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Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks Richard Marshall of Wolsingham, Senior and Junior.

The Marshall family of Wolsingham in County Durham made clocks over several generations. They are a large and complicated family in terms of genealogy, but understanding their clocks is not as difficult as first might seem. The clockmaking Marshalls of Wolsingham and nearby in County Durham were researched in detail some years ago by Keith Bates and details are set out in his book 'The Clockmakers of Northumberland and Durham', published in 1980. Further research was done by a present-day descendant of Richard Marshall Senior, Elizabeth Riley.

What is a little puzzling is that those clocks we see today dating from the eighteenth century all seem to be the product of just two makers, Richard Marshall Senior and his son, Richard Junior. We know there were other members of the family who were clockmakers, but we do not seem to come across clocks bearing their names. Why is that?

Wolsingham was then a small market town on that high moorland road which runs across the back of the Pennine Mountain range from Durham, about sixteen miles over to the East, across to Penrith in the West. The population was less than two thousand souls. The location, along a major highway, was one which metalsmiths had typically favoured since the invention of the wheel, for wheels broke on mountainous roads, and horses threw their shoes, all of which meant constant work for blacksmiths from passing travellers.

The ancestor of all these clockmaking Marshalls was William Marshall of Wolsingham, who was born there in 1675, married before 1704 and died quite young in 1723 aged forty eight. I don't personally know of any clocks by this maker, and it is uncertain whether this was his trade. William was the son of one Richard Marshall of Wolsingham also of unknown trade. It is unlikely that clockmaking could have begun quite as early as this in such a small town, but clockmaking often grew from other metalsmith trades.

Richard Marshall Senior was born in 1708 and was aged only fifteen when his father, William, died in 1723, Richard's younger brother being then aged only eleven. Either young Richard continued his father's trade, or more likely he was apprenticed to some clockmaker nearby, which would usually involve a seven-year spell. In fact there is no record of any official apprenticeship, all of which were registered with officials of the Inland Revenue, as a duty was payable - other than those children of the poor who were put out to apprenticeship by the parish, when no duty was payable. But this very fact that a duty had to be paid meant that many 'apprenticeships' were informal, word-of-mouth arrangements, often between relatives, and no official paperwork existed. In such cases no records survive. The survival of documents about parish apprenticeships in the parish chest is a very hit-and-miss affair.

Richard Senior married in the late 1720s or early 1730s and lived at Uppertown in Wolsingham. He was the first clockmaker to produce clocks in that town. He must have produced very many clocks as numerous examples of his work have been recorded, mostly in the form of simple thirty-hour brass dial clocks, mostly two-handers. Fortunately he took up the habit of dating his clocks on the dial, not every single one, as undated clocks are known, but a great many of them are dated. This is vital in trying to research Marshall work because it helps us to distinguish his work from that of his namesake son and successor, Richard Marshall Junior. Richard Senior died in 1774.

William Marshall, the younger brother of Richard Marshall Senior, was born in 1712, probably worked with, and for, Richard for most of his life. William was for many years a bachelor, but married in 1762 at the ripe age of fifty, after which he appears to have moved away to set up his own home and business at Warkworth. He died only four years later in 1766. It is probably because he worked for only four years or so in his own right, that we see no clocks by him. There must be some, but they remain undocumented and are therefore probably very few in number. Those signed by his brother, Richard, at Wolsingham are probably so much more numerous by virtue of the fact that William was for most of his life an important part of Richard's work force.

Richard Marshall Senior had several children of which at least three sons followed his trade. The eldest was Richard Marshall Junior, Richard II that is, who was born in 1734 and eventually succeeded to his father's business at Wolsingham when the latter died in 1774. John was born in 1745 and is believed to have moved eventually, not long before 1766, to Warkworth to succeed his uncle William, whose health was clearly failing. A third son of Richard Senior, William, was born in 1738 and is thought to have remained at Wolsingham, working first for his father, Richard (I), and then for his elder brother, Richard (II). Richard Marshall Senior died in 1774.

Eight-day clock signed 'Richard Marshall Wolsingham' The hood of the eight-day moon dial clock
Eight-day clock with rolling moon in its original oak case signed 'Richard Marshall Wolsingham' Richard Senior or Junior? Click for closer view Detail to show the hood of the eight-day moon dial clock Click for closer view

What all this means is that Richard Marshall Senior had a workforce which included his younger brother William (who moved to Warkworth after 1762), as well as his sons Richard (II), William and John, the latter until 1766 anyway. He may also have had several apprentices or other in-house workmen, known as journeymen. Add to that the fact that he was in business for not less than forty four years and there is little wonder that his output was prolific and all of that work being sold under Richard's name as the master. We know a solitary clockmaker could turn out twenty-five clocks a year. There must have been times when Richard's output reached well over one hundred a year - always assuming he could find buyers for that many.

