In order to be called to the English Bar (to become a Bencher) in London a barrister had to be a member of one of the four Inns of Court which includes the Societies of Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Grays Inn.
The Society of Middle Temple is famous for its turret clock which was made by William Clement in 1667.
According to the contract made between William Clement and the Society, Clement agreed to make a clock to go above the porch of their hall by Michalmas (29th September) 1667 for the sum of £45. The very next entry in the Society’s Treasurer’s Receipt Book made on the same day, is an agreement with the bellfounder William Wightman to supply a bell for the clock which had to be better than the one at Lincoln’s Inn, both for metal and sound.
The Society’s Hall was one of the few halls to have survived the Fire of London in September 1666 here the Company was ordering a new clock and bell in May 1667. They also had their fire-engine repaired in May 1667 after it had performed so badly during the Fire.
William Clement had been freed by the Blacksmiths’ Company in 1664 and had set up in business making turret clocks in Southwark near his former master Thomas Chapman and his eldest brother Richard Clement who had moved to Southwark as a clockmaker by 1660. The Society of Middle Temple chose William Clement, a newly qualified clockmaker in preference to a more experienced one, to make their new clock.
However in 1656 Christian Huygens introduced the first clock with verge escapement and a pendulum control. The verge escapement and short pendulum were not very reliable as a timekeeper. William Clement had helped his elder brother Walter Clement who was an anchorsmith, to make his anchors. So with his idea of using an inverted anchor as the pallets and an ordinary wheel with 30 teeth as the escape wheel he was able to produce a more accurate escapement in conjunction with a pendulum of approximately 39 inches long with a heavy bob which would beat once every second (the Seconds or Royal Pendulum).
William Clement may have made an earlier clock with anchor escapement because the Society of Middle Temple had obvious heard about his new clocks. They chose Clement to make their new clock but they could have approached a more experienced clockmaker such as Thomas Chapman, his former master.
Unfortunately Clement’s clock at Middle Temple Hall has not survived but the Society has a print of the Hall drawn by Thomas Shepherd about 1815 by which time the movement of the old clock may have been replaced. However, the print shows us where William’s clock had been (fig 2). The clock above the entrance of the Hall was destroyed during the 2nd World War when a bomb destroyed the whole of the entrance tower.
You can find out more about William Clement in my new book "Early Clock and Watchmakers of the Blacksmith's Company" where Chapter 10 provides a fuller description of William Clement's life and contribution to clock-making.
Sophia Metcalfe, born 1881, was the daughter of Ralph Metcalfe watchmaker and jeweller at 168 Scotswood Road, Newcastle and apprenticed to her father 1895-1899. She married John William Clark of Crawcrook whose family were also watchmakers.
Now I will commence at the beginning of my apprenticeship at 14 years of age. I was never idle one moment and we were always busy. At that particular time my father had 3 shops, 166-168 Scotswood Road (the principal one), another on Elswick Road and one nearer the Scotswood works. My cousin William Ruddick managed the latter, along with Lizzie [elder sister], who was the first lady watchmaker, and Ralph [brother] was in the Elswick Road shop with my assistance.
Father had three men in his shop besides himself and always had three apprentices. In those days apprentices got 2 and 3 shillings per week. I know I only got one shilling for a year or two, however it was not a crime, because men like Dad had paid premiums to learn the trade.
Now I must not forget to tell you that we had all the principal clocks in the Town to wind in those days. It took Ralph, Ruddick, Talbot, and my father one day every week for this duty. Let me see if I can remember a few of them. I do know that Dad did the big houses at Gosforth himself, because they were his Club friends. – There was Dick Thornton who had 12 clocks in his house, Sir Riley Lord had 20, and another gentleman named Bell had 14 clocks. The others were winding the following :- The Crow’s Nest; The Empire; Clayton Street clock at the Fish Market; Vincent, the nut King, who had umpteen clocks; Turk’s Head Hotel, The Collingwood Hotel & Vaults, all the clocks at the Elswick Works and Dunstan Hill big clock which was a huge job, which took three men at a time to wind it. My father made new hands for this big affair, also for Clayton Street & Vincent’s. I wish I could remember the dimensions of those hands, but of course you see I was only interested in our clock going around as quickly as possible in those days. I often wonder if there are not one or two clocks left with R Metcalfe on the dials.
