Collecting Antique Clocks Benjamin Shuckforth of Diss in Norfolk
Benjamin Shuckforth was born about 1688, into a family who seem to have been in Diss since the early 1500s. There is no record of where he learned his trade. It may have been with some local blacksmith, as there were precious few clockmakers in Norfolk at this time who could have taught him. Yet at a relatively early age he was making clocks, and the kind of clocks which display a serious knowledge of the craft, not the sort of rustic work made by a self-taught country clocksmith. If he was apprenticed for the usual seven year term it would have been from about 1702 to 1709, and the national records of apprenticeship do not start till 1710! Local apprenticeship bonds sometimes survive in parish chests and the suchlike repositories, but if one exists for him, we are as yet unaware of it. He might have been trained in London through one of the city guild companies, but the same applies. From what we can judge by his work, he was well aware of the styles and tastes of London in regard to clocks.
He probably started work at Diss in his own right about 1710, the first clockmaker to work in Diss, a small market town with a population of about 2,000 in 1800 and so considerably fewer when Benjamin began work there. The first we hear of him was in August 1730 when he took an apprentice of his own named John Frost, son of Samuel Frost of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. We know from other later information that he had regular contact with Bury St. Edmunds, which was where his wife-to-be came from and lies a good twenty miles to the south-west, as he did with Ipswich some twenty five miles to the south-east.
He was married on 7th September 1732 to Dulcibella Dalton, the daughter of John Dalton of Bury St. Edmunds, 'gentleman'. Dulcibella is an unusual name and she was not christened that by chance. I was amazed to discover it was a family name, seemingly that of her father's sister, his mother, his grandmother, and from what I could trace the name had been in each generation of the family since at least 1610!
But rather than being in the bride's home parish in Bury St. Edmunds, the marriage took place at Roydon, just across the border in Norfolk and right next door to Diss. At the time Benjamin was forty four years old, a bit late for a first marriage for a man of the marrying kind. The year of his wife's birth has not been traced, though her ancestry has, but we can calculate from various known events that she was no younger than thirty two, and at the very most not above thirty seven. I would guess she was a good ten years younger than Benjamin. I later learned that her father had died in1713, when Dulcibella and her brother, Thomas, were minors and were left to the care of their mother, whose maiden name was Ann Longe. When the mother died, they were brought up by their great uncle, Francis Longe, and after his death by his son, another Francis Longe (brother of Dulcibella's late mother), whose daughter, Elizabeth Longe, Thomas had married. In other words Thomas had married his cousin, the daughter of his (and his sister Dulcibella's) appointed guardian, the previous two guardians having died on the job.
Dulcibella descended from a very prosperous family, the oldest ancestor I traced being Dr. Joseph Naylor, Fellow of Sidney Sussex College of the University of Cambridge, Archdeacon of Durham from 1632, Prebendary of Durham from, 1636, Rector of Sedgefield, county Durham, from 1634 - till ousted by the Puritans in 1644 and re-instated in 1662. He was Chaplain to Dr. Thomas Morton, Bishop of Durham, into whose family his daughter (another Dulcibella) married. So Dulcibella's father, John Dalton, was a man born into money, and when I got a copy if his will, I found that he left property in Cambridgeshire and in rural Suffolk as well as in Bury St Edmunds itself, as well as considerable booty ('all my rings, medals, ready money, gold, silver, my watch, my horses, my mother-of-pearl cup, the pictures of my father Longe (i.e. his father-in-law Francis Longe) and of uncle George Naylor and of sister Dulcibella Morton', as well as his books, pewter, brass, etc. John Dalton had been married in 1694 at Risby in Suffolk to Ann, daughter of Francis Longe. His widow and executrix, Ann, was charged with the upbringing of the two children, who after her death would have her great uncle, Francis Longe, as guardian, after his death, her father, also named Francis Longe, and after his death her brother, yet another Francis Longe. They had no less than three guardians in succession. The guardians of Dulcibella and her brother Thomas seemed fated to an early grave!
But John Dalton, 'gentleman', was a wily bird. He had not descended from a family who managed to keep adding to their wealth generation by generation without learning a thing or two. He charged his widow Ann, to make an inventory of all these things to hand to the supervisors of the will to be passed ultimately to son Thomas, when of age, with a suitable portion for Dulcibella. In the event of Thomas's death everything was to pass to Dulcibella.
