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Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks The First Clockmakers in Suffolk and the earliest known Suffolk clock

A most unusual and very early lantern clock came to light recently, and one which has a number of features which are unique as well as some which are intriguing. I love the sort of detective work involved in trying to understand such things, and the salient points about this clock are described below in an attempt to do so. The clock is signed at the base of the front fret with a name hitherto completely unrecorded in the world of clockmaking: 'Luke Cocksedge fecit'. This position for a signature on the front fret is typical of the period when the clock was made, being what we now usually call a First Period clock.

The idea of dividing lantern clocks into three distinct groups or periods was put forward by Sir George White, whose massive book 'English Lantern Clocks' is the bible of the subject and the only sensible book I have ever read about lantern clocks. London is where most lantern clocks were made, certainly in the earliest periods, and it is London clockmaking that he divides into these periods. He breaks down the subject into periods in order to make it easier to understand each group, which is datable by the constructional and stylistic features generally pertaining for that particular period. White's First Period covers the period between 1580 and 1640. For all practical purposes of our daily business we can forget the 1580 bit, as clocks from that period are exceptionally rare, and class the First Period as being really pre-1640. The maker's signature on Period One clocks was usually engraved on the base of the front fret without any placename, often followed by the word 'fecit', which is Latin for 'made this' - as in this example by Luke Cocksedge. Even though a person so named claimed to be the maker, he might in fact have been the seller rather than the maker, or just occasionally he might have been the first owner. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we take his word for it that he was the maker.

The side frets are of a regular First Period pattern, being based on a variety of scrolls, which I sometimes call C-scrolls. These side frets are found on clocks of this period by several London makers including William Bowyer, Francis Foreman, John Pennock, Henry Stevens, John Cattle, Henry Ayers - so Luke Cocksedge was in good company in using this popular fret of the day.

The front fret is of a previously undocumented pattern, which seems, so far, to be unique to this clock, and apparently original to the clock. Yet at the same time it is clearly after the same styling and of the same general character as the side frets. The top of the front fret is surmounted by a left-facing bird. Other frets are known of roughly similar period which are otherwise different but which also have a left-facing bird on the top centre, sometimes said to be an owl and to symbolise wisdom. The bird on this fret seems to me to be more like an eagle, but is another feature which puts this fret stylistically into that same time frame as others surmounted by a left-facing bird. I doubt there is any significance in its facing left. Right-handed artists most naturally draw faces (human and birds) facing left. It might of course be intended to be a cockerel, as a pun on the maker's surname.

The front fret has a shield in the centre. A handful of other frets are known from this early period which carry a shield in the centre, examples being known of the 1630s-40s and sometimes a little later (1650s) by London makers who included Peter Closon, George Poole, Thomas Knifton, Thomas Loomes, William Sellwood. This central shield was in the past sometimes said to have been intended to carry the coat of arms of the first owner - though it is pointed out by Sir George White that no genuine example is known which does have a coat of arms. Occasionally such shields have initials (sometimes with a date too), which might relate to the first owner, but it is always difficult to know whether such initials were put on when the clock was first made or later. (A quite different and well-known fret with a central shield supported by a lion and unicorn is found often on West Country lantern clocks and mostly dates from considerably later.)

full view of the Luke Cocksedge lantern clock
1. Full view of the Luke Cocksedge lantern clock
showing the double Tudor Rose centre
and the brass hand. Click for closer view.

On this particular unique fret, which of course bears the name Luke Cocksedge, the shield is used to carry certain engraved devices, apparently contemporary with the making of the clock, though this is not a coat of arms. Nor is it the crest from a coat of arms. At least, if it is, I failed to trace it, despite searching through many with hearts, eyes or arrows. In the centre is a heart pierced through by, not one, but two arrows. Above the heart is an engraving of an eye from which tears drop down. This is a very specific design, which can hardly be random decoration. It must surely have had some meaning at the time the clock was made. We can only guess at that meaning, but one does not have to be a clairvoyant to deduce that the pierced heart might represent the wounds of cupid's arrow(s), and signifies someone who is smitten by love - two arrows rather than one perhaps implying doubly or seriously smitten. If the clock was made for Luke Cocksedge, then presumably it was Luke Cocksedge who was in love. The tears imply sadness, so that we can perhaps conclude that the design implies the sadness of unrequited (or unreturned?) love. Was this clock perhaps a gift to the lady of his affections, a lady who failed to return his affections? Or does this signify something more tragic such as the death of his wife or loved one? However, if this was a commercial clock made by Luke Cocksedge for an unknown customer, this could hardly apply.