Now I must tell of some particular work we had on hand at that time, bookmaker’s belts. The Gosforth Races was the biggest event of the year, as it is yet to the town folk. I don’t know whose suggestion it was to have belts made of coins, but I do know they were made in the first place in our back shop; we had a tremendous rush for them; belts with four rows of pennies, each penny had to have a small ring soldered on each end and then they were attached together with other rings between and then silvered and strapped onto belts.
My work in this department was the blow-pipe which I did not dislike when I had not to hard solder them. The only job I did not like was having to scratch and brush the pennies before silvering them; they were dipped in sour beer. It was wonderful to see them coming out of the silvering pan and thrown into fine saw-dust and then shaken over the gas burner to dry thoroughly. A preparation of the silvering compound was given to each customer.
We had not finished them all for the first Race Week they were ordered; there were three to be finished for the Thursday, so Dad promised to take them up on that day. Well he took the mater and I with him, and shall I tell you what we wore that day. We each ( the ladies) had a wonderful frilly creation of flowered muslin with a belt of pennies and a 5/- piece for the buckle; our hats were a round straw with a strap of pennies, and bangles of farthings (silvered) also brooches of the same, two farthings joined together, so we were a silvered advertisement for the famous shop.
Mind you, neither of us could be bribed to go back the next year. Well Dad was handing his belts out to his customers when up stepped “Robert” [the bobby] and asked him for his license. Now, Dad with all his knowledge had not dreamed of that (a hawkers license), so the bookies did not get their belts after all. They had to be put back into the case and taken somewhere in Gosforth to be called for. I wonder how many bookies still have their coin belts, because they would last for a life time. I do know we were the first to make them.
I remember we continued to make them for a year or two. Brooches & bangles were made in galore from coins, some defaced and initials put on them; others were cut out with a fret-saw, & so on until we were stopped for defacing “The King”! We must not deface the royal head. Well, there were other hobbies.
Ralph [brother] was very fond of painting at this particular time and Dad encouraged him and also competed with him to paint the best picture. It was a water colour and Dad’s attempt being so poor, he did repeat the experiment, but Ralph did and ended up drawing two life size portraits in oils of my father and uncle; they were wonderful.
The next hobby undertaken in the back shop was the wood carving; some beautiful work being done by Dad and my step-mother; he doing all the figures and she the fancy work and scrolls. The house we lived in at this time was 8 Rye Hill which had eleven rooms, two reception rooms which were furnished entirely in oak carved by the parents. The outcome of all this was pupils, one or two of whom became quite famous. One I remember was a Miss Cowen of Stella Hall, Blaydon, who was also an expert in leather work.
Well, even this wonderful work came to an end and the last hobby attempted was fiddle making. There are sure to be some of Dad’s fiddles knocking about somewhere, because his name was inside them and everyone he made was judged and passed or condemned by an expert, Mr Mayson of Manchester, who became a great friend of ours. He had a large music establishment in Manchester and he had written a book on the subject for beginners (fiddle making) which we borrowed from the library. This hobby became widely known and brought all sorts of people to the shop, even “Whist” who contributed a column “Looking Around” in the Newcastle Journal for many years, came along and wrote a glowing account of “The old curiosity shop” on Scotswood Road. He also became a regular visitor to our home in Rye Hill (Mr McDonald was his name).
Now I must tell you of the beautiful times we had in this house, of course all this time I was learning the trade of watchmaker and jeweller. I could clean 4 watches a day quite easily when I was 16. I had a bench in the front shop at the main window and used to take the watches to pieces, clean the parts, put them all under a glass cover; then fitting them when the workmen were coming along the road from the works; hundreds of them in those days and of course I had crowds watching the lady watchmaker. Some of them could not resist waiting until they saw the job completed and the watch ticking. At my side was a man who did the turning; his work was always interesting and at the other front window were two other men working.
