John Smith.

Old Scottish clockmakers from 1453 to 1850 online

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THE abundance and variety of Clocks and Watches every-
where needs no comment here. They are part of our daily
life, and it is safe to say that no other article of domestic or
public utility has so many enduring associations.

Perhaps these latter are more emphasised in what are
commonly termed " Grandfather Clocks," a name which at
once suggests honoured ancestors long since departed.
Throughout the length and breadth of Scotland they are
to be seen, and they are treasured by their possessors
amongst the most valued of heirlooms. Although many
owners could readily tell to whom their clocks belonged
originally, yet how few could give any information about
the craftsmen who made and left so many fine specimens
of their skill behind them. It is only but fair that the
names of these patient and clever men should be held in
remembrance. For that purpose this compilation has been

In 1903 a first edition of this volume was published,
and its instant success made clear that its contents were
acceptable to a very large number of people. The names,
data, and notes there given were reproduced in numerous
papers and magazines all over the country, so much so
that the intense interest aroused stimulated me to make
further inquiries which are embodied in this volume. It
may be mentioned that the occurrence of the Great War
prevented its appearance sooner.

The subject is one of some difficulty, as most of the men
pursued their daily labours in obscure villages and country
districts, and never had an opportunity of being chronicled
in written or printed records. The fortunate practice of




affixing their names on their handiwork is the only clue

A careful search into likely sources has unearthed a
mass of information which is surprising. The printed and
documentary notes quoted are in a large number of instances
almost the words of the men themselves, and we thereby
get a peep into the thoughts and trade customs of the
period in which they lived. In addition, several cognate
matters, such as parentage, marriage, and other personal
details about some of the craftsmen have been inserted,
making this issue practically a new and fresh contribution to
our knowledge of the rise and progress of one of the most
important arts in Scotland. The present volume does not
claim to give the name and date of every clock and watch-
maker working in Scotland during the period reviewed.
In a field of such an unknown and wide range, allowance
must be made for omissions and errors. Our aim, primarily,
was to rescue and preserve the memory of men who in their
day and generation made themselves equal in capabilities
to their English contemporaries who lived and worked in
more favourable surroundings.

My sincere thanks are due to a number of noblemen and
gentlemen who freely granted permission to view and
reproduce some of the clocks, etc., in their possession.

A selection of North of England, Irish, and Isle of Man
clock and watch makers is given in the Appendix. These
are culled from a variety of sources for the purpose of
increasing the scope of this work.





1. Entrance Door of Magdalen Chapel, Cowgate,

Edinburgh ...... Frontispiece

2. Clockmakers' Land, Bow, Edinburgh . . Face page \

3. Electro- Magnetic Clock, by Alexander Bain,

Edinburgh . . . . . . ,, 32

4. Parliament Square, Edinburgh, in the Eighteenth

Century ....... 42

{Long Case Clock, in Marquetry Case, by Andrew
Brown, Edinburgh . . . . . 58

Long Case Clock, in Walnut Case, by Thomas
Gordon, Edinburgh . . . . 58

6. Pinchbeck Watch, with Enamelled Back, by John

Cleland, Edinburgh . . . . 82

7. Eight-Day Clock, in Mahogany Case, by James

Craig, Glasgow ...... 90

8. Bracket Chiming Clock, in Walnut Case, with

Ormolu Mountings, by Alexander Dickie,

Edinburgh. . IO 8

9. Movement of Non-Dial Chiming Clock, installed

in St Giles' Kirk, Edinburgh, made and pre-
sented by Messrs James Ritchie & Son, Leith
Street, Edinburgh . . . . ,,136