The year 1644 is scratched, rather than professionally engraved, onto the dial front. We have no way of knowing if this was done at the time the clock was made, but that seems unlikely. Was 1644 some important year in the life of the owner of the clock? It is by no means impossible that this clock was made in 1644, though most of the constructional and stylistic features about it would suggest a slightly earlier date, perhaps in the 1630s. The Civil War was in progress at this time, and it has been suggested that the two arrows piercing a heart symbolise the two warring factions which split family loyalties and affections into two as well as the whole nation. The very unusual dial centre design with a double Tudor Rose (discussed below) might also be thought to symbolise the divided state of a country at war.

The chapter ring of this clock fits to the clock by means of an extended lug at the top, which in the one operation pins the chapter ring to the dial sheet and the dial sheet to the clock front bar. This is an unusual method, known, but uncommon, in First Period London work. It is a method that was regularly used in clocks from Salisbury and from the Bristol area, during, and for a considerable time after, Period One.

The pillars of this clock are of a type which is cast integrally with the upper and lower sections, generally called the finials and the feet. On most later lantern clocks the finials and feet were separate castings and screwed into place. Integral castings were unusual in London clocks, though were just very occasionally found in Period One (and not later), principally those who used round-profile capitals. However integral pillars were regular practice amongst certain West Country makers at the end of Period One. These particular pillars seem to be identical to Bristol pillars of the 1640s-50s. In fact Period One makers in the provinces were very few and far between but a few are known, notably in Bristol and Salisbury ... including such makers as the Snow brothers, John Snow ( at Salisbury from 1630, last dated clock 1650, d.1661) and Nicholas Snow (from 1629-of Salisbury by 1636-1640s, Martin Snow of Wells, Somerset (1660s), John Holloway of Lavington, Wiltshire 1650s, George Newnten of Seend 1650s, William Holloway of Stroud, Gloucestershire 1650s-1660s, Thomas Browne in Bristol 1640s, John Clarke in Bristol 1679, John London in Bristol 1679.

The finials of this clock, as has been said, are integral with the pillars and feet. The bell strap fits into the finials by means of a pin on the end of each arm, as was usual. But on this clock the pins locate into the centre of the finial rather than the top extremity. This was regular Bristol practice, but uncommon elsewhere, and is another feature which might imply that the clock originated in or near Bristol.

Some early London clocks in the First Period have their plates cut back to allow the pillar capitals and bases to stand slightly proud. This cut-back plate form was also used by the Snow brothers in Salisbury in Period One and slightly after, their clocks being in most respects identical with London work. Luke Cocksedge's clock also has cutaway plates in this same manner, another important dating feature.

The design and shape of the hammer spring on this clock is apparently unique, being so far unrecorded on any other clock. It is shaped like a large elongated heart, divided into two - reminiscent of the heart motif on the fret shield with its two arrows. This spring is pierced through to produce the heart shape. Other lantern clock hammer springs are invariably solid. The pierced spring producing a heart shape again echoes the pierced heart on the fret and may be a further deliberate feature to demonstrate Luke Cocksedge's broken heart. This is one of the clock's most unusual, distinctive and charming features, giving it immense individuality and character.

Detail of the front fret of the Luke Cocksedge lantern clock
2. Detail of the front fret to show the engraved motif of an eye weeping tears onto a heart pierced by two arrows - perhaps a symbol of sadness at a nation divided into two warring factions during the Civil War? Click for closer view.

The dial centre design, based on a double circle of Tudor roses, is exceptionally unusual and perhaps unique. It is engraved in two parts, the centre circle being surrounded by the outer circle, giving the appearance at first sight of a central alarm disc, though this clock has no alarm and never had. The Tudor Rose design is known on First Period lantern clocks but usually only on the alarm disc of alarm examples. No example appears to be so far recorded where a double Tudor Rose fills the entire dial centre. This feature too gives the clock a massive individuality and character all its own. Was this unique theme used for a particular purpose, or was it seen as just a pretty design? Again it has been suggested that the double Tudor Rose might imply that he maker or first owner was a Royalist supporter, which is a possibility, but only if the clock was made during the Civil War - something we can't really be sure about.

The movement was made originally, as were all examples of this period (and later, i.e. anything pre-1660), with a balance wheel escapement, and it has the hammer characteristically positioned on the right, which was normal practice with balance-wheel clocks. This was to allow two separate trains each wound individually from opposite sides to prevent the clock being pulled to one side during winding. The escapement was converted later to anchor escapement and long pendulum, as pretty well all were, to improve the timekeeping. Then it was later converted back to balance wheel again, how long ago is difficult to say, but the re-conversion is certainly not recent - perhaps more than fifty years ago.