Dad would do a special chronometer job which always drew a crowd, he was so amusing and made people laugh with his little finger nail on his left hand, which had grown until it formed itself into a small cup which he used to hold all the tiny little screws, which he had extracted with a fine pair of tweezers.
In the back shop we always had two clock men and a jeweller, so you can picture a very busy, prosperous shop. The house we lived in was only 3 minutes’ walk from the shop.
Whilst I write this it is thirty two years since we lived at 8 Rye Hill, may I just picture it over again for a minute. In the basement there were two kitchens and a breakfast room; on the first floor, a dining room and a bedroom; on the second floor (mid-way) a bathroom and a separate lavatory, then up 4 stairs also on the second floor were two bedrooms and a drawing room; then up a further four stairs led to another bedroom. Then at the top of the house were two spacious attics, both good bedrooms. The drawing room was beautifully furnished in oak, some fumed and some black; there were no covers anywhere. The piano was a Hamilton grand (Waddinton) with 3 pedals. It was in this room most of my time was spent. My brother Harry was learning to play the violin at this juncture and I had to practice with him for two hours a day, half an hour in the early morning, half an hour at dinner time and one hour at night. I was very pleased when he got past me, so that I could not accompany him; at least he said I could not. What tempers we used to have some mornings and how often that fiddle was brandished round my head and quietly we used to quarrel in case Father heard us because he slept on that floor and would listen to the music! However they were delightful times, although we thought we were ill-used. I simply cannot tell you of all the parties we had because there were so many.
If any of my Dad’s friends had sons who were going abroad, or returning, or 21st birthdays and their houses were not convenient, then the affair was sure to be held at No 8. Also at this time there were many foreigners visiting the Elswick Works, especially Japanese and I remember many Chileans also, so we must have been building ships for many countries, as it was nothing to see batches of Chinamen going along the road. They always wandered into the “Old Curiosity Shop” and then to No 8; my Dad used to delight in teaching them to sing and dance. Their favourite song being “Oh dear, what can the matter be “. We always got a nice present sent to us after they had returned home again; coins were no object, there were always boxfuls of them in the shop.
We often had staying with us for three weeks at a time, a Danish captain, whose boat I remember was called the “Primula”, a merchant vessel. We used to give him the first floor to himself and his friends. During his stay the parties were numerous. He used to love to hear me sing that cheap little song “Call me back again” [Will ye no’ come back again?]. He even took a copy back to Denmark with him, where I could have gone myself had my father consented.
At this time I was 18 and nearing the end of my apprenticeship and feeling discontented because I knew I was making heaps of money for the firm, but very little of it was coming my way and I was kept very busy. I was up at 7 a.m. to begin the day, musically. I was in the shop from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. and 12 p.m. on Saturdays, with half a day off on Wednesday. I was not allowed out during the week, unless I accounted for every action, of course, this lead to telling fibs and getting permission to go to friend’s houses and places of amusement which were never visited. All my pals had their freedom except myself, so when Dad saw my dissatisfaction, he bought me a bicycle and took me to a singing mistress, Miss Mimi Beers, to give me more interest.
Now I did enjoy myself for 12 months but when my 19th birthday came, I asserted myself and after a fearful set to, proclaimed my desire to work for someone else. I was engaged by John Dick & Co in Grainger Street, as a journeyman watchmaker, and I will always remember my interview with Mr Dick who was a broad Scotsman. He first of all asked me if I was afraid of men, don’t laugh, please. I answered as demurely as I could, NO! his eyes twinkled as he replied,” Oh, well I can trust my men, because they’re all Scotsmen, but the apprentices”. My father only made one condition with him, which was that I should be supplied with my own set of tools, so I got a champion set on the quiet. I had not to mention this favour to the men.
Now began for me my happiest days since childhood. I had a bench between two young men, who soon became rivals for my favour, but like most young ladies I preferred the older men. The head watchmaker, whose name was Clark, was a queer old chap with a wooden leg and always came to work in a grand temper. He had fought in the Boer War, when the Boers had wiped out a number of our men on the battle-field. I was horrified at his attitude because our family were staunch tories. At that time I did not know the name of socialist or communist; he was one of the latter, I should say. However I got used to him and became quite friendly with his garden which was situated in the Fenham district.
