Lantern clocks

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Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks John Barnett and his Lantern Clocks

John Barnett was born about 1662, the son of Valentine and Mary Barnett of Sawley with Long Eaton, in Derbyshire. How a country lad came to be apprenticed in London I do not know, as I know of no family connection there at this time. John seems to have been the first family member to go to London, though his sister, Elizabeth, also lived there later, by 1681. The rest of his family seem to have remained in their own locality in Derbyshire.

He was apprenticed in June 1675 through the Clockmakers' Company to John Ebsworth, a lantern clock maker, who worked at the Crossed Keys in Lothbury. Ebsworth was a fine clockmaker, noted for lantern clocks but also for a few fine longcase and bracket clocks, and who ultimately became Master of the Clockmakers' Company.

John Barnett was freed from his apprenticeship in September 1682. His first marriage has not been traced, but it seems his first wife died young and apparently childless. He was living in the parish of St. Margaret's Lothbury when he took out a licence to marry again in June 1692 as a widower aged 30 to Hannah Staveley of St. Botolph Bishopsgate parish, a spinster aged 22. Presumably he worked at that time in Lothbury, but whether he then worked at the sign of the 'Ye Peacock in Lothbury' or at 'the Dyal in Lothbury', or whether even they were different names for the same premises, we do not know. The marriage took place on 22nd June 1692 at St. Olave's in Hart Street, London, which seems to be strangely distant from the parish of both bride and groom. The reason for that may emerge shortly.

John Barnett seems to have left no children of his own, certainly no son to succeed him. He made his will on 15th August in the year 1700 and it was proved on 3rd November 1702. He was a still a young man when he died, aged only about forty, his total working life spanning barely twenty years. That he made his will at the age of only thirty eight, implies that he was in poor health, yet he survived more than two years longer. In his will he mentions his widow, Hannah, but all other bequests were to his brothers and sisters and it is only through his will that I was able to learn anything of his origins and background.

In the will he makes bequests to 'my honoured father' Valentine Barnett and 'my honoured mother' Mary. He mentions brothers Phillip and Joseph and four married sisters Elizabeth Day, Mary Thorpe, Anne Bingham and Sarah Boot. Eventually by locating baptisms of some of the children with this unusual combination of names, I learned that Valentine and Mary lived in the parish of Sawley with Long Eaton in Derbyshire. Sarah, Anne and Joseph were born between 1667 and 1677. Either the records are deficient or the other children, including John himself, were baptised elsewhere. Anne married at Sawley in 1692 to William Bingham; Sarah married at nearby Higham to Abadia (Obadiah?) Boot. Of the other children I could find nothing else. Joseph, born 1677, seems to have been the youngest and was only 23 when John left him £400.00, the largest bequest of his estate. The other brothers and sisters were either already settled into marriage or had made their own way and were left only token bequests.

John Barnett took four apprentices through the Clockmakers' Company, though only one of them seems to have been heard of again later, and that was William Webster, who was apprenticed to him in March 1702, described as the son of the late Daniel Webster of St. Mary Matfelan (another name for St. Mary's Whitechapel). What was not known until the discovery of John Barnett's will was that William Webster was his nephew, son of his sister, Elizabeth.

front view of the John Barnett clock
1. This clock was made originally with balance wheel, converted later to anchor escapement and long pendulum. This is his only clock so far recorded signed at this address; 'John Barnett at ye Dyall in Lothbury Londini fecit'. Date 1680s.
Click for closer view.

It was through his will in particular that those details emerged about his relationship with his sister, Elizabeth, who was probably a year or two older than him. She had moved to London about 1680, perhaps initially to live with him in his household. We know from John's will that she had married Daniel Webster, by whom she had three children. They were baptised at St. Katherine Colman's church in Fenchurch Street: 1682 Abigail, 1684 Daniel, 1686 William, children of Daniel and Elizabeth Webster, as she had become. But when they married, on 27th December 1681 at Allhallows Church, London Wall, the marriage entry gives her name not as Elizabeth Barnett but Elizabeth Graunt. I think this is just a mis-copying of the name Barnet, perhaps badly written. There are all kinds of reasons for errors in church registers, not least being the misreading of bad writing and also the fact that the clerk might scribble the names on a scraps of paper and then he, or someone else, might write them up neatly into the actual registers at some later time, when recollection of the names of the parties was faint. Daniel Webster died suddenly, probably in 1688, leaving a widow with three infant children: Abigail then aged six, Daniel junior aged four and William, the youngest, aged only two.

On 14th December 1688 Elizabeth married for the second time, the new husband being named John Day. She still lived in the same parish of St. Mary's Whitechapel, now with her new husband, John Day and family. By the time her brother, John Barnett, made his will that family consisted of the three children named Webster by her first husband (Abigail, Daniel and William Webster) and two children named Day by her second husband (Valentine and John Day junior). Elizabeth was probably the only relative John Barnett had in London. Whitechapel attracted many of the noisier trades out of central London, such as gunmakers and founders, and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is there to this day. Perhaps John Barnett went to live near his sister in Whitechapel, which could account for his marrying nearby in 1692.

