All trade in the City of London, from very early times, was controlled by the trade guilds or companies. A craftsman had to be a freeman of one of these guilds in order to trade within the City boundaries. The guilds also tried to regulate the tradesmen working outside the City by making sure that every craftsman and trader had been fully trained.
Freedom of one of the 79 London guilds (91 by the end of the century) could only be obtained by one of four ways:-
After completing the term of service, the apprentice would have to serve one or two years as a journeyman with his master before he could claim his freedom of the Company. It normally took several years before a journeyman could afford to set up his own workshop. In order to be freed by the Court of Assistants a journeyman had to produce a proof piece (or masterpiece) to prove that he had been properly trained and could teach others the craft. If his proof piece was accepted he then had to swear an allegiance to the Company, before he was admitted and paid his admittance fee. Quarterage was the membership fee which had to be paid every quarter.
Another clockmaker in the BC was Humphrey Osborne who was apprenticed to John Norman on 15th September 1606 for ten years. In 1615 John Norman made a new clock for St Andrew Hubbard Church in London. Humphrey Osborne was freed and admitted to the BC on 28th August 1717 when he produced a clock as his proof piece which was accepted by the Court of Assistants.
Not all apprentices managed to complete their apprenticeship for various reasons only one third of boys managed to complete their term. Some apprentices did not like the work and went to a different craft; while others died quite young. One apprentice who died soon after starting his service, was John Edwards. We read in the Parish Records of his burial :- John Edwards servant of Mr Warfeild, watchmaker in Fleet Street, buried at St Dunstan in the West Church on 2nd October 1651.” John Edwards son of Thomas a deceased husbandman of Llanberis, Cae, Wales, had been apprenticed to John Warfeild on 19th Feb 1650/1.
A freeman could not be freed in more than one company. If he wanted to join another company he could only join the second company as a brother with the permission of his first company. This meant he had to honour the oath he had made to his first company; continue to attend meetings and continue to pay his quarterage. This situation presented problems when the watchmakers in the BC wanted to start their own company in order to control the trade with so many foreign watchmakers working around London. The watchmakers could not leave the BC and had to have the Company’s permission to join the new Clockmakers’ Company (CC) when it had its first meeting in October 1632. Some watchmakers did join the new company but not all the clock and watchmakers did join.
In 1636 the two companies the BC and the CC signed an agreement which stated that the CC would only enrol the watchmakers and the makers of domestic clocks, but the “great clockmakers” (turret clockmakers) would remain in the BC. This agreement created problems for some of the watchmakers who joined the CC. We read in the Court Minutes of the BC on 21 0ctober 1630 :-“ Richard Childe being a clockmaker, paid for his admittance 3/4d”. Richard Child then joined the CC in October 1632. Later we read in BC Court Minutes on 19th July 1638 “ Richard Childe was threatened for breach of oath”. Perhaps he was refusing to pay his quarterage to the BC.
These two watchmakers were still working as freemen in the BC even when they had a higher status in the CC. In the early years of the CC the company depended heavily on the watchmakers from the BC who ran the new company as well as carrying out their duties in the BC.
Another freeman who went over to the CC was Benjamin Hill who had been apprenticed to Richard Child in the BC on 30th July 1632, was freed in 1640 but joined the CC on 30th November 1640. He was then admitted to the BC with his proof piece in March 1641. When he was chosen steward in 1653 by the BC he refused because he had already been elected Assistant in 1651 and Warden in 1652 by the CC. The BC took Hill before the Lord Mayor’s Court where he was ordered to comply, which he refused. The BC then offered to translate him to the CC if he paid a fine of £5 (equivalent to £1000 today). Hill paid his fine and was translated to the CC in October 1653.
The Plague epidemic of 1665 halted all trade and some clockmakers like Ahasuerus Fromanteel lost members of his family and several watchmakers including John Warfeild died from the disease. Worse was to come in September 1666 the Great Fire of London destroyed the premises of a number of the Companies, including the BC and many of the individual clockmakers lost their premises. Most of the buildings in the City were destroyed and all the companies were in turmoil. The only craftsmen who did not lose their premises were those in Southwark, south of the river. William Clement was able to continue his business in Southwark. He had been freed by the BC in 1664 and introduced the anchor escapement into his clocks about this time. He was able to supply a new clock to the Society of Middle Temple (lawyers) with his new escapement in 1667 which he erected on the roof of the building in September 1667.
The BC had lost its hall and all its properties and went to great expense to replace their buildings so they could not afford to lose any quarterage paying members to the CC. After the Fire, the BC were casting their nets farther afield and enrolling smiths from the surrounding areas outside the City.
The clockmakers in the BC were making clock movements from about 1670 and selling them to some of the leading clockmakers just as watches had been produced by varies craftsmen for the clock and watchmakers who were really just retailers of clocks and watches long before the end of the century. Brian Loomes records an instance of John Layton making clock movements for Nathaniel Barrow in May 1679. John Layton, son of Thomas was freed by patrimony in the BC on 29th October 1646 and joined the CC on 10th March 1653/4. Nathaniel Barrow had been apprenticed to Job Betts, a freeman of the BC, in the CC in January 1653/4 and freed on 28th January 1660/1. The Betts brothers Job and Samuel never officially joined the CC but made some excellent clocks and watches. Both had been apprenticed to John Drake in the BC.