He brought me a buttonhole EVERY MORNING and my two young swains used to rush for the vase to put it in. I often feel sorry when I think how I used to treat those boys. One of them lived at Whitley Bay and the other at Heaton and I used to fetch them both up with their bikes to meet me in Rye Hill, and of course, I was always surprised to see them. It generally ended in the three of us biking up to Mr Clark’s garden. How he used to chuckle when he saw us, but how pleased he was when my time was up in the shop. He said he would not be responsible for any more lady watchmakers in his shop.
These were also the days when I spent every holiday with my relatives at Tudhoe [Durham]. I could write a book about those holidays because they were crammed full of enjoyment. I was always popular, not only with the opposite sex but I had some wonderful girl friends. My first chum after school days was an Irish girl, Teresa Brennan, who emigrated to America when she was 17 and became very well to do, I believe. Then there was Lily Robson and her sisters in Grove Street, who were my cycling companions and Gertrude Coates who accompanied me to my singing classes. Last but not least, my friend till I was married, Louie Berkley, who married a friend of Dad’s (Mr Jameson of Ryton). In fact all of my friends married so well that I never saw them again. – I was the unlucky one, so you see how unprepared I was to meet MY future.
I managed a branch shop for my father in the Grainger Arcade and met another Scotchman who walked me out. I shall never forget our first walk we walked the full length of Jesmond Road that night without saying a word and then I remember asking him if he was enjoying himself. He was surprised at the question, however, he was a real good sort, who used to spend money in galore on a Saturday night.
I had my holidays too with his people in Scotland, but !!! that was the finale for me. I did not like him in “his own toon” so just waited a decent time afterwards before giving him up. I had a wonderful time in Broughty Ferry, their nearest town was Dundee, five miles away. T Ellis lived away up on a hill and down below was the beach, so it was both country and seaside. My dearest friend during my stay there was Tom’s cousin, May Buick, who was a typist in town. She is now married to a Mr Wright of Carnoustie and very well off, I believe. We corresponded for years, but there, everything wears off in time, however, thank God, memory still remains.
Sophie goes on to describe her holiday at Broughty Ferry in detail and then she tells how she met her future husband Jack Clark (who was the nephew of Thomas Clark watchmaker of Crawcrook), on the town moor during Race Week.
Your father was working on the buildings in the Town [he was a joiner] and living at Ryton with your auntie Hannah, just the two of them in their own house in Beech Grove Terrace. They had living with them Mr Milton Simpson, son of J.B. of Wylam Hall and brother of Colonel Frank Simpson, who now owns the Hall, and Milton has an estate at Beal. Mr M was, I believe, a very profitable boarder and would have liked Hannah into their home as housekeeper, after M got married, but H was always too independent and liked being her own mistress, so she kept her house until your Dad and I got married. I’m quite convinced that our marriage was a terrible blow to Hannah, especially marrying me, a town girl, who could neither bake nor cook, nor wash. My accomplishments counted as nothing to her but they certainly counted later on, as I will show.
Well to go back to our first meeting; “we met t’was in a crowd”. Louie B and I were great toffs that night, as we had had the trains taken from our King Edward Hall dresses and made into walking length which of course, was almost touching the ground, in those days. My dress was red silk with overlace of black, the bodice of which was a wonderful creation of cream lace and ribbons, with a very large black crinoline hat covered with red roses. It certainly makes one shiver in this year 1930, to think of such a description. Louie was in an entire blue silk creation with monster blue hat to match; she was always overdressed and struck one with awe because of her height too.
It happened that night Jack should have with him a very tall chap whose name was Bobbie something and he paired off with Louise very nicely. After we had sat in the motor cars for I am sure, almost an hour, I took Jack over to Heaton (where we then resided) and Louie took hers to the West End, where she resided (Hawthorn Street). When I bade mine good night he wrote my address down on his shirt cuffs, but I never expected to hear anymore of him. Louie had made no arrangements with hers, she rarely did with a pick up acquaintance; so we just went on our own sweet way until 5 weeks had gone over when I received such a sweet little letter from Jack at Ryton, asking me to write back, which I did to Mr J ----- ETC ETC, as he had forgotten to put his surname. It caused some remarks from the rural postman who was also a Jack Clark and a lecture from his sister for picking up chance acquaintances, however that was the beginning.
