John Walker was the son of James, a deceased gardener of Shoreditch, London. He was apprenticed to Charles Thompson on 6th June 1734 but not freed in the BC until 1749 and bound his first apprentice in 1751. The competition for a clockmaker in London must have been very strong at that time because John chose to move to Newcastle about 1752 -53. He was definitely in the town by 1754 when he advertised his presence in the Newcastle Journal from 15th June 1754 as follows :-
“John Walker, clock and watch maker from London at the Crown and Dial in the Close, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Makes, Mends and Sells, all sorts of Clocks and watches at reasonable rates; viz Chime Clocks with either Weights or Springs, keeping such regular time that no defect can be observed by the most Curious; Likewise Spring or Weight Quarter Clocks to strike the Hours and Quarters going upon 9 or 13 bells, with changes (and when pull’d) will repeat the last Hour and Quarters even to a second of time, if required. Also repeating Spring Clocks to strike the Hours at the due Time and their Hours and Quarters upon 7,9 or 13 bells (when pull’d). Also Silent Spring Clocks (only when pull’d) will strike the Hour and repeat, with the Cylinder Motion. Also makes and sells Weight 8 day Clocks to repeat the Hour, with the Sun’s Motion and the Increase and Decrease of days, with the Moon’s motion, and Time of High Water and the perpetual Month; Makes Regulators for Clock and Watchmakers with the Compound Pendulum; with several other mechanical Motions, performed in the newest methods not here mentioned.”
This advertisement demonstrates the wide range of clocks and watches John Walker could supply to his customers. It is not surprising that he soon had a very successful business in an up-market part of the town. John married Jane Elliot in 1756 and John junior was born in 1763.
John Walker must have made a number of these new movements and supplied them to other clockmakers because I found one in a longcase clock by John Johnson of Morpeth (see fig. 1) which had a vertical fly for the striking train, as well as the three wheeled trains in triangular plates.
John also made a year duration longcase clock about 1770 the movement having only four wheeled trains in order to reduce the amount of friction in the trains. The multi-functional dial of this extraordinary clock (fig.2a & b) on a single piece of brass had been engraved in the workshop of the famous engraver Ralph Beilby whose business records have survived and are kept at the Laign Art Gallery in Newcastle.
Ralph Beilby had set up his engraving business at the Head of the Side, Newcastle in 1765 after the leading engraver in the town, Thomas Jameson had been imprisoned for forgery. In 1767 Ralph Beilby and his brother William (the famous glass painter) were both looking for an apprentice. Thomas Bewick, who was known by the family, was given the choice of brothers he would like to work for, and he chose Ralph. Bewick later, in his memoir, described his master, Ralph Beilby as one of the finest silver engravers in the country. Thomas Bewick was made a partner of the business in 1777 and the company became the Beilby and Bewick engravers.
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.