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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks Richard Roe of Epperstone

Richard Roe is a most interesting clockmaker, who worked in the village of Epperstone in Nottinghamshire in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He was one of he earliest known clockmakers to work in Nottinghamshire by whom work survives today. He has long been known for making local church clocks, but until recently details of his life were very vague and his domestic clocks were virtually unknown.

The late Harold Mather summarised what was known about Richard Roe in his book 'Clock and Watch Makers of Nottinghamshire' published in 1979. At that time quite a number of local church clocks had been recorded of a type known as 'door frame' clocks. These clocks were grouped in the south-west corner of Nottinghamshire and adjacent parts of Derbyshire and Leicestershire and a good few, though not all, of these prove to have been made by Richard Roe. Mr. Mather quoted a description made in 1906 of the Cropwell Bishop clock, from which we can gather the following. The frames were of four-inch square oak, mortised together, standing about six feet high and four feet wide - hence the term 'door frame' clocks . All the wheels were of iron except the escape wheel, which was brass. Winding was by windlass type cross bars on each of the going and striking train mainwheels, there being no winding squares for a key. To re-set time forward on the single hand meant disengaging the escapement from gear. To set time backwards one could only stop the clock and wait for the hour to catch up.

Richard Roe is known to have made door frame clocks for a number of local churches, as he carved his name and year across the top of many of them. These include Shelford 1680, Owthorpe 1680, Whatton in the Vale 1683, Hucknall St. Mary 1685, Plumtree 1686, Epperstone 1688, Wellow about 1699, Nottingham St. Nicholas 1699, Nottingham St. Marys 1707. Some other unsigned clocks are believed to have been made by him, and some other undated clocks are known to be by him.

Regarding Richard Roe's life, this was largely unknown until Harold Mather published some details. More detailed facts were uncovered in recent times by John Dodd of Leicester, who has kindly allowed me to quote some of them here. Richard Roe married on 12th August 1660 at Lambley parish to his first wife, Mary, surname unknown. Richard became churchwarden at Epperstone in 1668, and yet in 1669 he appeared on a list of oppressed Quakers. Clearly Richard was unhappy with religious practices, yet we can see from the baptisms later of his various children that he still attended church. There are several reasons why this may have attended church against his better conscience. One is that parishioners could be fined for non-attendance, whatever their beliefs, and so it may have been expedient to comply with the law by attending. Another reason is that Quakers, who did not attend church, could not have their children baptised and therefore entered into the church registers, which might mean that later in life they had no means of providing proof of relationships and could find it difficult to claim rightful inheritances. Some churches refused to bury non-believers such as Quakers in consecrated ground. So there were social and financial reasons to attend church, which for some nonconformists proved more convenient than to rebel. But perhaps more pertinent in his case is that Richard might have found it tough to get the contracts for supplying local church clocks if he made himself conspicuous by not attending church.

front view of the Richard Roe clock
1. This lantern clock with a square dial (7 1/4 inches) is signed with somewhat eccentric spelling 'Richard Rooe in Eperstone'. Date about 1690.
Click for closer view.

Their first child, Elizabeth, was not born (and baptised) till some twelve years later in 1672, a gap of that length of time after the marriage being most unusual. In 1675 a second child, Mary, was baptised, but she died tragically young at the age of six months. In 1681 a son, Richard, was baptised. In April 1688 another son, Jonathan, was baptised but he died at the age of four. It seems likely that Elizabeth was the only child to survive Richard.

In 1689 Richard was granted a licence under the Toleration Act to hold meetings for nonconformist worship in his own house, which became a Quaker meeting house. This usually meant that they would also have a burial ground either in the garden or in a plot of land attached to, or close to, the house. However at Oxton village, just three or four miles away, a Quaker meeting house was also granted a licence in 1689 for what were described as 'the people in scorn called Quakers'. Oxton seems to have been a larger meeting house and had its own burial ground certainly by 1710, perhaps earlier. This is probably why Richard himself chose to be buried at Oxton.

Richard's first wife, Mary, died and was buried in Epperstone churchyard on 1st June 1694. The fact that she was buried in the parish churchyard implies either that she was not herself of the Quaker persuasion, or that there was as yet no separate Quaker burial ground at Epperstone or at Oxton. Richard married again shortly after, to a lady named Elizabeth, the marriage itself not yet traced and so her maiden name remains unknown.

Richard's daughter, Elizabeth, married a Quaker named John Mans from Saddington in Leicestershire, the ceremony held there and repeated at Oxton. They had at least six children. Richard Roe himself died and was buried at Oxton Quaker burial ground in March 1719. He must have been at least 79 years old. His will is preserved today. His widow, Elizabeth, died in 1724, and her will is preserved too. She too was buried at Oxton Quaker ground.

