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Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks William Reeve of Spalding, maker of the oldest Lincolnshire clock

I never cease to be amazed that 'new' clockmakers keep on being 'discovered', who were previously unknown. When the late G. H. Baillie completed his first edition of 'Watchmakers & Clockmakers of the World' in 1929 he thought his list of 25,000 makers 'had made some headway towards completeness'. Yet in his 1947 edition he added 10,000 more! In 1976 my Volume Two addenda to Baillie added another 30,000! My combined edition published in 2006 contained about 90,000 makers in all. And still new ones turn up almost every week. My recent book on Lantern Clocks listed details of every clockmaker known to have made lantern clocks, over a thousand of them, based on records I had compiled for about 40 years. Yet during the time the book was being printed half a dozen lantern clocks appeared by makers not in the listing, that is by makers by whom no example of a lantern clock had previously been recorded! I guess it is all a measure of how relatively recent is the business of recording such things and of how little we really know about our subject. The study of clocks and clockmakers is still in its infancy.

William Reeve of Spalding, Lincolnshire, was a clockmaker, who was totally unrecorded until here and now. A lantern clock by him, made in the 1680s, is illustrated here and came to light only very recently, as a result of which I tried to find a little about him. He proved to be the first clockmaker to have worked in the town of Spalding, and this proved to be by far the oldest known clock to have been made in that town. He was the only clockmaker to have worked in Spalding in the seventeenth century.

Classic lantern clock of the 1680s
1. This is a classic lantern clock of the 1680s based very much on the London principle and styling. Click for closer view.

William Reeve was not the first clockmaker known to have worked in the county of Lincolnshire. The first was Guy Dickinson, born in 1630 in Grantham but working in Lincoln from 1657 till his death in 1686. Guy Dickinson made watches as well as clocks (we know that from the inventory of his goods taken when he died) but, even though he worked for thirty years, no clock or watch by him is documented as surviving today. One cannot help wondering whether William Reeve may have been trained by Guy Dickinson, but records of apprenticeship survive only sporadically from this early period and there is no central source to search for them.

Lantern clocks were a type very rarely made in the county of Lincolnshire. This is because domestic clockmaking came relatively late to this county, as with many other rural counties, and by the time it did arrive, the longcase clock had made the lantern clock virtually obsolete. There exists a solitary example of a lantern clock by John Watts of Apethorpe, which could pre-date this William Reeve clock, but not much more than the dial is original, the movement having been fitted in very recent times. Apethorpe is in fact in Northamptonshire but the John Watts who made the Apethorpe clock lived and worked mostly in Lincolnshire. Four lantern clocks are known by John Watts of Stamford (believed to be the son of John Watts of Apethorpe), but these date later than the Reeve clock. Three are known made later still by John Watts's son, Robert Watts of Stamford. Two are known by Boniface Bywater of Stamford, a former John Watts apprentice. That is the entire summary of lantern clocks known from the county of Lincolnshire - ten altogether if we include William Reeve's clock, which is by far the oldest.

Of course longcase clocks were made in the county, but none is known this early. The oldest known longcase clock of Lincolnshire make is one by John Watts of Stamford and dates from the 1690s. So amazingly the only clock known by William Reeve of Spalding, this present lantern clock which dates from the 1680s, is the oldest domestic clock of any type known from the entire county of Lincolnshire - and this by a maker who is not in any reference book, yet.

What little I have been able to find out about the maker is that he had two children baptised in Spalding by his wife, Elizabeth, William in 1685 and Hannah in 1693, though Hannah died at the age of only six months. William Reeve himself seems to have died between 1693 and 1698. In that latter year his widow re-married in Spalding to William Roote, by whom she had several more children, but the family seem to have then moved away as the Roote name does not occur in Spalding after 1719. Neither William Reeve nor William Roote seem to have left any will, which probably implies there was not a lot to leave. Clockmaking seems not to have flourished in Spalding. The next clockmaker to work there was John Ingram, working from the 1720s into the 1750s.

Reeve clock with chapter ring removed
2. When the chapter ring is removed the name 'Windmills' is revealed along with other practice engraving. This implies the engraving was done by Joseph Windmills of London, or perhaps various castings were supplied by him. The old W is in typical seventeenth-century style, which today is sometimes mistaken today for N. Click for closer view.

William Reeve's marriage has not been traced, nor have we any clues to his origins. If we assume he was in his thirties in the 1680s, we can guess he was born in the 1650s. The Reeve surname seems to have been common in Norfolk, in which county a clockmaker named Thomas Reeve worked at Harleston from at least the1690s until at least 1734. A lantern clock is known by him which is not dissimilar in style and period from that by William Reeve. This may imply a connection - their ages are such they could perhaps have been brothers. Unfortunately we know little more about Thomas Reeve than we do about William, and he too is known through a solitary surviving lantern clock. This was made originally with a verge pendulum, as was William Reeve's, but converted later to anchor escapement and long pendulum, as the great majority were. Or this similarity may be no more than a chance co-incidence, as both clocks in their styling and engraving show strong London influence. This is not surprising as London was the leading centre of lantern clock production, and would be the source of inspiration for clockmakers in provincial counties such as Norfolk and Lincolnshire where clockmaking was only just getting under way at this period. Thomas Reeve and William Reeve may both have obtained their castings and possibly their engraved work from London, whether there was any relationship between them or not.

