothbury in 1651, was free of his apprenticeship in 1659 and had left London by 1662 never to be heard of again. No clock has yet been found which could be identified as his work. It is very tempting to think that he was one of this group of clockmaking families based around Halifax - but we don't yet know that for certain..
Samuel Ogden is perhaps the least well known of the early clockmaking Ogdens from the Halifax region. He worked in and around Ripponden, near Halifax in his earlier years, moving to Benwell, near Newcastle on Tyne in Northumberland by 1712. He is the least well-known because his work is recorded through very few examples. From his Ripponden period only a single longcase clock has so far been recorded and a single lantern clock. From his Alnwick period we know of perhaps three or four longcase clocks, it is difficult to know for sure because of the risk of double-counting.
Samuel Ogden was baptised at Halifax parish church in January 1669-70 in the old dating system (we would say 1670), the son of James Ogden of Sowerby near Halifax. John Ogden, who later moved to Askrigg, was baptised in 1665 at nearby Elland church, also the son of a James Ogden, then said to be of Soyland, but the big question is whether it was the same James Ogden, who was the father of each. If so, as seems very likely, then Samuel and John were brothers.
The problem is that John Ogden was a well-known Quaker, yet there is no evidence so far that Samuel was - though he may have been. We know his sons Thomas and Isaac, who remained at Ripponden, were Quakers. Samuel lived most of his early life at (or near) Ripponden, and his children, of which he had eight born between 1687 and 1704, were baptised in the established church at nearby Elland, where his wife, Sara, was buried in 1712. Their marriage has still not been traced. Samuel serviced the Halifax parish church clock from 1693 till 1701. If he was a Quaker the implication is first that he might not have baptised his children in the parish church, and secondly that he might not have been given the job of working on Halifax church. Quakers were shunned by society in general and by the established church in particular. Although the law strongly enforced everyone to attend the local established church, some vicars would not allow Quakers to be baptised in their church or buried in their holy ground, and some Quakers refused to attend anyway. On the other hand some Quakers did their best not to ruffle feathers and went along with the requirements of the local church as best they could, just as some vicars sought to welcome all kinds within God's house.
In 1712 Samuel Ogden moved to Benwell village near Newcastle on Tyne. It is not known why, but it may be that the death of his wife, Sara, in April of that year, had a bearing. In that same year, 1712, his oldest son Samuel Ogden junior moved to work at Alnwick, which left just his younger son, Thomas Ogden, who was to become the famous Quaker clockmaker, to carry on at Ripponden, presumably still in the family home. Thomas Ogden was accompanied for some few years at least by his brother, that is Samuel's youngest son, Isaac. Thomas later moved to work in Halifax itself, though his earliest clocks are signed at Ripponden. Samuel Ogden senior died in 1728 when on a visit to his namesake son at Alnwick. His work at Benwell is documented through perhaps four or five longcase clocks, these mostly of arched-dial, eight-day type, some of them carrying the year of making in a boss in the arch - such as 1726 and 1727.
Until recently, the only example of a longcase clock known to be made by Samuel Ogden during his period at Ripponden or at least during his pre-Alnwick days (he may not necessarily have worked at Ripponden itself throughout that time) 'went missing' a good many years ago from the Tolson Memorial Museum in Huddersfield. The curator at the time told me it had been stolen. Fortunately a keen clock correspondent has since reported 'finding' it in Oakwell Hall at Birstall, not that far from Huddersfield. What had happened was that the museum authorities had moved the clock to a different location without apparently informing all their staff! Anyway the clock survives and is illustrated here.
This is a charming little clock, known to me personally only through photographs. It has a tiny, eight-and-a-half-inch square dial, and a posted movement, with a verge escapement and a short (bob) pendulum. Recent examination shows that most of the housing for the movement in the seatboard area is made from modern timbers, which casts some doubt as to whether the clock is actually in its original case. It may well be, but the confirmatory evidence is lacking.
The movement is interesting, having an apparently original verge escapement, a very uncommon feature in northern clocks. It is of the posted type, with square-section iron posts riveted flush at the base and fastened by nuts at the top, brass upper and lower plates, and a beautifully filed fancy end to the hammer spring stop, looking rather like a fan and reminiscent of the ones more often found in late seventeenth-century lantern clocks. It has an odd type of bell stand, being a single corner-to-corner strap beneath which the bell hangs, rather like half a lantern clock bell strap, and of a kind I have seen before but very seldom. These things might be thought of as typical of an early idiosyncratic country maker of this period, and would not be especially eye-catching, given what we know about the maker, period and locality, but for the fact that it is nothing like the movement of the most recently discovered clock.
A 'New' Early Ogden
This latest clock has a lantern movement with brass round turned pillars, an original anchor escapement with long pendulum. It has an interesting brass-faced pendulum bob, decorated with scored rings, sitting over a short six-inch shaft which hooks onto the main pendulum rod itself. I have seen this method used by several rural clockmakers (Will Snow of Padside, Yorkshire, did this regularly in the 1760s) and I recall being told years ago by one respected horologist that this was thoroughly bad engineering practice and could not possibly work, as the two sections of the rod would swing like a hinge at the hook-on point. In fact they don't, and such a system works perfectly well.
One similarity between this and the Oakwell Hall movement is the bell strap method, which is identical, though the Oakwell Hall clock has its strap running diagonally from front right to back left, whereas the newly-discovered clock has its strap from front left to back right.