John Barnett had no son to succeed him. There were several other London clockmakers named Barnett working later but none was related to John Barnett. His only successor was therefore his nephew, William, who was only sixteen years old when John died and at that time had been his apprentice for only a few months. 'I give and bequeath to William Webster the sume of twenty pounds when he shall come to the age of one and twenty and all my tooles to carry on the Clock or Watchmakers Trade'. On John Barnett's death in 1702 William Webster must have been transferred to another master to finish his term, but there seems to be no record of that. William Webster was freed from his apprenticeship through the Clockmakers' Company in July 1710. The next we hear of him is when he placed the following advertisement in the London Gazette for 24th to 28th November 1713:

"On the 20th Instant, Mr. Tompion, noted for making all sorts of the best Clocks and Watches, departed this Life: This is to certify to all Persons of whatever Quality or Distinction that William Webster, at the Dial and Three Crowns in Exchange Alley, London, served his apprenticeship, and served as Journeyman a considerable Time with the said Mr. Tompion, and by his Industry and Care is fully acquainted with his secrets in the said Art".

It seems to me this is worded in a deliberately ambiguous way. It could be taken to mean that William served his apprenticeship with Tompion and was his journeyman thereafter. Or it could mean that he served his apprenticeship with an un-named master, and then worked for Tompion as a journeyman, the latter period being about 3 1/2 years.

Six lantern clocks have been recorded so far. Two lantern clocks are signed above the dial centre 'John Barnett at Ye Peacock in Lothbury, Londini fecit', one a centre verge pendulum example, and the other converted later to a double fusee movement (plate xx). A third lantern clock, originally a balance wheel but converted later to anchor escapement, is signed above the dial centre 'John Barnett at ye Dyall in Lothbury Londini fecit' - pictured here (plate xx). A fourth lantern clock is known now with anchor escapement signed 'John Barnett Londini fecit'. A fifth one, also a fusee conversion, is signed 'John Barnett at Lothbury London'. The sixth, also a former balance-wheel clock, has an unspecified signature. Apart from his lantern clocks both bracket and longcase clocks are known by him, including a quarter-chiming longcase on six bells and one of three-month duration.

movement of the John Barnett clock
2. This view of the movement from the right-hand side shows the hammer spring and the 'bird-beak' decorated hammer stop. The two separate winding trains have been retained, though fitted later with ratchet type (longcase type) winding clicks. Tapered arbors.
Click for closer view.

Henry Ireland worked at the sign of the Dial in Lothbury at an earlier period, but those premises had been destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. So John Barnett may have worked later under the same sign in the same street, but not in the same building. The sign of the Dial was a common trade symbol used by many London clockmakers - Langley Bradley at 'the Minute Dial in Fenchurch Street', Joseph Buckingham at the 'Blackamoor's Head & Dial in Minories', Thomas Tompion 'the Dial and 3 Crowns', succeeded by George Graham at the 'Dial and One Crown', John Hill at the 'Seven Dials', Jonathan Lowndes at the 'Dial in Pall Mall', Richard Smith at the 'Dial in Rednal Street', and others ........ The dial sign used as a trade sign in these premises was probably a sundial, not a clock dial.

One or two things are surprising about the work of John Barnett. Two of the six lantern clocks we know by him were made originally with balance wheel escapement, and yet we know he was not working till 1682 at the earliest, by which time the pendulum had been in use for nearly twenty-five years already! This is interesting evidence that the balance wheel was still in production as late as this, despite its well-known inaccuracy and inconsistency in timekeeping when compared with the pendulum. We have noted this with the work of some other clockmakers too, such as Nicholas Coxeter. And yet we know that Barnett did make some lantern clocks with a verge pendulum, as did his former master, John Ebsworth, so it was not a case that he was unfamiliar with the pendulum. Presumably the customer was given a choice. We know that the balance wheel version was fractionally cheaper than the pendulum model, though by only a few shillings. So we can deduce that some people did still opt for the balance form, even though it ran only twelve hours at one winding against the thirty-hour duration of a pendulum version. It may have been just down to price, although it is true that a balance wheel clock is very easy going in regards to its running level, whereas a pendulum clocks need setting up and levelling with a little more care. So perhaps the balance wheel clock was seen as being more customer friendly.

There is another aspect of this clock which is surprising. The countwheel bears a clear casting mark of what is known as the 'matchstick man', being the trademark of a brassfounder, whose castings are well known even though he is unidentified other than through this mark. This brassfounder supplied parts to much of the clock trade, principally but not exclusively the lantern clock trade, in London over a long period in the seventeenth century. Clocks with parts bearing this casting mark are known from as early as the 1630s to the late 1680s, and maybe even later. Some lantern clocks by John Barnett's late master, John Ebsworth, contain matchstick man castings, so perhaps he continued obtaining his parts from the same supplier his master had used. The heyday of the matchstick man was in the 1630s to 1660s. Occasionally the mark appears at such a late date that one wonders whether it may be a case of an older part being re-used later.

This mark appears almost exclusively on mechanical parts such as countwheels, dial wheels, and ratches, parts which did not show once the clock was assembled. Some lantern clocks have different casting marks on other parts, including parts which did show, which makes one wonder whether clockmakers bought from different specialist brassfounders according to the nature of their requirements. In fact part of the pleasure in examining a lantern clock is to see whether there are any hidden casting marks anywhere about it. Since it appears over such a long period it is thought this must have been a symbol which continued after the death of the man who introduced it, as a kind of 'company' mark. So, although the matchstick man casting mark is well know, it is unusual to find it as late as in this example. This clock by John Barnett is confirmatory evidence that the matchstick man was still going strong into the mid or late 1680s.

The fact that only a handful of lantern clocks are known by John Barnett may imply that he concentrated more on other types of clock. Of course there will be other examples of lantern clocks by him not yet documented, but for now what we know of his work in this type of clock makes them rare enough to be worthy of comment.

Note: Full version published in Clocks Magazine.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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