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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks James Hendrie of Wigton, clockmaker

Published in full in Clocks Magazine.

James Hendrie was a prolific clockmaker who worked at Wigton in Cumberland from at least 1718 till he died there in 1768. His origins are unknown, though the name is a Scottish one. The late John Penfold in his book, The Clockmakers of Cumberland published in 1977, supposed he might be from Edinburgh, where he reported there were other clockmakers of that name. I don't know where he got that idea as in fact I can find no such clockmakers recorded there. Another suggestion was that he was from Falkirk, where a James Hendrie certainly made clocks between at least 1739 and at least 1750, but this cannot have been our man, nor even his father.

The first event recorded for James was his marriage in Wigton in November 1718 to Mary Baker or Barker. If he was aged thirty-eight when he married, as Penfold tells us, that would make his date of birth about 1680. This was rather a late age to marry and, and we can guess from the naming pattern of his children that it was his first marriage. He might, as a sensible young chap, have spent some years working to establish himself before taking the plunge, and it is quite possible he was working in Wigton as early as 1700 to 1705. When we see that their first child was baptised on 1st July 1719, which indicates that the bride was already two months pregnant when they married, this may mean it was not so much a matter of James purposely delaying marriage as having no plans to marry at all, but ultimately being pushed into it. Perhaps Mary's father had a blunderbuss.

Ten children were born to James and his wife between 1719 and 1744. These included only one son who took up clockmaking, the youngest, named Joseph, who was born about 1744. Other sons, who were born earlier and who might have followed the trade, working initially for their father, died tragically young. James, born in 1720, died at the age of only eighteen. William, born in 1722, died in 1761 aged thirty-nine. The third son, John, born in 1724, became an innkeeper, and lived on till 1778. It may be that John did not follow the clock trade because his two older brothers already were doing so, but of course they died before they could leave any work of their own. I do not know what happened to yet another son, Robert, who was born in 1729. So the successor in the clockmaking trade to James Hendrie was oddly enough the youngest son of all, Joseph.

James's eldest daughter and first-born child was Jane, born in 1719. She married in 1748 to John Shepherd, who himself was a clockmaker, but seems to have left very little work in his own name. It may well have been that he worked for James Hendrie, who in 1748 became his father-in-law - perhaps initially as an apprentice or a journeyman, later as his son-in-law. If so he would be by no means the first employee to marry the master's daughter.

But the most interesting relationship was that of the youngest son, Joseph, who followed his father's trade. He was married in 1772 to Sarah Lamonby, who happened to have been born in 1751, the daughter of William Lamonby, whose wife, also named Sarah, was born in 1718 the daughter of Wigton clockmaker John Ismay. John Ismay was the second of that name, but we are unsure whether the first made clocks or not. John Junior was born in 1699, was apprenticed to Quaker clockmaker John Ogden at Askrigg in Yorkshire in 1711, but is believed to have abandoned his apprenticeship early to marry back home at Wigton about 1717, his first and only child being Sarah who was born in 1718.

The Wigton clockmakers were an incestuous lot. John Ismay Senior had another son, besides John Junior, and he was named John Sanderson (yes, Sanderson) and was born in 1671 - don't ask me how! John Sanderson was some twenty seven years older than his step-brother John Ismay and was already well established as a clockmaker when Ismay returned home from his abortive apprenticeship at Askrigg. Perhaps Quaker John Ogden ran too strict a household. The clockmaking Ismays were not themselves Quakers but some of their family were, and they mixed in Quaker society. John Sanderson's first marriage was to a Quaker girl, and they attended Quaker meetings at her parents house, and even buried their dead in the garden, as church authorities would not allow those they regarded as nonbelievers to be buried in consecrated ground. It was no doubt John Sanderson who arranged this apprenticeship for his younger 'brother' to the most celebrated Quaker clockmaker in the North. The whole Wigton 'school' of clockmaking was founded by, and centred around, John Sanderson, and young John Ismay worked for him, his older 'brother' for most of his life. Not more than half a dozen clocks are known to exist bearing the name of John Ismay, all clearly made in the Sanderson workshop in the unique Sanderson style, and one or two of Sanderson's clocks are known to have Ismay's name crudely engraved inside. Ismay numbered some, if not all, of his clocks, and numbers 1 and 5 are known.

John Sanderson was a truly enigmatic figure. He was orphaned as a child and was brought up his father's brother but went on to father a child by the wife of the uncle who reared him, and when the child was baptised publicly, he had to face the shame of this being announced in church before every member of his family and the rest of the parish.

