Collecting Antique Clocks Peter Guy's Liverpool lantern clock
I am always intrigued when I come across a clock by a 'new' clockmaker, that is a maker who was previously unrecorded. Amazingly these still crop up, maybe one or two every week. But I also find it interesting when I find a clock by a maker, whose name is already known but only through historical records rather than actual examples of his work.
This was the case recently when a lantern clock surfaced signed by Peter Guy of Liverpool ('Leuerpool' as he spelled it). He was unknown till he was first listed as a clockmaker in 1975 in my book 'Lancashire Clocks & Clockmakers', and even then I knew him only as a name picked up from old records.
There are many clockmakers who are known only as names in records. Some may have spent an entire lifetime as a journeyman working under a master, or as an 'outworker', and may have made many clocks, but of course they would have been sold bearing the master's name. So it is not unusual for a clockmaker to be known by name yet not by his work.
I am often asked to look out for a clock by a specific maker, such as the ancestor of a client, and I have a long list of such names I am constantly on the lookout for. Some names have been on my list for about forty years and still no clock has surfaced by them. This is presumably because they worked principally as journeymen.
But now we had evidence of Peter Guy's work, this clock being the only instance I could find of a clock bearing his name. I suspect that with only this one clock being documented to date that Peter Guy may well have spent most of his twenty-odd-year working life as a journeyman.
'Journeyman' is an odd word, pretty well obsolete today. It comes, the dictionaries tell me, from Old French via ancient English 'journee', which meant not a day but a day's work. So a journeyman was an employee paid for his work on a daily basis. No work, no pay. So the 'zero hours contract' is nothing new - it was more or less the norm.
Eventually the word 'journeyman' came to signify an employee, but originally it was particularly one who had served and completed an apprenticeship. A journeyman could not sell work bearing his own name – though some probably did, for who could control what a rural workman did when he was hungry?
To be apprenticed to a master a youth had to be indentured and his father or guardian had to pay the master a fee for the privilege, called a 'premium', which was commonly around £20. From 1710 this premium was taxed at sixpence per pound under £50, one shilling over £50. These tax records still survive having been preserved by the Inland Revenue service. Peter Guy would have been apprenticed about 1715, but no record exists for this in the taxation returns. Why would that be? Perhaps because some were exempt in certain circumstances, especially the poor.
I discovered that he was orphaned at the age of about six and was probably raised by his widowed mother. As a poor boy he may have been apprenticed by the parish authorities, when no tax was payable (or therefore recorded). He may have been apprenticed to a relative, in which case the premium would be very low or non-existent and therefore also not taxable. Some apprenticeships to relatives might have been informal and therefore not have had an official indenture. But some did so that the lad would later be able to show proof of his training, and in those cases the premium would be very low and would not be picked up by the tax authorities.
Sometimes apprenticeships by the parish may survive in parish records, but these are very patchy. The long and the short of it is that the fact that no apprenticeship record is known for Peter Guy does not mean he was not apprenticed. Just that the record of it has not turned up – yet!
But not only is this the only clock yet recorded by this particular clockmaker. This unusual and interesting lantern clock by Peter Guy is the only lantern clock I have ever seen or can locate in any literature as signed at Liverpool. Lantern clocks were never widely popular in northern England. The reason was probably because by the time domestic clockmaking reached the North in any degree, the longcase clock with anchor escapement was already well established as the undisputed, reliable household timekeeper.
Yet northern lantern clocks ARE known and in the North-west a strong centre of their making was Aughton and the neighbouring town of Ormskirk, less than ten miles north of Liverpool. I had never really thought about it before, but why, I wondered, did no lantern clocks seem to have been made in Liverpool itself, where very many clock and watch makers had worked? I can only assume that, being a prosperous port of wealthy merchants and traders, the citizens of Liverpool went in for longcase clocks, which were more costly, more up-market. It may also have been a question of keeping up with the Joneses, as, by the time domestic clockmaking took real hold, the well-heeled may have regarded the lantern clock as old fashioned. Their aversion makes a Liverpool lantern clock all the more appealing to a collector today because collectors love scarcity.