The hand of this clock is original and is made of brass. The Hand tip fits onto the stem in a very visible way and may be a repair, or it may be the way the hand was constructed in two parts in the first place. Brass hands on lantern clocks are known by a very few examples (only a handful) in London during the First and Second Periods and are very rare there. But brass hands occur regularly on examples from the Bristol area and that general locality for quite a long period, certainly from early times till well after the date of the Luke Cockedge clock.

The countwheel of this clock is made of iron, a very unusual feature of any lantern clocks and not something so far as I am aware indicative of any particular region, though it is probably indicative of its age. It was probably just a whim of the maker, and saved a few pennies in the making cost.

Most of the distinctive features of this clock from which we might try to deduce a region of origin suggest it was made in or near Bristol in the First Period London style. In fact Bristol clockmaking is not known to date before the 1640s, which would be the very end of Period One. Alternatively it may have been made in London during Period One. However we have hardly any examples of lantern clocks of this great age from anywhere in Britain except for London and Bristol, and so our opinions are slanted towards one or other of these two locations. In fact the clock proves to have come from an altogether different location.

Initially I misread the name as Cockedge, a name which hardly exists. Then came a surprising breakthrough. When searching for a possible crest with hearts I noticed that there was a name Cocksedge, variously spelled as Cocksadge, Coxedge, or Cockadge. It seemed likely that the combination of Luke Cocksedge could be unique. But no clockmaker is so far recorded of this name, nor did we not know who he was or where he worked. All those stylistic features of the clock which might help with locality suggest it was made either in London, or, perhaps more likely, in the Bristol area or in the West Country as a more general region. Oddly enough a general search of surnames over a widespread area at this time located the name Cockedge only in one district in Suffolk, at the extreme opposite side of the country from where the clock seemed to originate. Frustratingly no lantern clock of Suffolk origin by any maker is known with any of the distinctive features of this particular clock, but then no Suffolk lantern clock of this age has been recorded till now.

One of the side frets of the Luke Cocksedge lantern clock
3. One of the side frets, a pattern known at this period in a few other lantern clocks. Click for closer view.

Re-studying the name on the clock very carefully I decided it was in fact Cocksedge, though the long slim s looks very like the second upstroke of the k. Searching again in the light of this new knowledge, I found a superfluity of Luke Cocksedges - three in fact! These were also in Suffolk, and it transpired that my locating the very rare version of Cockedge there, arose through mis-spellings of the more usual form of Cocksedge, or Coxedge. From having none we now had too many. The first was born about 1555 at Norton just east of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. Another, who proved be the son of the first, was baptised in 1585 at Norton. A third, who was the son of the second, was baptised at nearby Bradfield St. George in 1620. Luke Cocksedge (I) died in 1621, leaving a will, which mentioned his son, Luke (II). The age of the clock indicated it must have been made by Luke Cocksedge (II) of Bradfield St George, who was born in 1585 and who proved to be still alive in 1652.

The discovery that Luke Cocksedge was from Suffolk puts a whole new complexion on the problem, since no Suffolk domestic clock is known anything like as early as this. The earliest known ones, and they are very few in number, date from after 1665, probably long after, and were made in a much later and conventional style as pendulum examples, which must put them post 1660. A search through 'Suffolk Clocks & Clockmakers' by Arthur Haggar and Leonard Miller produced a handful of the earliest known makers in that county. None of these were working anywhere near as early as the evident period of the clock by Luke Cocksedge, which pre-dates the oldest previously-known Suffolk clocks by a generation.

The earliest known makers from the county are here summarised briefly. Richard Copping of Bury St. Edmunds (believed born 1615 at Ipswich) was reputedly working as early as 1654, married 1662 and died in 1689. A longcase clock is recorded by him, but no lantern clocks. Francis Coleman or Colman of Ipswich was reputedly working by 1665, believed married 1668, still working 1674. One or two lantern clocks are recorded by him. Roger Moore of Ipswich was married in 1687 and died in 1727. Several clocks are known by him including two or three pendulum lantern clocks, which must date after 1660 and were probably from the 1680s. John Cole of Woodbridge is listed as a clockmaker who died in 1663, but this was in fact a misreading for blockmaker!

I have personally come across seventeenth-century lantern clocks by two other Suffolk makers not documented by this book. One was an example from the very end of the century by Isaac Hurst, who was probably the maker of this name who trained in London till 1677, and then moved to work in Bury St. Edmunds some time after1677. The other appears by its style to have been made about 1670 or 1680 by Stephen Levitt of Sudbury. A maker of this name is known at Chelmsford, Essex, born 1689, married there 1708, but seems to be a different person.

Watches are a slightly different field, and early watchmakers did not usually make clocks too. A watch is known by W. Houlgatt of Ipswich believed to date from the 1630-40 period. Two watches are known by Henry Terold or Thorold of Bury and Ipswich is known made about 1640 and he is known to have been working at Bury from 1622. No clocks are known by either of these watchmakers.