On 14th September 1719 Richard Roe signed his will, leaving a piece of land called Wash Bridge Close to his wife, Elizabeth, for life, and then to his grandson, Richard Mans. He also left 'thirty shillings to be laid out in bread to be dealt by house rows by the overseers of the poor of the parish of Eperston (sic) aforesaid for the time being amongst the poor inhabitants of the said town within one week next after my decease.' His wish was that 'I may be decently interred in the burying place at Oxton in the said County of Nottingham where people of my persuasion are want to be buryed.' Clearly by 1719 the Oxton Quaker burial ground was well known.

A detailed inventory of his goods survives amounting to the considerable sum of £79. 6s 8d. Several aspects of this are interesting. It was a surprise to see that he also had a 'grocery shop'. His 'out of doors' goods included considerable livestock of a mare, three cows , two swine, thirty-four sheep, and a quantity of peas. At this time most rural householders would have a small plot of land and would produce as much as they could for their own consumption, but we can assume that Richard Roe had enough surplus produce to sell some in his grocery shop.

In his house he had a clock valued at £3.00. We don't know what kind of clock, but as no longcase clocks are yet known by him, let's suppose it was a lantern clock, in which case £3.00 in value is about right - a bit less than retail value but maybe a bit high for a probate valuation. 'The Clock Shopp' probably did not mean a retail shop but a work shop. In there he had two clocks valued at £3.00 the two. If lantern clocks then £1.50 each is a low valuation, but then probate valuations were often on the low side. Also in the clock shop was 'one clock unmade', which presumably means the castings and forgings in an unfinished and unassembled state, and that was value at £1.00. These workshop values seem too low to be anything but lantern clocks. He also had a 'forging shop' with bellows and other expected smithing tackle.

An inventory was also taken in 1725, when his widow died. This time the clock in the house was valued at only £2.00. In 'the far parlour' were two clocks valued at £3.00, the same value as those two Richard had for sale in his shop when he died. The 'shop' (forging shop) still contained the blacksmithing tackle Richard had left, but now valued at £4.00 against the £2.00 valuation for the same items when he died - even though two of the valuers were the same people! Valuations for probate were always a bit erratic. Elizabeth's livestock was much reduced to just two cows and two 'piggs' - presumably she could not manage more on her own. The total value of her goods amounted to just over £70.

When Harold Mather's book was published in 1979, Richard Roe was known only through his church clocks, and through a single domestic clock. This is a relatively conventional style of lantern clock, signed on the chapter ring 'Rich Roe Epperstone'. It probably dates from the late 1680s or a touch later. It was suggested that he probably did not make the clock himself but rather bought it in to retail. The clock in fact is built with conventional composite pillars (with separate screw-on finials and feet) as was the type made in London. The chapter ring is broad, as was the fashion there in the latter part of the century. The dial centre carries scroll engraving with residual tulip heads, the design emanating from an open flower above VI, this being a progression of the London style of the immediate post-Restoration period following Charles II's return to the throne in 1660. The iron hand is a provincial development of earlier lantern clock hand styles. The brass side doors, there to serve as dust excluders, open at the front, as was normal, having hinged pivots at the rear.

movement of the Richard Roe clock
2. This view of the movement from the left shows his shaped and filed hammer spring and filed crocodile-mouth-shaped hammer counter. Separate brass wheel collets.
Click for closer view.

Two things are unlike other conventional lantern clocks of the day - well three, if we count the doors, which are described later. The finials themselves are round ball-shaped ones, unlike any I ever saw before and nothing like a conventional lantern clock finial of the day (which are found on his other domestic clocks, since discovered). His bell is held by a bellstand, like that on a longcase clock, rather than the conventional bell strap, which he used on his other lantern clocks. It is possible the bellstand is a replacement for a lost or broken bellstrap. But the finials cannot simply be broken or damaged finials filed down for neatness, because their profile is distinctly unique and wider than the body of a conventional urn finial. They look a little like a second set of 'feet' screwed on top and the 'toes' filed off, but in fact they are far too large for that. My feeling is that Richard Roe made this clock himself using some castings obtained from London and others, such as the finials, that he obtained locally or made for himself.

Since 1979 two other domestic clocks by him have come to light, both lantern clocks, and both in fact having square dials, unlike the conventional rectangular dial on his first lantern clock. The square dial lantern marked a progression in style, a sort of half-way house on the way towards a longcase clock, which of course had been made for a generation or more in London, but had probably not yet begun to be made in rural Nottinghamshire. Yet these two square dial lantern clocks by Richard Roe were still true lantern clocks, with finials and feet and made to hang on the wall in the traditional way. But their dials were now more fashionable and looked like those of the 'new' longcase clock.

The earliest of these two square dial lantern clocks was sold at auction in 2001, and this clock also appears to date from the late 1680s. This clock has a matted dial centre, seven inches square, more like the fashionable style in a longcase clock. It is signed on the chapter ring 'Rich Roe Epperstone', exactly like the previous clock. This lantern clock has true finials, of the slender urn style popular on most lantern clocks after about 1660. It also has a full X-shaped bellstrap, sometimes called a 'spider', as used on most lantern clocks of all periods.