{Long Case Clock, in Marquetry Case, by Thomas
Gordon, Edinburgh ....,,166

Long Case Clock, in Coloured Marquetry Case,
by Paul Roumieu . ' . . !66

11. Musical Clock, in Mahogany Case, by John

Hamilton, Glasgow ... 182

Musical Clock, in Elm Root Case, by Anthony

12. J Jeeves, Edinburgh . . . . 206

Long Case Clock, in Oak Case, by James Cowan,

. Edinburgh ,,206




13. Eight-Day Clock, in Mahogany Case, with Seconds

Hand from Centre, by Normond Macpherson,

Edinburgh ...... Face page 232

14. Magdalen Chapel, Cowgate, Edinburgh . . 236

15. The Belfry and Clock-Dial, Magdalen Chapel,

Edinburgh ....... 246

^Chamber Clock, by Humphrey Mills, Edinburgh . 256

16. J Facsimile of Brass Fret on Chamber Clock, by

(^ Humphrey Mills, Edinburgh 256

17. Lantern or Chamber Clock, in Unique Oak Case,

by Humphrey Mills, Edinburgh ,, 268

I Long Case Clock, in Mahogany Case, by James
Nicoll, Edinburgh 286

Long Case Clock, in Oak Case, by Thomas Gordon,
Edinburgh ...... 286

19. Bracket Clock, in Mahogany Case, inlaid with

Brass, by James Ritchie & Son, Edinburgh . 316

20. Watch, with Silver Dial and Gold Centre, by Paul

Roumieu, Edinburgh 324

2 ! f Elaborate Musical Clock, by J. Smith, Pittenweem ,, 354

22. I ,, Enlarged View of Principal Dial ,, 360

,, Music Dial . 362

,, Procession Dial ,, 364

25. Eight-Day Chime Clock, in Mahogany Case, by

John Smith, Pittenweem ....,, 386

2 ,

24. ^


THE extent to which the use of clocks and watches prevailed
throughout Scotland during the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries cannot now be definitely ascertained. That there
were a number of public clocks in various parts of the
country so widely situated as Peebles, Stirling, Dundee, etc.,
as early as the middle of the fifteenth century, has now been
satisfactorily proved, and gives rise to the surmise that
Scotland could compare favourably with England, and even
with the Continent, as far as numbers are considered at so
early a period.

All the evidence available as to the time of their intro-
duction into Scotland shows that the citizens of the larger
towns were not only acquainted with such timekeepers,
but appeared to be quite familiar with their convenience as
compared with sundials. Along with this the provision
made sometimes for their purchase, and, in all cases, for
their upkeep and repair, shows that they were costly articles
to buy, and that their maintenance was a severe tax on the
owners. Probably introduced under the auspices of the
Church, naturally the attention needed, after their erection,
was under the care or supervision of a priest. In a number
of the old records of such places as Peebles, Stirling, and
Dundee (q.v.), it will be observed how careful the citizens
themselves were, both in the purchase of, and attention to,
their public clocks.

Possibly if more of these old Burgh Records were looked
into, and we can only mention here that a very large number
throughout Scotland have not been investigated, surprising
evidence would be found bearing on the early use of
" knoks." The priestly supervision proves that they were
of foreign manufacture, and although the natives at that


time were ignorant of their mechanism, this state of matters
did not continue long, for towards the end of the fifteenth
and the opening years of the sixteenth century native artisans
arose who soon became quite competent to manufacture
and repair these clocks. Certainly they were not a large
number, and what there were appear to have had their
hands pretty full. We only mention two William Purves
and David Kaye, and in the extracts given from the Burgh
Records of Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling and Edinburgh, it
will be observed that the services of these men were in
great demand. Probably there were more, but their names
have not been preserved. All through the sixteenth century
the numbers were limited, and not until the beginning of the
seventeenth century do they appear to have increased ; and
strange to say, the large towns seem to have had the
fewer. This is made very clear in the notes on the
Magdalen Chapel, Edinburgh, where, in language sometimes
quaint and even pathetic, the struggle which the Hammermen
of Edinburgh had in settling on a maker, and the trouble
and expense incurred, are described. By 1650 clockmakers
increased in number and came to be recognised as a branch
of the locksmith trade, and as this made them members of
the various Hammermen Incorporations, the minutes of
their transactions record the progress and encouragement
given to the art of Clockmaking.

These Incorporations were of old foundation Edinburgh
dating from 1483 and there is scarcely a town or district
in Scotland which has not had a Hammermen's Incorporation,
some, of course, being of later creation. Each had its
independent jurisdiction, and all of them did not at the same
period allow clock and watch makers to become members.
Among the first to do so was Edinburgh in 1646, Glasgow,
1649, Haddington, 1753, and Aberdeen, by some oversight
not till 1800.

It is interesting to notice that by the middle of the
eighteenth century clockmakers reached a high state of
excellence in the making of the ordinary movements of a
timekeeper ; but instead of endeavouring to simplify parts
or make new improvements, a large number of capable
men devoted their time and ingenuity to constructing clocks


with curious movements. It may here be stated that there
is no account to be found of any Scotsman registering a
patent in connection with clock-making during the whole of
the eighteenth century. These clocks appear to have been
regarded as the " Hall Mark " of a craftsman's ability, and
culminated in the productions of John Smith of Pittenweem,
details of which are fully given in the notes on clocks of
that maker on p. 353.