We did not see much of each other but were wonderful sweethearts, for Dad was so quiet and gentle and such a change to the town boys, who were always chaffing me about how long I would have the country boy.
Now these were the days when my step-mother and I were like sisters because I was beginning to give up old friends and went about with her to the theatres and Churches etc; when I was disengaged. It was a sore point with Louie too but I could not shake her off; she would turn up every Wednesday to see if Jack could bring her a boy, which he eventually did, to my great relief, and which ended for her quite happily.
I had such a bother to get Jack to visit our house because he was so shy and reserved. After a long and continual summer, I don’t think he would ever have come but the winter nights drove us inside. I had gone with him for at least 6 months before I knew what his occupation was and the matter was keep bothering me to ask him, in case he was a PITMAN (poor, despised pitmen what could we do without them), however we did not appreciate them in our life. I had never seen one of them in his work rig out. We got them into the shop on Saturday nights and judged them by their rough accent and their gullibility, but that was all we knew about them. So you might guess how dreadful it would be if Sophie got one of that species; I must give him up if that were so.
Well at last I screwed up sufficient courage one night to ask him and was quite relieved to hear that he was a house joiner and my father was also satisfied because, I do believe, he thought he would get a help mate in one of his hobbies which at this particular time was fiddle-making.
Time went on, my dear, and at last we were married and settled at 3 Nineth Avenue, Heaton with my family, as I was still a help to them. I was managing a shop in Second Avenue, close to the house and still helping Harry on with his music lessons, and Jack was here, there and everywhere at his jobs. Then out of work. Oh! Those out of work days, what a lot of them we did have to be sure. It was a strike and there was no dole money, nor assistance of any kind but just a few shillings each week from the Society. Now we would have been alright at home but it happened that Jack only understood his own work and desired nothing further, so when my father asked him to help in the back shop he refused. Well that was the finish, we may as well get out of No 3 and we did so. I can scarcely recount all that happened to us after that. You were with us then, wanted or not wanted. We just seemed proud of other people’s pride in you, if you can understand what I mean. I had very little to do for you because the Mater and Ruth were your nurses, so of course I had not the patience nor yet the strength, as I was never robust. I only weighed scarecely 7 stone after you came, Tom. I remember at this time we paid a visit to Barmoor or Clara Vale, I think, to be correct, where uncle was manager at the time and auntie Nance was the same weight as I, so you can picture us both being dainty once upon a time (HOW LONG AGO IT SEEMS TODAY). I am 10stone 6 lbs now I believe or somewhere near and auntie will be much heavier than that.
Well, Dad got a pick up job or two so we got a room from Ralph [her brother] at Wallsend; he had a little shop to pass his spare time in so I of course got busy and helped in diverse ways to repay them. I even plucked up courage to go and ask my father for the tools I got at J Dick’s establishment. That was how I had my own set of punches etc etc which I would not have had otherwise. He (my father) gave me the offer again of leaving Jack and taking you home. He said that Jack would never be able to keep me and I often wonder what would have happened had I accepted. However, I refused and not long afterwards Dad got a real start again at Wigham Richardson’s [ship] yard and we got our first house at Vine Street, Wallsend and were comfortably settled before Nora came, 1 year and 9 months after you. I remember we got £40 worth of goods which gave us 2 rooms. We had 3 rooms and bathroom for 6/- a week (upstairs flat) and what happy times we had to be sure. Dad worked right up till Mabel came on the scene 14 months after Nora, who was nothing like walking, so I had a handful, but by this time I was an expert house-wife thanks again to auntie Hannah who was my tutor and oh ! what good neighbours I had. There was Mrs Grieves who had been very well to do before her marriage also she had three boys who adored our babies, especially Nora whom they brought up. She was an ideal baby who never cried, so of course they preferred to look after her. You were the man then with two maidens to look after and all the messages to run.
