There were “great (large) tower clocks of iron” made in England from the 13th century (see Beeson- English Church Clocks 1280-1850). Old St Paul’s Cathedral had a clock made in 1286 by Bartholomew, the clockmaker. In 1344 another clockmaker, Wauter Lorgoner of Southwark, was engaged to make a dial for inside the church and restore the old clock. Southwark was the area where a number of the later turret clockmakers settled in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Most of the metal workers in London were freemen of the Blacksmiths’ Company (BC) which had been formed in the 14th century but did not receive its charter until 1471. The Goldsmiths had formed their own company in 1180 and the Armourers’ Company was founded in 1422. Although the Founders broke away from the BC to form their own company in 1614, there were brass founders who chose to stay in the BC and worked through the 17th century.
It was a natural progression for the blacksmiths working with iron to make iron Tower (turret) Clocks, and they became known as the “great clockmakers”.
There were a number of clockmakers working in the BC when the watchmakers arrived from Europe in the middle of the 16th century. The watchmakers were drawn to the BC because of the presence of clockmakers in that company, since watchmaking was similar to clockmaking. By the end of the 16th century there were English watchmakers working in the BC, craftsmen like John English, Piers Powell and Robert Grinkin were established before the end of the century.
A further influx of foreign craftsmen, who settled outside the City boundary and practiced their trade without any restrictions, antagonised the watchmakers in the BC at the beginning of the 17th century. Robert Grinkin, a warden of the BC by 1617, together with his former apprentices decided to petition the King in order to form their own company so that they could regulate and control the watchmaking trade in and around London.
It was the former apprentices of Robert Grinkin – Sampson Shelton, John Willow, Richard Morgan, John Harris and Robert Grinkin junior who were responsible for running the new company in its early years, together with John Smith and James Vautrolier. While Robert Grinkin’s first apprentice, Edmund Bull, his last apprentice Richard Crayle and the apprentices of John Willow and Richard Morgan were responsible for the continued success of watchmaking in the BC.
Robert Grinkin’s trade descent can be traced right through the 17th and 18th centuries culminating with watchmakers who were also making chronometers as well as watches in the early 19th century. (Note: You can find the trade descents of Robert Grinkin and many other 17th and 18th century clockmakers in my book Early clock and watchmakers of the Blacksmiths’ Company).
By the third quarter of the 17th century the clockmakers in the BC were supplying clock movements to the clockmakers in the CC.
You can read more about the struggles between the two companies in “Early Clock and Watchmakers of the Blacksmiths’ Company” and also the progress made by the clock and watchmakers in the BC as they spread to other parts of England.
You might also be interested in:
Great clockmakers of the 17th Century
Great clockmakers in the Blacksmiths' Company
Keith Bates is an amateur horologist who has been researching clocks, watches and chronometers and their makers for over 30 years.