His early sin caused him to turn to religion - perhaps the Quakers forgave him his sin, and for a while he turned to Quakerism. For much of his life he managed to be a bible-thumping, repentant sinner, travelling afar to spread the gospel at the same time as scheming and indulging in sharp practice. He spread the Quaker word at meetings as far afield as Edinburgh, where he also tried to sell his clocks illegally at the same time. His philosophy seems to have been that he would spread the Lord's word, as long as the Lord allowed him to make a bit on the side - not an attitude which is likely to have gone down well in Quaker circles. If you shook hands with John Sanderson, you would have been wise to count your fingers afterwards. Ultimately he alienated all who worked with or for him, including his own son, who left to work as a clockmaker a hundred miles away in Newcastle, which was probably the furthest place away from home where they could understand his accent. John Sanderson quite literally saw himself as a Jeremiah, spreading a prophecy of doom, and in fact he signed some of his clocks with that very name, Jeremiah Sanderson - a factor that caused me many hours of wasted research in trying to track down such a person, who never in fact existed! Many of his clock dials are engraved with his favourite verse: 'Remember man that die thou must, and after that to judgement just'. He was aware of ultimate retribution but it did not seem to stop him sinning.

All the clockmakers who worked in Wigton before about 1730 worked at some time or other for John Sanderson, who was as eccentric in his clockmaking as he was in his private life. Almost all of John Sanderson's output was in thirty-hour square dial clocks with anchor escapement and lantern movements, quite unlike clocks made by anyone else - except later by his own disciples. It is thought they sat on wall brackets rather than being housed in long cases - that way they sold more cheaply and could be carried much more easily as far afield as Edinburgh to sell in local markets. They were Sanderson's answer to the true lantern clock sold in the South. So too were the clocks of John Ismay. So too were the early clocks of Richard Sill, who is believed also to have worked for Sanderson, probably only in his earliest years. Richard Sill was working there by 1704. Then shortly after I suspect came James Hendrie, with John Ismay joining them by 1717.

Sanderson's clocks were crude, even primitive, but much of the work, including brass casting, seems to have been done in his own workshops. He was essentially a maker of thirty-hour square dial lantern clocks. A few eight-day clocks are known by him, but it is obvious from examining some of them, that he was happiest in thirty-hour work and his early eight-day clocks often have design faults arising because he was using thirty-hour principles. One eight-day clock uses an offset 'Westmorland' calendar wheel which is fine on thirty-hour clocks but on an eight-day will occasionally foul the winding squares, making the clock unwindable on certain days of the month because you can't get the winding key in! And that on a clock he made for a beautiful dial engraved by James Hendrie! Not a mistake you would expect him to have made twice!

James Hendrie was a different kettle of fish and arrived as a skilled maker of eight-day clocks and a skilled engraver. It is a long story, but from various aspects we can deduce that some of Sanderson's better eight-day clocks were actually made by James Hendrie, and probably engraved by him too. Hendrie may have worked for Sanderson on an occasional clock, but he certainly made clocks bearing his own name. His dial centre matting is deep and bold, done with great skill and probably great strength! On the other hand Sanderson usually tried to avoid dials with matted centres, preferring instead engraving onto a polished surface, the engraving even then almost certainly not done by Sanderson himself. When we see practice engraving done by Sanderson himself on the back of dials, you can see that the engraving on the front of his dials was done by one, or several, much more expert hands. A matted dial made by (or for?) John Sanderson pictured here [refers to published article] does not bear comparison with one of Hendrie's, as the matting is patchy, randomly thick and thin, showing roller marks that should not show, and I'll guess that matting was not done by Hendrie. James Hendrie's dials are crisply engraved with bold lettering, his minute numbers unusually large for the period, as was his preference. His half-hour marker too is large and bold, very eye-catching.

longcase clock by James Hendrie of Wigton The twelve-inch dial of Hendrie's clock
1. A fine walnut-cased eight-day longcase clock by James Hendrie of Wigton made in the early years of the eighteenth century. Click for closer view. 2. The twelve-inch dial of Hendrie's clock shows numerals, which look at first sight unusually large, but which were a feature of his particular style. The inner quarter hours units and the half-hour markers are early feature of his style. Click for closer view.

An example is illustrated below [refers to published article] where James Hendrie has signed his name on the back of a Sanderson eight-day dial as being the (dial) maker and engraver. Another example of a Sanderson dial is known with the name of clockmaker Edward Harriman of Workington engraved behind it. Sanderson was not one to spend a penny when a half penny would do, and if he could engrave we can be sure he would not have paid others to do it.