Richard Marshall Junior, born 1734, worked at Wolsingham till his death in 1796, which means a period of some twenty years as his own master, only about half the working life of his namesake father. Richard Junior also had a son named Richard, born in 1761, but dying tragically young in 1784 aged only twenty three. Young Richard (III) can therefore have made no clocks sold under his own name, just under his father's name. This was the normal practice, that the father ran the business and his clocks carried his name as master during his lifetime. So the Wolsingham clockmaking dynasty in reality was confined almost exclusively to the work of Richard Marshall Senior and Junior.

But there was one successor when Richard Junior died in 1796, namely his nephew, John Marshall, son of his brother, William, who had died in 1794. John was born in 1774, making him just twenty two when uncle Richard (II) died. John lived only till 1805, dying at the tragically early age of thirty-one. What became of the Marshall clockmakers after John's death is uncertain. However there were clockmakers of this name working nearby from quite soon after John's death and these are very probably descendants. Later Marshall clockmakers worked at Greenside, at Woodside, at Ryton, and at Blaydon near Newcastle. Others were at Shotley Bridge just south of there and near Consett. Some of these places developed with the coming of the railways. It is very likely they all have a common ancestry in the Wolsingham Marshalls.
Looking at the clocks which survive from the Marshall family of clockmakers of Wolsingham, they are pretty well exclusively by Richard Marshall Senior and Junior. We can recognise from their age those of Richard Senior, deduced by the style, and also by the fact that he obligingly dated most of his on the dial, which tells us they were made during his lifetime. Clocks by him have been recorded bearing the dates: 1737, 1739, 1740, 1751, 1752, 1754, 1766, 1769, 1770, 1772, 1773. He died in 1774 of course, so he seems to have been very consistent in dating them throughout his life, once he began that practice, and in leaving the placename off, signing just by name and year. It is tempting to set the occasional undated example (e.g. plate 1) as earlier than his dated ones, i.e. before he began his dating scheme, but his dial style is so very varied that it is difficult to be certain of this.

Dial of the rolling moon eight-day clock
Dial of the rolling moon eight-day clock. Very high quality work. Click for closer view

Those who left the placenames off their clocks were often those who worked in smaller remote places, perhaps with names not known more than a few miles. It was also the case that some of these remote clockmakers took their clocks to sell in the markets of other towns, and for several reasons did not want the clock to be pinned down to one location. Such makers often held weekly 'surgeries' in taverns in towns some miles distant where they attended on a certain day each week, or perhaps each month, to repairs for clients. Usually the surgery day might fall conveniently on the local market day, when prospects were better for both repair work and sales.

All those clocks of Richard Marshall senior which I have seen were thirty-hour brass dials, except for two. One or two (e.g. those I have seen dated 1772 and 1773) look at first sight like eight-day clocks because they have winding holes and winding squares, but these are dummies fitted just to give an impression of an eight-day clock, and they are still thirty-hour clocks. There is no doubt the thirty-hour clock was his staple product, and this is not surprising for a man struggling to sell clocks to first-time buyers in an area with a less-than-affluent clientele. He had to keep the price low to find buyers, and thirty-hour clocks were the cheapest possible type.

When it comes to the clocks of Richard Marshall Junior the clocks are more varied. He made both brass dial and painted dial clocks - painted dial clocks only really came onto the market after the death of Richard Marshall Senior (1774), so were not available to him. Richard Junior also made mostly thirty-hour clocks. Richard Junior seems to have put the placename Wolsingham on the dials of (some of) his clocks, but not the year of making. However he does seem to have dated his clocks in a hidden place, sometimes on the back of the dial, sometimes on the movement frontplate.

One eight-day clock with rolling moonwork stands out above all other examples I have seen. It is a very high-quality eight-day clock with rolling moonwork, and is signed across the arch 'Richard Marshall, Wolsingham'. This clock seems to date by its style from the 1760s, maybe the early 1770s. It certainly would appear to date from during the lifetime of Richard Senior, who died in 1774. Yet the signature, with the town named, and the absence of a year of making on the dial, seems more like what we expect from Richard Junior. It is possible there could be a hidden date somewhere on the movement, but if so then we don't yet know that. It was made in Richard Senior's lifetime yet in the style of Richard Junior. The only deduction I can suggest is that the father gave the son his head and let him depart from the regular and mundane sort of work into something of a higher class - but we'll never really know. We must pre-suppose they had an order for the clock, as rural clockmakers generally made to order, rather than as display stock to offer on sale in a showroom.

The Marshalls made clocks at Wolsingham for the best part of a hundred years, and probably longer once they moved elsewhere. Each year I come across one or two cottage clocks by Richard Senior, but so far have only seen the one eight-day with rolling moon. But next year - who knows?

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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