When we come to examine the clock it is in remarkably original condition being virtually untouched since it was made in the 1680s and having its original verge pendulum. It must have been one of the earliest provincial lantern clocks with a pendulum, which was only introduced in London in 1658, was virtually unknown in lantern clocks till the 1670s and was scarcely met with in the provinces till the 1680s. This clock must have been the newest, most fashionable type in its day, when we know for certain some provincial makers of that date and later were still making and selling lantern clocks with the older-fashioned balance wheel control.

The only part which might be a later replacement is the two side doors, which are thinner than usual, and it may be the clock was made originally without doors and these added later, as I am not convinced that all lantern clocks had side doors originally. They may have been an optional extra for those who wanted them. The front fret has a repair to its screw-holding flanges. Examination reveals that what has happened is that the flanges split through at the sides, perhaps from over-tightening of the holding screws, and they have been repaired using amazingly a piece of engraved lantern clock dial sheet. This might imply they were repaired by the maker, as no later repairer is likely to have had such a dial sheet.

The back of the dial
3. Engravers were always short of finished brass on which to practice. Here the engraver has used the back of the dial, never usually seen except with the clock dismantled, as here for this photograph. Click for closer view.

When the dial is removed we can see practice engraving on the back of the dial, a typical place for practice work done by the original engraver, along with test marks where he would keep testing the sharpness of his engraving tools. Engravers were always short of finished brass on which to practice, and so would use any odd surface they could find available, as here. But when the chapter ring is removed more practice engraving is seen, normally hidden behind the chapter ring. The word 'Windmills' is clearly and expertly engraved, along with a couple of practice Ws. This is contemporary with the engraving of the dial sheet, these old-fashioned Ws sometimes looking to us today a bit like a capital N. This is Joseph Windmills, the famous London clockmaker, who was working from 1671, became Master of he Clockmakers' Company in 1702 and died in 1724. Now the London style of the clock makes sense, for what this means is that Joseph Windmills supplied William Reeves with either the engraved dial, or the dial and castings, or the whole clock. Windmills was a well-known maker but no other example of a clock has previously been noted by him with his name engraved in a hidden position, as here.

The dial style is in similar vein to several by Windmills, with which it can be compared, though is not identical. The size of the castings - total height 15 inches, pillar height including feet and finials 10 1/4 inches, plate width and depth 5 3/4 inches, chapter ring diameter 6 3/8 inches and 1 1/4 inches wide. But the castings, e.g. the finials are not identical to those examined on Windmills clocks. No casting marks were found in the clock parts, which otherwise might have proved London origin.

It may at first seem surprising that an unknown clockmaker in rural Lincolnshire should have contacts with famous exponents of the craft in the capital city, but we have long suspected this to be the case. From the earliest days of clockmaking country lads were sent Dick-Whittington-like as apprentices into the trade in London. When they had learned the skills a few came back to their roots to practice the craft there. But even the majority who remained in London would make visits to family back home in country villages, and in that way rural clockmakers were in contact with London. They knew what was going on in the craft in London and the degree to which they themselves practised these new skills in rural locations was probably dependant most of all on whether they could find customers for such costly luxuries.

Reeve clock movement from the left
4. The movement from the left showing the hammer stop with birdbeak terminal. Note the old repair. The solid iron collets are turned integrally from the arbors. Click for closer view.

As an instance of this I have recently identified a case from Lincolnshire. Robert Williamson, the son of a rural parson at Fulbeck, was apprenticed into the trade in London in 1658. As a result of that apprenticeship and by virtue of the family-based nature of such crafts within a very few years at least nine other members of his family and friends had become clockmakers - Thomas Williamson (his brother), possibly John Williamson, his other brother, though that is uncertain, Dove, John and Stephen Rayner (three sons of his sister, Margaret Rayner), Thomas Halhead (the son of his wife's brother, Thomas Halhead senior), Edward Orton (husband of his daughter Mary), Thomas Darlow (husband of his daughter Elizabeth) and Jeremiah Darlow, their son. Moreover John Longland, the son of William Longland, a farmer of Fulbeck, was apprenticed as a clockmaker in London in 1667, the year after Robert Williamson completed his term, and this apprenticeship must surely have been inspired by the fact that an older Fulbeck lad had visited home telling of the success he had met with in London.

In summary this lantern clock by William Reeve of Spalding is an important milestone in horological history. Not only is it the earliest known domestic clock of Lincolnshire make, but it demonstrates that domestic clockmaking in this county originated through contact with exponents of the craft in London. We may never establish the exact extent to which this clock represents the personal handcraft of William Reeve or of Joseph Windmills. But, as an example of the newly-introduced verge pendulum clock, not only does it reveal that William Reeve was well aware of the state and progress of the craft in London, but it shows that his business acumen was such that he was able to sell this to a client in rural Lincolnshire. As students of old clocks, there cannot be much more that we can ask from a surviving example.

This article was first published in Clocks Magazine .

Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes

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