One Suffolk clockmaking name is contemporary with Luke Cocksedge, and one name only, and this was Robert Sparke, a clockmaker at Cockfield, who wrote his will in 1647, and died in 1648, leaving the tools of his trade to his son, William Sparke. No example of work has so far been recorded by either Robert Sparke or his son, William, but here was a record of a clockmaker not only contemporary with Luke Cocksedge, but who lived only three miles away from him. I obtained a copy of his will and he was clearly stated to be a clockmaker - so far as I can see the earliest use of that term in Suffolk. It seemed to me he must have known the only other man in the county who practised the craft three miles distant - Luke Cocksedge. It is inconceivable that the two men did not know each other. Working so close together in the same trade means they were either working in association or were deadly rivals. Common sense suggests that rivals for that sparse early clock trade would have positioned themselves as far apart as possible. Was there some sort of connection between the two?

Robert Sparke described himself in his will as 'Senior', implying the existence of a junior Robert, who was of adult years, and indeed his will named one such son, a younger son, along with half a dozen other surviving children, though Robert junior seems not to have been a clockmaker. In fact Robert Senior left his working tools to his eldest son, William Sparke. Sorting out the genealogy of these families proved to be very complicated, but the position briefly is as follows.

Luke Cocksedge was born in 1585, married in 1616, had five children born between 1617 and 1628. Tragically his youngest son., Thomas Cocksedge, died in 1652 aged only twenty four. It seems more than likely that Thomas was a soldier in the Civil War for he died away from home at Newcastle on Tyne, a place which featured prominently in the war. His will, leaving everything to his father, was of the type called a 'nuncupative' will. Such wills were accepted as being made, even though not written down, principally by serving soldiers, whose wishes were accepted as having been spoken to a comrade with a dying breath, and were reported to the authorities later by that comrade by word of mouth. Luke Cocksedge was sixty seven years old when his son was buried. How much longer he lived after that I do not know, as my searches failed to locate his burial.

movement of the Luke Cocksedge lantern clock
4. View of the movement from the right to show the beautiful and uniquely-shaped hammer spring, perhaps echoing the double heart shape. Click for closer view.

Luke's wife, whom he married in 1616, was Frances Sparke, daughter of a widow also named Frances Sparke. Frances, the mother, re-married in 1617 to yet another Sparke, one Henry Sparke, no doubt a close relation of her first husband of that same surname. Henry Sparke had a son, Robert, who proved not to be Robert Sparke the clockmaker. Henry also had a godson of that same name, Robert Sparke - we don't know who he was. Robert Sparke the clockmaker must surely have been related by marriage to Luke Cocksedge, but I have been unable to establish the exact relationship.

Robert Sparke was born before 1575 and was at least ten years older than Luke Cocksedge. Luke would have been apprenticed about 1599 at the age of about fourteen, when Sparke was twenty-four or older, and Sparke was the only person in the region, perhaps in the county, who could have taught him. Luke would have finished his seven year term about 1606, may have worked for Sparke for a year or two as was customary, or perhaps longer, before working for himself. By 1616 at the age of thirty-one Luke was sufficiently prosperous to marry. It may be that the Sparkes, father and son, and Luke Cocksedge worked mainly on church clocks, for there seems to be no recorded output by any of them, other than this present clock. Yet between them the two Sparkes worked at clockmaking it would seem for over sixty years. Add on the working life of Luke Cocksedge of about forty-five years or so, and we have a combined working life of over one hundred man years with only a single clock to show for it. When Robert Sparke died aged at least seventy three leaving the tools of his trade to his son, William, Luke Cocksedge was sixty three, William Sparkes was forty-eight. Unless they worked almost exclusively on church clocks, where, we might ask, are all the domestic clocks these men made in their lifetimes- which could only have been lantern clocks for there were no other kinds? We know the destruction rate of lantern clocks was high, but was it so high that no other example has yet been recorded from a combined working life of a hundred years?

This is always assuming that Luke Cocksedge was a clockmaker, for in all the events in his life which I have been able to check against contemporary records, it is utterly frustrating that not a single one mentions his trade. But if this was a London-made clock bought by a country customer, could a chance customer just happen to live within three miles of the only clockmaker in the Suffolk, and just happen to be related to him - and yet still buy a clock from London? It takes some credulity to imagine this clock was made in London for Luke Cocksedge rather than made in Suffolk by him? We cannot be sure, but I feel strongly that it has so many features not found in London clocks of the day that I would put my money on Suffolk. As for the Sparke clockmakers, maybe a clock by one of them will turn up one day.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes
The full article with more illustrations published in Clocks Magazine

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