Lantern clocks

Brian Loomes Antique Clocks

Brian & Joy Loomes

Pateley Bridge

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Winners of the 2001 BACA award for excellence under the category of specialist clock dealers, judged on 1. quality of service, 2. consistent quality of stock, 3. depth of knowledge.

Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks John Lindsey of Nayland, a country clockmaker

Nayland is a small market town in Suffolk lying halfway between Sudbury to the north-west and Colchester to the south. It sits right on the border of Suffolk with a population today of about 1200, which is probably not a lot more than it was three hundred years ago. Not everyone will have heard of Nayland. Nevertheless a clockmaker worked there as far back as three hundred years ago, by whom one or two longcase and lantern clocks are known to survive.

I had never really heard of John Lindsey of Nayland till a few years back when two lantern clocks appeared on the market within a short space of each other. Then I looked him up in THE book for the region, 'Suffolk Clocks & Clockmakers' by Arthur Haggar and Leonard Miller, both of them now long dead unfortunately. My copy, which they were both kind enough to sign for me, dates from when it was first published in 1975 and is a bit thumbed now. It seldom fails to bring up details of a Suffolk maker and sure enough what they had was a good start, to which I was able to add a little to build up more of a picture of John Lindsey of Nayland's background. They had recorded a couple of longcase clocks by John Lindsey, but as I now knew of two lantern clocks by him, and when recently a third lantern clock came to light, it seemed worth a little investigation. Nowadays many records are accessible online but in the days of Haggar and Miller's book research meant visiting the local archives office and delving through dusty records, which was very time-consuming. I know as I've done my share of that. It is always easy to add on to information once someone else has done the donkey work. Every day I come across people publishing articles on the internet using my research without acknowledgement or by-your-leave and presenting it as their own.

Earliest recorded lantern clock by John Lindsey
1. This is the earliest of three lantern clocks so far recorded by John Lindsey of Nayland and dates from perhaps 1710, a standard anchor-escapement lantern clock with anchor escapement. Photograph courtesy of Messrs Dreweatts, auctioneers.
Click for closer view.

Briefly John Lindsey was born in 1677, the only son of another John Lindsey, who also had three daughters. The father was buried in 1722. It could be that the father was the maker of clocks, but judging by the apparent age of those I have seen, my bet is on the son as the clockmaker. Also it seems to me that old dogs seldom learned new tricks. As the father would have been approaching sixty by the time their first known clock was made, and the son maybe twenty-five, I imagine the son was keener to add these new-fangled clocks as an extra line to his business. On these clocks I think John Lindsey of Nayland was the son.

People sometimes wonder how a clockmaker could make a living in such a tiny place as Nayland, especially with more firmly-established clockmakers with a stronger clientele in larger towns not that far away. The simple answer is he couldn't. He had to diversify in several ways. Most such village clockmakers began their careers by being, or by being descended from, blacksmiths. They were usually located on a main coaching road, to take advantage of any passing traffic. But blacksmiths would also carry out any repairs to metalwork, such skills being always in demand from local farmers. Many would take their clocks to sell in nearby markets to increase their catchment area for clock customers, often holding a weekly 'surgery' in a local tavern on market days, where they would hope to sell an occasional clock and take in all manner of repairs. Even though Nayland had its own weekly market it is still quite likely that John Lindsey would have tried to ply his trade in other market towns within reasonable travel distance of Nayland. For most rural clockmakers the bulk of their work was in servicing and repairing clocks, watches or anything mechanical rather than selling either.

John Lindsey of Nayland died in 1738. His will described him as an ironmonger, which implies, as we might have guessed, that his trade was not restricted to clockmaking. The country blacksmith shop often developed into that of an ironmonger. We have a concern in a local village close to us where what was once a blacksmith's shop now undertakes all manner of ironwork and machinery repairs, as well as selling hardware and ironmongery and new farm machinery, and the premises are busy from dawn till dark.

