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Brian & Joy Loomes

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Antique Clocks


Collecting Antique Clocks Edward Rundell, clockmaker of Norton St. Philip, Somerset

Edward Rundell is not a well-known name in clockmaking. I had never really heard of him till I came across the non-striking lantern clock pictured here. He worked at Norton St. Philip, a village about six miles south-east of Bath in the county of Somerset in what is often called the 'West Country'. The population in 1800 was about 650, around 120 houses. It would have been a little smaller when this clock was made around 1710, and it can sometimes seem surprising that clockmakers could eke out a living in such a tiny place. Yet they often did. The village lay on the old highway from Frome to Bath and only a short journey from either, and it is likely a clockmaker there could have poached customers from both as well as being able to sell his clocks at the markets of any local town.

Strictly speaking we should call such a clock a lantern timepiece with alarm as a true 'clock' implies one that has a bell for striking the hours. It is usually thought the word 'clock' originates, perhaps via other languages such as Old Dutch and Norman French, from an older form of the modern French word 'cloche' for a bell. Whatever the origin, it presupposes that a clock has a strike bell. Whilst this is technically a timepiece, most people would call it a clock.

Front view of the Rundell clock
1. This small lantern timepiece alarm by Edward Rundell of Norton St. Phillips in Wiltshire stands about ten and a half inches high. The front fret is unique.
Click for closer view.

The clock has alarmwork. It was common for an alarm clock to be made without strikework, as not many would want to have a clock striking all night long within earshot. It was also not unusual for timepiece alarms to be made smaller in size than a standard lantern clock, partly because they needed to contain less wheelwork and partly perhaps because an owner might sometimes have wanted to use an alarm clock as a travelling clock, when small was an advantage. This one stands ten and a half inches high against the regular size of a striking lantern clock of sixteen inches or so. It therefore comes within the category we would call a miniature.

Miniature lantern clocks could range anywhere from six inches to twelve inches in height. Those of the timepiece alarm type often continued to be made after the main period of lantern clock making had passed. By 1700 lantern cocks had largely been superseded by longcase clocks. So by the time Edward Rundell was making clocks (perhaps 1695) they were already falling from fashion, even in the West Country, a region where lantern clocks had been particularly popular. But not so with alarm clocks, the need for which continued. This present clock is hard to pin down datewise. It could be as early as 1690 or as late as 1720.

Rundell clock beside one of standard size
2. The tiny size of this clock (10.5 inches) becomes apparent when seen alongside one of standard size at 16 inches.
Click for closer view.

When researching Edward Rundell's life, I came across information on the internet by Philip Rundell, who descends not from the clockmaker but from the same general family in Norton St. Philip, and some of that data is incorporated here. Old records sometimes write it as Randell or Rendell but Edward's own preferred spelling was Rundell. Edward was born in 1671 at Norton, the son of Edward Rundell senior and his wife, Elizabeth. He was married there on the 16th September 1700 to Elizabeth Cottrell. The couple had several children born there: 1702 Elizabeth, 1704 Martha, 1707 Mary, 1709 Edward, 1711 Ann and 1714 Sarah, who died young, 1720 another daughter named Sarah. Son Edward died in 1738, shortly before the death of his father, on whose death in March 1738/39 it is thought the trade died out in the family.

Edward, the clockmaker's, widow died in January 1759. His father, Edward senior, occupation unknown, and mother, Elizabeth had died earlier, in 1685 and 1715 respectively. I could find nothing unusual to report about his life, other than that he was churchwarden on several occasions, but these dates put a definitive period to his clockmaking.

Dial of the Rundell clock
3. The dial centre shows his signature with no place name. This was not uncommon if the maker lived in a small, perhaps little-known village, but might it in this case be that he could not have squeezed 'Norton St. Philip' into the available space?
Click for closer view.

Several longcase clocks have been recorded by him, not only the simple thirty-hour clocks we might expect from a rural maker at this period, but also fine eight-day clocks with dials with herringbone-engraved borders – in other words clocks of a much higher quality than were usually made by country clockmakers at this time.

The most notable is a musical longcase clock of about 1710 recorded by Britten by the time of his 1911 edition, though no details appear to have been passed down. A musical clock by any provincial maker is noteworthy at this period, especially a clockmaker from a small village. It is usually thought that such a complex clock would have been bought in from specialist musical clock makers in London, though without seeing the clock we have no way of knowing if this was the case here. Norton St. Philip seems a rather obscure location for Edward Rundell to have had London contacts, but we are sometimes surprised to discover that such contact did occasionally happen with rural clockmakers. There were Rundell clockmakers working in London later, so .... who knows?

Left view of the Rundell clock
4. The movement of the lantern clock from the left shows the escape wheel, much like that of an anchor escapement. The short-span pallets allow a very short pendulum, rather like a verge pendulum but more accurate.
Click for closer view.

The general style of this lantern clock is typical of small timepiece alarms. The pillars are integral, by which I mean that they have finials and feet integral to the turned corner posts instead of being screwed in place individually as was normally the case elsewhere. Integral pillars were the usual method of construction for most West Country clocks, though in any case this construction was not unusual in miniature timepiece alarms in other parts of the country too.

The frets on this clock are unusual but appear to be original. The side frets are a variation on a known theme but the front fret is unique, obviously purpose-made, but why in this unique pattern rather than a regular pattern I cannot say. The side frets bridge a gap between the side pillar squares that is a little shorter than that between the front ones, so the same fret could not have been used for the front as was used for the sides. Nevertheless this unique front fret breaks from all the usual conventions of pattern.

Top view of the Rundell clock
5. The escapement is an early example of the tic-tac escapement, rather like an anchor escapement but having a short pendulum as with a verge pendulum - much more convenient for a lantern clock than a normal long pendulum and more accurate than a verge.
Click for closer view.

The clock is unusual in having a tic-tac escapement. This escapement is a variation of anchor escapement and is often associated with the Knibb clockmakers. We know Joseph Knibb used this escapement by 1673 though I doubt he could claim to have invented it. It is seen in lantern clocks, hook-and-spike wall clocks and hooded clocks in the late seventeenth century particularly in the work of makers in that general region (Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire). Walter Archer of Stow on the Wold comes to mind as one who liked to use this escapement for his wall clocks. The tic-tac pallets cover only two teeth of the escape wheel. The result gives a wide swing like a verge pendulum without the cumbersomeness of the long pendulum used in the anchor escapement. It was ideal for a more portable type of clock, such as a lantern alarm timepiece, especially a miniature, where a long pendulum would have looked incongruous.


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