Lantern clocks

Brian Loomes Antique Clocks

Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks John Lindsey, clockmaker, of Nayland, Suffolk

Antique clocks can be a bit like buses - you can't find one you want for long enough, then two come along at once. I sometimes wonder if I have supernatural powers, since the more I remark on it, the more it keeps happening, and it happened again just this week with two lantern clocks by a clockmaker from Nayland, a small town in Suffolk, very close to the border with Essex, but none the worse for that. Moreover this was a maker by whom no lantern clock had ever been recorded before.

In February of 2009 a lantern clock came up for auction catalogued as by 'John Lindley, Nayland', apparently an early 18th century clock with anchor escapement. I tried to research John Lindley at the time as I had in mind bidding on the clock, but I drew a blank and could find no evidence of such a person.

I noted it down in my records as a clock by a previously unrecorded maker, just as the auction catalogue had said. Certainly he was in none of the books, not that that is so very unusual as I come across one or two unrecorded makers every week. I did not attend the auction and the clock brought what seemed to me an extraordinarily high price for no reason I could see. I put it down to manic bidding by two people, each determined to spend his money rather than see it wither and die in a bank he had already subsidised.

Anyway that was the end of the story, until only a few weeks later I saw a lantern clock in another auction, this one by 'J. Lindsey, Nayland', Lindsey with an s not an l but a name I that was still fairly fresh in my mind. Now I had the correct surname, I tried to research this maker again and did have some modest success. It was not surprising that I could not find any data about J. Lindley, as it is quite difficult to uncover the ancestry of someone who did not exist - a phantom clockmaker! I have had my knuckles rapped before for pointing out how very few auctioneers have learned to read, write or spell, but there you are. Perhaps it is something to do with the disappearance of grammar schools, where they bashed all that into us - and we learned to use apostrophes! You can't have everything and on the other hand we have to admire the way auctioneers excel at mathematics, by means of which they can calculate their commissions as fast as you can raise your hand to bid.

Lantern clock by John Lindsey of Nayland
1. Lantern clock of about 1710 made by John Lindsey of Nayland, typical in style of many such clocks of the day. The construction is based on earlier London principles, though in London this type of clock was fading from fashion by now. Click for closer view.

Armed with his real name I did find some evidence of the existence of John Lindsey, but ran into a problem which often arises in tracing a clockmaker - the bus problem again. There were two of them. Given that there were two John Lindseys, father and son, the problem was in deciding which one was the clockmaker, at a time when few records describe the man's profession.

In struggling to gather a little information on John Lindsey, I had made the mistake of not looking in the reference books again. I had checked previously without success for John Lindley but had omitted to check again for John Lindsey, and when I did so later, I found he was there all the time. John Lindsey was a country clockmaker, barely known, but I discovered later that he was duly recorded in the 1975 book 'Suffolk Clocks and Clockmakers' by Arthur L. Haggar and Leonard F. Miller. Sadly Arthur Haggar died shortly after the publication of the book. Leonard Miller and I swapped notes about clockmakers for some years but he died about 1980. With their deaths we lost two keen researchers into horological history, but their book has stood the test of time.

They reckon he was born in 1677, the son of John Lindsey senior, which tallied with my findings, and that he was executor of his father's will in 1723. I found that John senior was buried at St. Stephen's church on the 16th August 1722, aged about 61. Ann Lindsey (his widow?) was buried there on the 28th April 1724.

Haggar and Miller record that he signed the minutes of the Town meetings between 1723 and 1733. This is consistent with the will I traced of John Lindsey of Nayland, ironmonger, written on the 30th of March 1737 and proved on the 2nd March the following year, 1737(-1738). This may sound as if the will was proved before it was written, but it is simply that with the old calendar system then is use the year began on 25th March, which means that 30th March came at the beginning of 1737 and the 2nd March came at the end, in the year we would now call 1738.

movement of John Lindsey lantern clock from the left
2. The movement from the left showing the hammer spring and hammer counter (or stop), both completely undecorated as was the fashion at this time. Click for closer view.

Haggar and Miller recorded two longcase clocks by him, a thirty-hour and an eight day, which they dated around 1730. I know of two lantern clocks sold this year (2009). If we assume the clockmaker was the son, not the father, he can hardly have been working before the year 1700, and these two lantern clocks seem to date between 1710 and 1720.

I also came across a record of a property transaction concerning Doctor's Farm at Nayland purchased in 1908, and its deeds record that part of the property was acquired in 1649 by John Smith of Great Horkesley (across the border in the county of Essex but only a couple of miles from Nayland). Then in 1690 this was transferred from Smith to John Lindsey of Nayland (the father), then again in 1733 to 'Lindsey of Nayland' (the son), then in 1739 to Elizabeth and Richard Cook. The marriage of John Lindsey in 1703 at nearby Rushmere St. Andrews to Ann Cook may have been the second marriage of John senior - the Ann, who died in 1724. Several members of an extensive family named Cook lived in Nayland around this time. The property seems to have been two houses in Cock Street, which were made into one in 1690, and a 'toft' (dwelling) at Stoke Nayland, a village adjoining Nayland.

The maker of the clocks was John Lindsey of Nayland, who called himself an ironmonger in his will in 1737. This was probably his major trade as it is doubtful if a living could have been made from clocks at this early period in such a rural area, whereas every house and farm had need of ironmongery. He seems to have had no children and left virtually everything to his wife, Mary, for life, then to his nephew, William Smith, keeping the property in the family as was usual.

He also left that 'messuage or tenement now called or known by the name or sign of the Shoulder of Mutton in Nayland' - a pub! This was to go to his two sisters for life, being Mary (born 1676, the widow of William Smith of Nayland, whom she had married in 1703 and who had died in 1721), and Hannah, the wife of (left blank) Goodman of Tolshunt Knights in Essex. I get the impression that he had not been not very close to his sister, Hannah Goodman, since she had married, as he could not bring to mind the first name of her husband! Can you imagine that you could not recall the name of your brother-in-law? Yet in his will, though 'weak of body', he claimed to be of 'sound and disposing mind, memory and understanding', even though the soundness of his memory did not include his brother-in-law's first name. This is not the first time I have come across this situation, so perhaps the truth was that his memory was failing and that the clerk who wrote down his will included this stock phrase to prevent any challenge to the will. On the death of the two sisters, everything they had from their brother went to his nephew, William Smith, Mary's son.

John Lindsey died over two and a half centuries ago but his clocks survive him. So too does the Shoulder of Mutton, which still stands in Nayland to this day, but recently seems to have suffered the fate of many a country pub, hit by anti-drinking and anti-smoking laws - it has closed down.

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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