As the nineteenth century rolled on this class of work
fell into abeyance, and out of it arose the manufacture of
astronomical clocks, which not only required great ingenuity
in their construction, but very accurate calculations for their
performance. Fortunately Scotland had men equal to the
task of making such clocks, and we need only mention Thomas
Reid and Robert Bryson, whose productions in that class of
work bear testimony to the great skill and excellence our
native craftsmen arrived at.

The period when watches began to be used and made in
Scotland, is one of which no authentic information can be
given. During the sixteenth century watches in Scotland
were undoubtedly of foreign make, and probably regarded as
curiosities. Limited in number, they are credited as being
mainly in the possession of royal personages. Except
David Ramsay (q.v.), who was regarded as being the first
Scotsman to manufacture a watch, there is none other who
could be named as a contemporary at this period in Scotland.
The Edinburgh Hammermen's records are silent as to
watches and watchmakers in the sixteenth century, and it
is not until the close of the seventeenth century that we find
any mention of them. The arrival of the Roumieus, 1677 to
1717, gives us authentic data to go upon, and from this
period onwards, the manufacture of watches in Scotland
reached a high state of excellence that has not been equalled
by any other country.

The adoption of Free Trade and other factors had a
direct influence on these old trade incorporations. The
consequence was a failure of direct supervision of the
workmen and apprentices. This, combined with the im-
portation of the cheap American clocks, helped to extinguish
an industry and a class of craftsmen who had been as


necessary in every village and town as the doctor or minister.
The cheapness of these imported movements made it im-
possible for our own craftsmen to compete with them, and
a wave of mistaken prejudice having arisen against the
preservation of these long case clocks, large numbers were
destroyed for no other reason than that they were thought
to be old-fashioned.

About 1880, the artistic education of all classes brought
about a different state of opinion. The desire of lovers of
the quaint and useful to acquire a genuine specimen of
these old craftsmen's art soon created a demand which has
quite outgrown the supply. In connection with this demand
there has arisen a practice that deserves the severest
condemnation large numbers of clock cases being spoiled
by the introduction of inlays quite foreign to the period
when the clock was made. It is perhaps unnecessary
to mention these absurdities as they are easily seen on a
case that is overdone, the old maker using only lines or
banding of the wood, with perhaps a shell or two in the
door and base, making a fitness of the whole that appeals
at once to the beholder. Of course we do not allude to
marquetry, which is a different treatment, but considerable
care should be exercised in buying a clock with the case
largely and often vulgarly decorated. The same warning
applies to cases that are carved, plain oak cases being
nearly always selected for this maltreatment. It is not
unusual to see a case, beautiful in proportion, of the orthodox
Chippendale design, completely disfigured with what appears
to be Old Scotch or Jacobean carving, a treatment that
belongs to a period long before Chippendale lived, and, to
complete the absurdity, with a date added which the maker's
name on the dial proves to be a gross fabrication.

This warning was given in the former edition of this
work, and it is encouraging to see that it has borne fruit,
for the practice has fallen greatly into abeyance. The
information in this volume as to when these makers lived
makes it a difficult matter to hoodwink those who pay any
attention to the subject, and who can at once detect the
work of the fabricator.

During the past ten years or so, large numbers of queries



have been received from possessors of old clocks, asking if
the maker is considered a good one. Many of these queries
have been sent from America, Australia, and other parts
of the world. The same answer applies to all, if after a
period of one hundred or more years the clock still performs
its useful duty well, no better reply can be made than the
clock itself gives as to the merits and capabilities of its

J. S.


House and Workshop on fourth floor of Paul Roumieu, the first watchmaker
established in Edinburgh, 1677-94. Drawn by T. H. Walker, Esq., from the
measured drawing by the late Thomas Hamilton, 1830. (See p. 323.)

[To face page 1.


ABERCROMBIE, JAMES. Aberdeen, 1730. j ' *; t \ ; %

ABERDEEN. Notices regarding the Common,- ClQcks ; r)f ;
the Burgh of, from the year 1453 to the year 1^92.