A third domestic clock by Richard Roe had in fact already appeared in photograph form in 1968 in a book entitled 'European Clocks' by E. J. Tyler. That same clock is illustrated here. This clock also has a square dial (seven and a quarter inches square) but with an engraved centre, based again on the post-Civil War London lantern clock concept of a floral spray emanating from VI. This clock is signed within the upper dial centre 'Richard Rooe in Eperstone'. Eccentric spelling is far from uncommon in clocks of this period. Many examples are known where even the maker's own name is spelled differently from the expected way, and yet the clockmakers themselves seem to have been completely unconcerned about this. I can think of numerous prestigious London makers to whom this applied - William Selwood or Sellwood, Henry Ireland or Irland, Thomas Mills or Milles, and in provincial makers Samuel Cox or Cocks and John Frazer, Frazor or Frasser, both of Worcester. It probably indicates that the engraving was not done by the maker himself, but then engraving was almost always a specialist trade done out of house.

On this third (Richard Rooe) clock the half-hour markers on the chapter ring are of the meeting-arrowhead type. This style begins in the late 1680s but is a more usual indicator of the 1690s. The iron hand is original. The engraved centre, as opposed to the matted centre of the previous clock, was probably a preference of the customer, who may have been given the choice of matted or engraved. We don't know, but that's how we think it may have worked, in that the clockmaker would offer his customer a choice of the available styles which were fashionable. Pillars, finials, feet, frets and bellstrap are all conventional ones of the period, just as used on most lantern clocks of this time.

The clock has conventional mechanics with a verge pendulum inside the frame at the back. The ratch casting ( the twelve-pointed star-wheel behind the dial which trips off each hour's strike) is interesting in that its inner area between the spokes is left completely raw from the founder without any attempt at filing it clean. This was to save what must have been considered pointless work in that nobody would ever see it and it might even add a little strength to the casting. Of course its outside section of pointed projections is most carefully filed and finished, as it would have to be to allow the strike lifting arm to slide. The dial wheel to which it is attached is very carefully scraped and filed smooth to ensure it is a close fit to the ratch and free running as a wheel.

The original doors are pivoted on typical spur hinges but are very unusual in so far as they hang at the front of the clock, whereas normal practice was to hang them at the back. In practical terms conventional rear-hung doors might have been better, as they would allow access for oiling, etc., without taking the clock down from its hook, much more easily than the front-hinged ones, which tend to obscure the view of the movement. On the other hand re-setting the working height of the pendulum bob to adjust timekeeping could probably be done more easily with Richard Roe's front-hinged doors, which give easier access to the back of the clock. From our point of view in studying the clock this extraordinary detail of hinging his doors at the front could be another indicator that Richard Roe is making his own clock, not buying in a pre-made one, which would have been pre-drilled for conventional rear-hinged doors. Or was it simply a mistake that Richard drilled his plates at the wrong side, and having made that error, stuck with it?

There is another factor about this clock, which we find now and then with other clockmakers. The clock has no alarmwork and never seems to have had. But it is planned in such a way that alarmwork could be added at the last minute, as an 'extra', if a customer so wished. The hands shaft has its shank filed into a square, to be able to receive an alarm disc if needed. A tiny hole is drilled in the dial sheet just above the I numeral, ready to receive the alarm trip piece, if one were to be fitted. A similar hole would have been drilled in the iron backplate, which is now missing. A small semi-circular cut-out appears in the back top plate, to take the stem, of the alarm hammer - exactly as it would be if an alarm were attached to the (now missing) backplate.

But the dial centre is fully engraved and there is no blank central zone, characteristic of clocks made with alarmwork. Presumably we can deduce from this that Richard Roe planned his clocks to take an alarm if requested as a last-minute 'extra'. If it was not called for, then the dial was complete in its engraving; if it was called for, then the alarm disc would simply cover the centre section of the engraving. If this deduction is correct, then the implication is that Richard Roe did not do his own engraving, but that he ordered his dial sheet engraved right through to the centre and took a chance whether the client wanted a last-minute addition of alarmwork. Either way he could cope, as the dial catered for either option. This simply confirms what we had already guessed from the mis-spelling of his name on this dial, namely that Richard Roe did not do his own engraved work.

The dimensions of the clock are interesting. The height of the pillars is 10 1/4 inches, the plates are 5 1/2 inches square, the chapter ring diameter 6 1/2 inches, its width 1 1/4 inches. The overall height is 15 inches. The dial is 7 1/4 inches square. These are pretty well the standard sizes of London clocks of this time, which implies that his castings came from London. He would have finished them off, and assembled everything, making up the clock and its case from loose castings. The unique round-topped finials of his first clock (plate 1) remain a puzzle. Did he adapt or modify some other castings because he had an impatient client and had run out of stock, or could not wait for further supplies? We will never know, but then that's part of the intrigue of these early clocks. We know some of the answers and we can guess at others, but we will never know the whole story. If we did, we would miss much of the fascination with ancient clocks.

First published in Clocks Magazine.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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