The Hendrie clock pictured here is an excellent example of his own eight-day work. It is housed in a fine walnut-veneered case with some herringbone inlays and, most unusually for anywhere outside London, what are called 'oystershell' roundels of walnut veneer all round the door. These were decorative circles of veneer cut as cross sections from small branches, set out in decorative patterns. They were used in some London work in walnut, or fancier woods such as olive or laburnum, but in provincial work they are very rare. Walnut cases of any kind are exceptionally unusual in the Lake District, or anywhere in the old counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, at any period, let alone at this very early period. It was a region where, with very few exceptions, clockmaking had barely begun by 1700. I can think of only one walnut clock from this region anything like as early as this one and that was a clock by Aron Cheesbrough of Penrith, which is perhaps the oldest Cumberland clock, and certainly the oldest dated one. That was actually dated on the dial 1689, but the walnut-veneered case had suffered and had restorations.

John Penfold's book records some thirty-five clocks by the Hendries, father and son, with more or less equal numbers of eight-day with thirty-hours, as well as a sundial made by James in 1724 for the churchyard of Bowness on Solway. But then he and his father before him, who was a journalist in the Lake District, were recording these details over a period of more than forty years.

These clockmaking 'houses', if that is not too grand a name for them, which were linked together in John Sanderson's early days, continued to have connections later in the eighteenth century. Richard Sill had died way back in 1729, succeeded by his son, Joseph Sill, born in 1725, who was an innkeeper as well as a clockmaker. We believe John Ismay died in 1755. John Sanderson' death has eluded us, but it was probably shortly after 1754 by which time he was in his eighties. James Hendrie died in his late eighties in 1768. The Hendrie clockmaking business was continued in two strands - on the one hand by his daughter Jane's husband (son-in-law, John Shepherd) and by his son Joseph Hendrie. Oddly enough because Joseph Hendrie was born late in James Hendrie's marriage and his bride and her father were both born early in the marriage of their parents, we have the odd situation where the son of a clockmaker (James Hendrie) married the granddaughter of another clockmaker (John Ismay), the two of whom were contemporaries and who worked together at the same time! Two generations condensed into one. Oddly enough Joseph Hendrie would probably have inherited not only his own father 's clockmaking tools, but also those of his wife's grandfather, John Ismay! So the two clockmaking 'houses', were merged into one in Joseph Hendrie, who by this time was competing for the local business with rival clockmaker and innkeeper, Joseph Sill.

Joseph Sill seems to have been a most unpleasant character. John Penfold recounts an incident where he was charged at the Quarter Sessions in 1769. Sill was then aged forty four; Joseph Hendrie was thirty two. The charge was ' that Joseph Sill late of the parish of Wigton, Clockmaker, being a person of wicked mind and disposition and maliciously intending to hurt and damage the cocks and hens of Joseph Hendrie of Wigton, Clockmaker, on the 16th September, did make pills or small balls of paste mixed with deadly poison and then and there did knowingly, wilfully and Maliciously throw the said pills amongst the Cocks and Hens of the said Joseph Hendrie which the said Cocks and Hens then and there Did pick up and eat whereby a great number thereof to wit eight Cocks and six Hens died'. For this offence Sill was jailed for one month in Carlisle Gaol and was put on probation for a further two years on security of £200, half of which he had to find personally.

It was not a case of Joseph Sill poisoning Joseph Hendrie's cockerels because their early morning crowing disturbed a late-night landlord's sleep prematurely. It was all to do with cockfighting, which was serious 'sport' at the time and in which there was big money at stake. Both were innkeepers as well as clockmakers, and there must have been bitter rivalry between the two, each landlord no doubt being captain of his own 'pub' team. Each was a 'feeder' as they were termed, which presumably meant keeper and trainer of the fighting cocks.

Cock fights were advertised openly. In 1816 an advert reads: 'A long main of cocks will be fought in the old pit at Aspatria on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the 27th, 28th and 29th of March instant, between the gentlemen in the neighbourhood of Whitehaven and Wigton for ten guineas a battle, and 100 guineas the main, and two turns out. Each side to show 42 cocks, to be shown, and weighed three days before fighting. Glaister and Thompson (are the) Feeders.'

For the three days of Wigton races on Akehead Moor, June 30th 1784, was advertised: 'There will be a main of cocks between the gentlemen of Wigton (Hendry feeder) and the gentlemen of Brampton (Milburne feeder) which will consist of 31 battles and 10 byes, for 5 guineas a battle and 50 the main. There will also be a main of cocks between the gentlemen of Wigton (Sell feeder) and the gentlemen of Carlisle (Henderson feeder), which will consist of 31 battles and 50 the main.'

Joseph Hendrie, now aged forty seven, was still fighting his cocks fifteen years after his prize birds had been poisoned, and Sell must be Joseph Sill, the bird poisoner, now aged fifty nine, still running the other team for Wigton. They were older but no wiser, still as keen as ever, and no doubt still bitter rivals. It is a wonder they had time to make any clocks.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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