Second lantern clock by John Lindsey
2. The second clock is very similar to the first but dates from slightly later, perhaps 1720.
Click for closer view.

John Lindsey of Nayland ran a business that prospered sufficiently to leave a will proved, not in some local court, but in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the highest court in the land and generally used by wealthier people. He had no children but left a widow and two surviving sisters at the time of his death. In his will he left most of what he had, including his house and possessions, to his widow, Mary, for life, and then to his nephew, William Smith, son of his sister Mary, widow of another William Smith, who all lived in Nayland. But he also owned a public house in Nayland called the Shoulder of Mutton and that he left, for life, jointly between his two sisters, Mary Smith and Hannah, wife of (blank) Goodman of Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. It seems Hannah had moved away when she married Mr. Goodman, presumably to some remote location and was obviously so far away from his home and his thoughts that John could not even remember her husband's first name! How cutting is that? Can you imagine not remembering the name of your sister's husband? Tolleshunt Knights must be all of twenty miles distant! When both sisters died, nephew William Smith was to inherit the Shoulder of Mutton too, as well as £100 to be going on with now and everything else that John left.

John Lindsey of Nayland's lantern clocks are standard fare, typical basic Suffolk lanterns with anchor escapement of which many were made in the region around this time. East Anglia in general continued making lantern clocks long after they were out of fashion in London and even after they were outmoded in other parts of the English provinces. Just why that should be is not clear but perhaps because they were a little cheaper than longcases. Another possible reason is that the clockmaker was not dependant on some local joiner to make a case of the right style at the right time. This would apply all the more in a small town like Nayland, where the nearest clock case maker might be in a larger town a good many away and liaising with him would be awkward to say the least. He who made lantern clocks was independent and could work to his own timetable. He could also deliver his clock more easily or the customer could even carry it away himself. He could take his lantern clocks for more easily than longcases to local markets to sell, if he could get away with that and manage to flaunt any by-laws from local guilds – and many did. Some clockmakers attended markets many miles distant. John Sanderson of Wigton and Isaac Hadwen of Sedbergh tried to trade in distant markets as far away as Edinburgh – till warned off by the local guild.!

Third lantern clock by John Lindsey
3. The third clock dates from a little later still, perhaps 1730. The dial style has simplified by now.
Click for closer view.

These three lantern clocks by John Lindsey are interesting to compare and they are pictured here in date sequence. The first two survive as he made them retaining their original movements and hands. The third example has been modified to a single-fusee movement to make usable what at the time was otherwise seen as an obsolete clock. This was often done, usually around 1900, by owners who wanted to keep the appearance of antiquity whilst making the clock more owner-friendly. On the outside it appears more or less as it always did, but for the addition of a minute hand (it seems to have kept the original single hand as an hour hand). Changing aspects which display the development of style include, the fret, the nature of the engraving of the dial centre, the half-hour marker, the hand. To see three such clocks together offers a lesson in the development of style. John Lindsey of Nayland may have been set in his ways as far as the mechanics were concerned (in fact once they had reached this form the mechanics of lantern clocks did not develop further), but he knew enough to keep the exterior style moving with the fashions of the times.

To a purist collector number three has been ruined and some years back such clocks were unsaleable. Today many people see things differently. If for example you live in such a place as Nayland, where clocks by local makers are extremely scarce, you might be happy to have a conversion lantern clock on your mantelpiece as representing something of the craftsmanship and history of your location.

And, if we try, we can see good in all things. What such a 'conversion' means, though seen by purists as butchery, is that at least the shell of the clock has been preserved, whereas otherwise the whole clock may have been destroyed by melting it down as scrap, or by clockmakers using the brass as repair material. In fact there are examples of conversion lantern clocks surviving today which are the ONLY examples known of clocks by a particular maker, a maker whose work would otherwise be totally unknown to us.

Copyright © 2014 Brian Loomes

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