There are many fascinating stories about the relationship between the Blacksmiths' Company and the Clockmakers' Company. My latest book, Early clock and watchmakers of the Blacksmiths' Company sheds light on this relationship, as well as featuring information about many of the most well-known clockmakers of the time, some of whom have been mentioned in this post.
When I wrote “Early Clock and Watchmakers of the Blacksmiths’ Company” and described the effects of the plague on the population at different times in our history, I never dreamt that we would be experiencing a pandemic similar to what the clock and watchmakers experienced in 16th and 17th centuries. The inhabitants of the towns and cities of England experienced repeated attacks of the Plague.
We first hear of John Harvie, a London trained clockmaker, working in Newcastle towards the end of the 16th century. He made a clock for the old Exchange, or Townhall on the Sandhill, Newcastle in 1586. (See Fig. 1) By the time Harvie had his daughter Jane baptised at St Nicholas Church in Feb 1588/9 he must have been one of the leading figures in the Town, because the Sherriff of Newcastle, Robert Edon, stood as godfather to John’s daughter, together with other local notaries. Later in the summer of 1589 an epidemic of the Plague hit Newcastle. John Harvie must have left the Town in a hurry, which was the usual reaction of craftsmen and the more affluent inhabitants at that time. Harvie may have gone somewhere else at that time but he eventually returned to London. He died in St Botolph Parish, Aldersgate in 1602.
In 1636 when Newcastle was subjected to another epidemic of the plague the whole country felt the repercussions; there were shortages of coal in London, as well as salt from the Tyne. The ships which normally carried goods from Newcastle were refusing to call into the Tyne in case they carried the disease back with them. The Bailiffs of Great Yarmouth were petitioning for leave to buy salt from Scotland “ because the sickness is so at Newcastle and Shields as none dare adventure to fetch any”. The salt pans were situated near the mouth of the River Tyne, near North Shields. On occasions it was difficult to see up the river because the steam and smoke from the heated salt pans was so dense.
The death toll in Newcastle from the plague of 1636 was 5631 which represented almost 47 percent of the population of about 12000.
The plague was prevalent in London on many occasions but the epidemic of 1665 stands out as one of the worst attacks. A number of clockmakers and their families were affected. Ahasuerus Fromanteel’s family was badly affected in 1665. His wife Sarah, his youngest son Daniel and his brother John, as well as several of his workforce all died. The rest of his family left London but the disease followed them to Colchester, so they went to Norwich.
The Accounts of the Blacksmiths’ Company (BC) tell us that in September 1665 “ Paid to the Master of the Pest House, Sedan Men, and other charges about getting George Palmer into the Pest House £4-7-3”. The company were paying for George Palmer to be nursed when he contracted the plague. This was a huge amount of money, more than Palmer would have earned in a year.
George Palmer had been apprenticed to the clockmaker, William Woodfeild in 1626 and freed in 1634. Palmer was working in his own workshop by 1636 when he bound his first of seven apprentices, binding his last apprentice in 1661. Only one of his apprentices, Thomas Bennett, was freed, in 1662. George Palmer must have been unable to work and was destitute by 1665 when the company had to pay for his last few days. Nothing more is heard of George Palmer so we must assume he died. Approximately 14 percent of the London population died of the plague in 1665.
John Warfeild, one of the leading watchmakers of the 17th century who had his workshop in Fleet Street, is believed to have died from the plague in November 1665. John Warfeild had been apprenticed to Richard Craile on 24th April 1629 and was freed in 1637. John married Abigall Normington in 1638 and their son Alexander was baptised at St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street, on 13th June 1639. John bound 10 apprentices between 1638-1662, seven of whom were freed including his son Alexander. Alexander was apprenticed to his father in November 1655 but he did not take his freedom of the BC until 1687. Alexander worked for his father until John died in November 1665; he then left London in a hurry and settled in West Wycombe, where his son Alexander was baptised in 1668. Alexander must have returned to London about 1675 and bound apprentices in the Clockmakers’ Company. Alexander took his freedom of the BC in 1687 in order to bind another apprentice Thomas Furnace on the same day in 1687 who was freed by Alexander’s widow Elizabeth in July 1694. Alexander having died in October 1688.
The plague in London was a big tragedy but only a year later the City suffered an even greater catastrophe when the Fire of London broke out in September 1666 and destroyed most of the buildings in the City. 80 Churches were damaged or destroyed, many of the companies lost their halls, including the BC who not only lost their hall but all their adjoining properties too.
Many of the clockmakers lost their premises in the fire, so that trade was almost at a standstill. Only those clockmakers working in Southwark, south of the river escaped the fire. The Temple church just off Fleet Street escaped the fire, as did the hall of the Middle Temple Society, who ordered a new clock from William Clement in 1667 which he installed in September 1667. (Fig 3. Middle Temple Hall c. 1815).
It took a number of years to rebuild the damaged buildings in the Capital. Most of the damaged churches were replaced with new buildings financed by the taxes levied on the coal supplied by the merchants of Newcastle to London. Clock and watchmaking excelled after these two disasters. The period up to the end of the century was one of the finest in the history of clock and watchmaking.
For more stories about some of the leading clock and watchmakers of the 16th to 18th Centuries, as well as more information about the London Guilds and the relationship between the Clockmakers' Company and the Blacksmiths' Company, please do consider purchasing a copy of Early clock and watchmakers of the Blacksmiths' Company
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.
Keith Bates is an amateur horologist who has been researching clocks, watches and chronometers and their makers for over 30 years.