Unfortunately Sophia Clark (ne Metcalfe) never finished her life story, she died in Aug 1930 but her memory lives on in her son and daughters and of course she left her story of what it was like to work as a lady watchmaker at the end of the 19th century in Newcastle on Tyne.
If you would like to read more about women in the Clock and Watchmaking trade or apprenticeships in general in the trade, please refer to my new book "Early Clock and Watchmakers of the Blacksmith's Company - Keith Bates"
Richard Craile was one of the early 17th century watchmakers. He was born in 1600, the son of William Craile a curate of Grantham and apprenticed to Robert Grinkin about 1615. Richard witnessed his master's will in 1626 when Robert died so Richard was probably a journeyman at that time. He took his freedom of the BC on 18th January 1626/7 by the testament of Ann Grinkin, Robert’s widow who had taken over the business. Ann Grinkin bound an apprentice, Humphrey Downing on 3rd September 1629 in the BC who was to become the master of Charles Gretton, a leading clockmaker at the end of the 17th century.
Richard Craile started his own business as a watchmaker but may have still been helping Ann Grinkin in her business in Fleet Street; her son Robert was not freed by patrimony until 1631, at the age of 21, when he was able to take over the business. Richard bound 10 apprentices in the BC between 1628-1657 and a number of them were freed, including John Warfeild bound in 1629 and freed in 1637. Richard’s son William Craile was freed by patrimony in 1652. Richard joined the livery of the company in 1632, was made an assistant in 1638, a warden in 1654 and would have been elected Master of the company in 1658 but must have been too ill or had died in 1658; he was definitely dead by 1659 when William Craile took over the business.
Richard Craile had bound all of his apprentices in the BC but in 1646 he was being pursued by The Clockmakers’ Company who wanted him to join their company and bind his apprentices there. In October 1646 the Court of Assistants of the BC issued a statement saying that they would defend Mr Craile in a court of law providing he did not join the CC. Richard had resisted the efforts of the new company to make him join them for a number of years with the help of the BC. However in March 1653/4 he was forced to bind an apprentice, John Briscoe (Bristoe or Bristow) in the CC.
Richard died about 1658/9 and his business in Fleet Street was taken over by his son William. William also took over his father’s apprentices including John Briscoe and ran a very successful watchmaking business for many years, dying in 1703. William bound a number of apprentices of his own including John Chatfeild who also became outstanding watchmaker.
Meanwhile John Briscoe who had been an apprentice of Richard Craile bound in the CC did not take his freedom of that company but did eventually take his freedom of the BC in 1680. He must have been a successful watchmaker because he was made a warden of the company in 1693 and was elected its Master in 1695.
Richard Craile and his apprentices were part of the trade descent of Robert Grinkin which continued through the 17th and 18th centuries and into the 19th century ending with the chronometer maker James Hatton junior who was working from 1775-1815 when he died.
All of these watchmakers are discussed in some detail in my new book Early Clock and Watchmakers of the Blacksmiths' Company.
My interest in chronometers and chronometer makers was aroused by a two part article written by Charles Aked on the subject of “Longitude and the Marine Chronometer” in the June and September 1974 issues of Antiquarian Horology. Mr Aked, a very knowledgeable writer on many different aspects of horology, explained in a very simple and easily understandable way how longitude was calculated using accurate timekeepers at sea.
Charles then proceeded to point out how each of the early chronometer makers contributed to the production of more and more accurate timekeepers which could be used under the many different conditions experienced at sea. I am sure that anyone interested in chronometers and watches would benefit from reading both parts of this article, which is now possible due to the diligence and dedication of members of the Antiquarian Horological Society who have made articles in past issues of the society’s magazine available on their website (www.ahsoc.org).
I talk about several Chronometer makers in my new book Early Clockmakers and Watchmakers of the Blacksmiths' Company.
It was not until the end of the 18th century that we find chronometer makers in the Blacksmiths’ Company. They were primarily watchmakers who branched out into chronometer making.
James Hatton junior, son of James, was trained as a watchmaker by his father in the Blacksmiths’ Company and freed about 1770; he did not bind his first apprentice until 1793 and worked until 1815. He must have died in 1815 because his widow Sarah and Clement Harris, another freeman of the BC, sent a memorial to the Directors of the East India Company in 1816 asking to be permitted to continue as chronometer makers to the Company. This new partnership continued until 1825 when Clement Harris was trading alone until 1840.
