I have been asked many times over the years which clocks I would choose. Also which period of clockmaking I consider to be the finest in the last 200 or 300 hundred years. I will be considering these points in my brief outline of the Monarchs of Britain since 1689. Most grandfather clocks are made after this period and so it seems like a good place to start.
William and Mary were offered the throne of the British Isles in Feb 1689 after the overthrow of King James II of England. This period was called the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
William and Mary – Feb 1689- March 1702
Lots of special walnut, marquetry and ebony grandfather clocks were manufactured during this period, many of the dials were of only 10 inches across.
Queen Anne – 8th March 1702 -1st August 1714
The stand out date within Queen Anne’s reign was 1st May 1707. This is when The Act of Union was signed. The Kingdom’s of England and Scotland were united under one sovereign state. The Kingdom of Great Britain. With the clock world this date has an influence on the brass dials produced around this time. You will see brass dials with the Maltese Cross spandrels symbolising the Act of Union.
It is now we come to the greatest period of clockmaking within these Isles in my opinion. The Georgian Period, stretching from 1714 to 1820. The last 9 years of which were classified as Regency, as the good old George III went slightly mad.
George I – 1st Aug 1714 – 11th August 1727
A continuation of the lovely walnut, marquetry and lacquer grandfather clocks produced earlier. The introduction of the arched dial grandfather clock in this period around C1715
George II – 11th June 1727- 25th October 1760
At the end of this period we see the introduction of the fine mahogany veneers. Cuban and Honduras mahogany clocks being a particular favourite of mine.
George III – 25th October 1760 – 29th Jan 1820
So much happens in this period of clockmaking. It really is the golden age in my opinion. The white dial was introduced, these started in Birmingham. By the end of the 18th century over 50% of the clocks manufactured had a white dial. The brass dial that had dominated clocks for the preceeding 100 years production. They were in sharp decline.
From 1811 to 1820 another important period in antiques is called the Regency Period. Many fine clocks were made in this period, particularly bracket and wall clocks. You see the introduction of things like brass inlays etc.
George IV – 29th Jan 1820 – 26th June 1830
The end of the Georgian period of clockmaking in the golden age.
William IV – 26th June 1830- 20 June 1837
In my opinion most grandfather clocks made for the mass market were of inferior quality of construction by this date. Compared to the previous 100 years, many were wider and of poorer quality construction. It is now that the clockmaker sells to retailers more and more. The name to the dial is increasingly the retailer of the clock not the actual clockmaker. Movements are still of good quality but the cabinets tend to be not to everyones tastes.
Victoria – 20th June 1837 – 22 Jan 1901
I think this is an appropriate place to end my look back of a few hundred years of clockmaking. Victoria’s reign oversaw a massive period in Britain’s history. The advent of industrialization. The furniture made during this period is always more elaborate. Many pieces of furniture are highly carved. For me though clockmaking in the UK is in further decline for the mass market. The individual brilliance of the clockmaker is being, in most cases, turned into a production line where very few special items are produced. When they were produced they were knockout but in general this was not the case. I suppose as labour costs and mechanization increased, quality unfortunately took a back seat. Clocks were more affordable to the mass market though. There were clearly exceptions to the above statements, especially when items were made specially to order.