But Dulcibella's father, John Dalton, had other wealthy relatives from whom he inherited, including 'uncle George Naylor', whose portrait was one of those he left in his will. George Naylor had lived at Faversham in Kent and had married Margaret Upton, heiress of the Manor of Throwley in Kent, which the Uptons had owned since at least1600. The history of the manor reads: 'John Upton, his eldest son, inherited this manor, and at his death in 1664, by his will gave it to his daughter Anne, wife of Charles Castle, gent. who in 1688 devised it to her brother-in-law George Naylor, and George White, the former of whom becoming solely possessed of it, in 1705 devised it to his nephew Mr. John Dalton, gent. of St. Edmundsbury, for his life, and afterwards to his son Thomas Dalton, and his issue, ................... more of this later.
But all was far from well. A court case was brought in 1722 by Dulcibella's brother Thomas, now of age, against his father-in-law and former guardian, the third Francis Longe and last surviving guardian, presumably for misappropriation of funds. Anyway within a few years Thomas also died (1729), and everything now passed down to Dulcibella, leaving her a wealthy heiress and still unmarried, at which point she met Benjamin Shuckforth and they married in the autumn of 1732.
On 24th September 1733 a son, Benjamin, was baptised to them at Diss, but died shortly afterwards, and on 26th September 1734 a daughter was baptised there named Dulcibella, who became his only descendant. I can't help but think that Benjamin Shuckforth had fallen on his feet with this very fortunate marriage, for it must have been the making of him. He came from a family of unspectacular background, yet Dulcibella's ancestors seem to be mentioned almost every time you open a history book.
Benjamin's wife, Dulcibella, was buried on 14th October 1741, which left him with considerable properties and presumably cash too and the family portraits. The history of the manor of Throwley in Kent continues: ' Joseph Dalton ......... to his son, Thomas Dalton, and his issue (in fact his sister Dulcibella), in consequence of which it descended to Benjamin Shuckforth, of Diss, in Norfolk, who in 1741 sold it to Mr. Giles Hilton, of Lords, in Sheldwich, on whose death it descended to his three sons, John, William, and Robert Hilton, the youngest of whom, Mr. Robert Hilton, as well as by the devise of his two elder brothers, afterwards became the sole proprietor of this manor. He died in 1782, and his son Mr. John Hilton, of Sheldwich, as next in the entail, succeeded to it, and is the present possessor of it.' This was written in 1798 in the 'History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent'.
So it seems that Benjamin sold off at least some of the properties in 1741 when his wife died. After that we know little about him, and he seems to have lived as a widower with his daughter, Dulcibella, only seven years old when her mother died. In 1753/54 he took an apprentice named Thomas Jolly, son of Thomas Jolly.
Benjamin lived on, a widower for a further nineteen years. On 24th October 1759 he wrote his will. He was buried on 3rd April 1760 at Diss aged 72. His executors did not hang about as the will was proved on the 8th April 1760, only five days after the funeral! Within two months he was succeeded by the next clockmaker in Diss, William Shaw. On the 7th June 1760 was advertised: 'William Shaw Clock and Watchmaker in Botesdale ... also begs leave to inform the Publick that he has taken a shop in Diss ....'. On the 19th December 1761 a further advertisement followed in an attempt to get in any outstanding debts. : 'All persons indebted to the Estate and Effects of Mr. B. Shuckforth of Diss, in Norfolk, Watchmaker and Cyder Merchant, deceased, are hereby desired to pay their respective Debts'.
Benjamin's will is surprisingly uninformative. I have a copy on my desk. He left his property in Diss or anywhere else, to be sold up and the proceeds given to his daughter, Dulcibella, with the aid of 'my very good friend William Woolley of Ipswich in the County of Suffolk beer brewer'. The friendship between a cider merchant and a beer brewer demonstrates not only that they shared a common thirst, but that Benjamin Shuckforth's sphere of interest was not confined to his immediate locality in Diss.
Also working in Diss was a clockmaker named John Shuckforth. He was born about 1684,and was presumably the brother of Benjamin Shuckforth. He was buried on the 18th March 1759 aged 69. A single longcase clock by him was recorded many years ago. This implies an extraordinarily small output and the implication is that he worked mostly for Benjamin.
Watches, several longcase clocks, wall clocks and several lantern clocks are all known by Benjamin Shuckforth, , signed variously as: 'Ben Shuckforth of Diss', and 'Ben. Shuckforth DISS in Norfolk', Benj. Shuckforth DISS', 'Ben. Shuckforth Diss', 'Benjamin Shuckforth Diss'. The first two forms, that signing with 'of' and that mentioning the county, both tend to imply an early period in his work, when he was not yet well known and when he felt Diss too might not be recognised readily. His clocks are of good quality and his longcase examples included a good many of eight-day duration rather than just the thirty-hour type we are often inclined to associate with clockmakers in country towns, though he made those as well. It would not surprise me if one day we found he had been apprenticed in London.
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