The new clock has an eight-inch square dial, a little smaller than the first one. It has blank corners, that is just the plain dial sheet without spandrels, a style well known to have been used by certain early Quaker clockmakers, including Samuels brother, John Ogden of Askrigg. The curious thing is that the corners were originally drilled to take a spandrel screw, the holes being filled in again, though whether originally or later is impossible to say. However, the movement front pillars sit up very tightly against the paper thin dial sheet, which means it would have been impossible to get screws in by means of which to fasten spandrels. It might have been possible to rivet them into place. The chapter ring is riveted into place rather than having pinned dial feet. Rivets were popular with early rural clockmakers. On the other hand provision for rivets would not have needed holes the size of these which have been filled.
The implication therefore is that the dial was originally planned for spandrels but never had them. Absence of spandrels implies a Quaker inclination, either in the maker or his original customer. Quakers shunned representations of the human face, as man was made in God's likeness and therefore a human face was a likeness of God, and the Bible forbade the making of graven images. On the other hand the only other early longcase by Samuel does have spandrels! Was one perhaps for a Quaker customer and one not?
The movement of the newly-discovered clock differs from the first one in that it has true lantern-clock type pillars of brass. Oddly enough these lantern pillars are not the same as those pillars on his only known lantern clock. Nothing very special about that, but it is just so very different from the square iron pillars of his earlier clock. But what is quite extra-ordinary and in my experience unique in any Ogden clock, or even any northern clock at all, is that the movement has four pointed iron spikes projecting downwards below the baseplate - presumably intended to grip into the seatboard housing to help prevent the clock from sliding when being wound by pulling on its chain.
I have seen this spike system before, though only on the work of a small handful of clockmakers from the far south of England, and in particular in the work of James Delaunce of Downton in Wiltshire and of Frome in Somerset, and one or two clockmakers close by who were associated with him. It is very unlikely there was any connection between Delaunce and Ogden. More likely it was simply coincidence that the two mean each independently hit upon the idea of the spiked 'feet' independently. But how odd that this is (so far) the only clock known by Samuel (or any other) Ogden to have them.
Examination of the base plate showed a piece of practice engraving, being part of the name John. Could this be another indication that Samuel's brother was the John Ogden who went to Askrigg? Or is it just any old John?
The second Samuel Ogden clock has lost its hammer counter, so we cannot compare that with the interesting one on his previous clock. I am assuming that the previously known clock is the earlier of the two, principally because it has a verge escapement and this has an anchor, and common sense suggests that the anchor was the 'newer' method of the two. The first clock dates tentatively from the 1690s, probably the early 1690s. There is a number 95 written on the inside timberwork of the second clock, which might just indicate the year of making - 1695. In any event this is about the time I would think it was made, judging as best we can by the style and what we know of the maker.
The case of the newly-discovered clock is extraordinary. First it was made to take a nine-inch dial, and the dial of this clock is only eight inches square. Yet it appears to be completely original to and contemporary with the clock. The glass area has been blanked off inside with a wooden frame so-shaped as to obscure the corners of the dial - those areas where the spandrels once might have been intended to be, or where the filled spandrel-screw holes might have shown.
The hood has no opening door, and access to re-set the single hand has to be by removing the hood by sliding it forward. Why it should have a nine-inch opening I cannot say, except that the case is slender enough as it is and would have been inclined to instability if any slimmer.
The case is wonderfully primitive and is one of a group of less than half a dozen cases that are known nationally, which are made in this prototype manner, looking a little bit like a very narrrow standing cupboard. These clocks have no separate upper and lower section, but the trunk sides run down in continuous planks, the base, if we can call it a base, being only a few inches high at the bottom, along the lines of a skirting board. It is thought that these cases were made to match wooden room panelling with the 'base' made to match the skirting of the room - though some examples have been shortened in height since they were made.
The upper half of the trunk opens as a door, in this case (and some others) as a panelled door for access to the weight and pendulum. The lower half of the case is a fixture, a box, whose purpose is merely to support the upper portion.
The hood has what are in this instance unusually long and wide back splats, which run down below the hood into the upper part of the trunk. These are in fact, as they are on a few other cases too, extensions of the backboard which project beyond the hood and simply look like hood back-splats.
The case takes a little getting used to for anyone unfamiliar with these early prototypes, but this one has an even more unusual and exotic feature, in that there is a projecting box-like structure which runs down the upper half of the trunk at each side. This is actually hollow, and at first sight appears as some sort of decorative feature. It is in fact an extension of the case width at the back of the case, done to allow for the fact that the swing of the pendulum is wider than this slender case allows. The case itself would allow only an eight-inch swing of the pendulum, an optimistically short swing for any long pendulum driven by an anchor escapement. The trunk extensions make that swing area almost twelve inches - wide enough for any anchor swing.
Even by the standards of primitive prototype cases this example is unusual. We can only guess at the reasons behind its shape and style. I imagine it was built to resemble the sort of projecting panelled wooden pillar such as one sometimes sees in a large room of the period, whereby it covers the joint where two rooms have been made into one larger one.
This clock was sold in the dispersal sale of the contents of Branton Court, near Knaresborough, in Yorkshire, a house purchased in 1931 by Major Ernest Ambler shortly after his marriage. He was born in 1892 and died in 1958. His family had previously lived at a house called Heaton Mount in Bradford, very close to Samuel Ogden's place of working. That house was sold in 1919 and some of the contents were purchased by Major Ambler, who was a keen collector and, with his wife, purchased items from many local auctions well into the 1930s and 1940s. It is not known when or how the Ogden clock came into his possession, but it is tempting to think it came from the original Ambler home in Bradford. At any rate this clock had been at Branton Court for at least half a century. To the best of my knowledge it is the only Yorkshire-made clock by Samuel Ogden to come onto the market in the last half century .
Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes
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