When we think about it there are whole regions where thirty-hour clocks were not popular. Wales is one. Scotland is another. Just why I cannot say. I often recall how the strong Scottish preference for eight-day clocks was summed up in a phrase by a former colleague and friend, the late Felix Hudson, who told me that he honed his horological skills by stripping tank engines in the Western Desert in World War Two. "The Scots coudna thoil a poor thing", he used to say, meaning the Scots would not pay out good money for a lesser item.
Peter Guy's clock has several echoes of Aughton lantern clockwork – riveted chapter ring, right-hand hammer, engraving based on very bold tulips in a vase, the half-hour marker style, back-cock of inverted heartshape. In fact Aughton was virtually the only location in this area where lantern clocks were made at this time. The clock has its original anchor escapement and is mechanically as made.
The original iron hand is most interesting. It is of very unusual design in that the leading edge follows the outline of the chapter ring making it 'match in' particularly well. I don't recall seeing that done in this way before. The hand has no surface filing or 'fettling' and at first sight gives the impression that it has been fitted on upside down. But in fact the lack of surface decoration is deliberate and means that the hand relies totally on its profile, which all the more accentuates its unique and carefully-considered design. Does it matter that the hand is unusual? Well it does to me, as it shows this man was capable of thinking for himself rather than slavishly copying the style used by hundreds of others, including some of the finest clockmakers in the land. This was a clockmaker with a mind of his own. Such a clock is always better in my eyes that a clone, however fine.
Peter Guy was born at Aughton, baptised there on the 30th March 1701, son of Henry Guy, a husbandman. On the 23rd September 1721 he was married at Aughton by banns. He was described in the marriage entry as being from Huyton, a parish between Liverpool and Prescot, and only two miles from the latter, which was a great centre of watch and clock production. His bride, Ellen Martin, was said to be of the parish of Aughton. She was not born there, but Peter was.
Peter's father, Henry, died in June 1707 - different records give 1707, 1708 or 1709, but the next entry confirms the year. For Henry had another child, named Henry, born after the father's death and baptised on the 14th September 1707 'Henry Guy, son of Henry Guy deceased'. This would have left Henry's widow to bring up a babe in arms and six-year old Peter on her own, in addition to as many as seven older children. Widows in this situation usually re-married, but I don't know what happened to Peter's mother As her first name is not cited in any of the parish records, there is no way I can trace either her re-marriage or burial. It is likely Peter was sent out to be apprenticed as soon as possible, quite possibly to a relative, which would have been about 1715, when he was fourteen years old. Several Guy families lived at Aughton and also at Huyton. Wherever he learned clockmaking it is evident from this clock that it was under a master who was familiar with the Aughton 'school' of clockmaking.
But as a young man he evidently worked at Huyton, going back to Aughton to marry a local girl there in 1721 (though she was not born at Aughton). In 1722 they lived at Huyton, but by 1724 had begun to use West Derby church. They had children baptised: at Huyton: Henry in 1722; at West Derby: 1724 Mary, 1728 James, 1732 Catherine. We don't know if the change of churches indicates that they moved house, or just preferred a different preacher. His wife died in 1737, buried at Childwall (perhaps where she was born, as people were often taken 'home' to be buried in their parish of origin). Peter died in 1741, his burial not yet located, but his administration of that year says he was a clockmaker of Liverpool.
It is as well that the administration declares his trade, because by that sort of strange co-incidence that taunts genealogical researchers, there was a SECOND Peter Guy living in Liverpool in the 1720 and 1730s. Thankfully the parish registers record that he was a sailor and lived in Moore Street. Research, if you forgive the term, is never plain sailing.
Copyright © 2017 Brian Loomes
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