Edward John Dent was another chronometer maker trained through the BC although he was first apprenticed to his grandfather, John Dent who was a tallow chandler, from about 1804. Edward lodged with a distant cousin Mary Calame (ne Dent) and her nephew Richard Rippon who had been trained as a watchmaker by Mary’s husband David Calame.
Richard Rippon was the son of William Rippon who had been trained as a blacksmith by Thomas Liddington in the BC and freed about 1763. William Rippon married Ann Dent the daughter of John Dent and sister of Mary Dent in 1765 and their son Richard was born in 1766. William Rippon and his wife Ann decided to emigrate to America about 1775 and left their son Richard with his Aunt Mary and her husband David Calame. David trained Richard as a watchmaker. After his training Richard worked for his uncle as a journeyman and was able to take his freedom of the BC by patrimony at the age of 21 because his father was a freeman of that company. When David Calame died Richard took over the watchmaking business and continued to live with his aunt Mary.
When Edward Dent came to lodge with Mary and Richard he was so fascinated watching Richard taking the watches to pieces and repairing them that he decided that he wanted to be trained as a watchmaker. In 1807 Edward was turned over to Edward Gaudin, a watchmaker who had been trained in the BC by Thomas Gibson, to complete his apprenticeship as a watchmaker. In 1811 when he completed his apprenticeship Edward Dent worked as a journeyman to Richard Rippon until 1814 when he started his own business.
Dent continued to live with Richard Rippon, even after Mary Calame’s death. Richard Rippon at the age of 40 in 1807 had married Elizabeth Davis, a young girl of 18 years. The couple had four children, two boys and two girls. The boys William Frederick and Richard were trained as watchmakers by Edward Dent. Richard senior died in 1824 and Edward married his widow Elizabeth.
Edward Dent was in partnership with the chronometer maker John Roger Arnold from 1830-1840 as Arnold and Dent but made chronometers and turret clocks after that date. He is probably more widely known for making the Westminster (Big Ben) clock but he died in 1853 and the clock was completed by his step-son Frederick (Rippon) Dent.
Big Ben, the Westminster clock, was designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, Lord Grimthorpe and built by E. Dent and Company. Lord Grimthorpe has also been credited with inventing the gravity escapement used in the clock. However a much earlier claim for the invention was made by Isaac Jackson of Wylam, Northumberland, who made a longcase clock for the vicar of Ovingham (also on the river Tyne) which has a double three-legged gravity escapement; the back plate of the movement is inscribed with the date 1816. Isaac Jackson was born in 1796 and died in 1862. His gravestone in Ovingham churchyard has a plaque attached with the inscription “Original inventor of the double-legged gravity escapement”.
Isaac Jackson was not a clockmaker by trade but worked most of his life as a colliery engineman, looking after the lifts taking the miners down to the coal seam. In his spare time Isaac made clocks and other inventions including a reversing system for locomotives. He made a clock for George Stevenson (also from Wylam) in 1857 which was in the Darlington Museum and at least three brass skeleton clocks with gravity escapement.
The chronometer maker James Moore French may also have been trained in the BC but his master has not been identified. However he too seems to have had a connection with Roger Arnold and Edward Dent and had a workshop near the Arnold workshop. French also supplied turret clocks under the name of Santiago Moore French. A turret clock with his name on it has been discovered in Ecuador, South America. French also had nine chronometers on the first voyage of the “Beagle” but only one chronometer on the second voyage with Captain Fitzroy and Charles Darwin on board when the ship returned to South America. French sold other chronometers to the Chilean Navy when they were surveying the seas around their coast in the 19th century.
If you would like to find out more about these and other chronometer makers who trained in the Blacksmiths' Company, please check out Early Clock and Watchmakers of the Blacksmiths' Company.
If you have any information on Clocks, Watches or Chronometers made by British clockmakers which have found their way to South America, please let me know.
Keith Bates is an amateur horologist who has been researching clocks, watches and chronometers and their makers for over 30 years.