22nd May 1453. "The same day has granted the
said Aldermen and Council to Johne Crukshanks the
service of keeping of the orlage for this year and to
have for his fee for the service of it, xls., and has sworn
the great oath to do his delligent business to the
keeping of it."

22nd November 1493. " The said day the Aldermen
and divers of the Council and community present for
the time, for the bigin, reformation and upholding of the
common knok in the tolbooth, granted to David Theman,
goldsmith, forty shillings of the three booths under
the tolbooth for the quhilkis [which] the said David
and his assigns shall duly big, reform, and uphold the
said knok, by sight of the town as efferis."

4th April 1533. "The said day the provest, bailies
and council, conducit and feit William Wallace to
jule, set, guide and keegjtheir knok of the tolbooth,
7or the quhilkis they promised him yearly during
their will four merkis (Scottis), for the payment of
the quhilkis they assigned the mails [rents] of the
booths under the tolbooth that is to say, ilk booth ane
merk and ordained the master of wark to pay him
yearly another merk in complete payment of the said
four merks. And the said William obliged himself
to mend the said knok and make her sufficient and as
sufficient as ony man in Scotland can make her, for the
quhilkis the town shall pay him xxs., that is to say,

i A


xs. now in hand, and the other ten when the knok is
sufficiently mended and strikes as she suld do."

loth January 1535. " The said day the council
present for the time commanded and ordained their
provest Andro Cullane to send their Tolbooth knok to
Flanders, and cause mend the same, and gif it can nocht
be mendit to buy them an new knok on the town's

\2th January 1536. "The said day the provest and
council present for the time, ordained Andro Cullane
to write for the man that makis the touns knokis and
cause '"him to come home with the same and set her
up at the town's expence, and what expence he makes
thereon he shall be thankfully paid of the same again."

2-$rd July 1537. "The said day the provest and
council present for the time thought expedient and
ordained that their own knok, which was reformed and
mended by Friar Alexander Lyndsay, should be set
and input again in the most convenient place of their
tolbooth where she might be securely kept, and that to
be done immediately by the advice of the correkar of
the same at the tounis expensis."

\$th October 1537. "The said day the council
devised and ordained that there should be five merkis
given to Friar Alexander Lyndsay for the completing of
their knok, quhilk they ordain to be taken up of the
readiest of their mails [rents] of Don."

^th October 1538. "The said day the council assigns
five merks to be given to David Bruce yearly by the dean
of guild for his good service to be done in keeping and
tempering of their knok within the Tolbooth for his fee."

27 th June 1539. "The said day the council ordained
Mr Andrew Tulidaf, dean of guild, to pay William
Purves five merks (Scottis) for the mending of their
knok in the tolbooth, the quhilk he delivered to him
at command of the provest this day and was discharged
thereof (on the quhilk he took note)."

This William Purves is undoubtedly the same clock-
maker who was a burgess of Edinburgh in 1540; see
notes also on the clocks of Dundee and Stirling Burghs.


July 1539. "The bailies ordained Mr Andrew
Tulidaf, dean of guild, to pay Robert Vyschert xs.
for the painting of the tolbooth horologe within viij

22nd May 1548. "The said day Robert Hovesoun,
valcar, is convicted by the sworn assize for the spoiling
of the tounis knok of their tolbooth, and the said
Hovesoun is ordered to reform and mend the said knok
by the aid of craftsmen as far as he hath skaythit
[spoiled or damaged] her in any way, and for the
offence done the assize ordered him to come on Sunday
come eight days and gang sark alane, bare feet and
bare leg, afore the procession with an candle of wax
of ane pound weight in his hands, and there after to ask
the provest and bailies forgiveness on his knees in the
town's name and if he commit ony sick lik faut in time
to comeing to be burnt on the cheek and banished
the town during the tounis willis."

Jth April 1560. "The said day the bailies ordered
Johnne Lowsoun, treasurer, to pay and deliver to David
Elleis xxxiijs. iiijd. for the keeping of the knok of the
tolbooth, from the decease of William Barclay quhill the
feast of Whitsunday next to come."

%th December 1582. "The said day the haill council
being warned to this day, ratified and approved the
contract made between the council and Jon Kay
Lorymer, anent the mending of the town's three knoks
and buying from him of the new knok, for payment
to the said Jon of two hundred merks conform to the
said contract and consenting to the lifting and raising
of the said sum of the haill burgess of guild and
craftsmen of the said burgh, and to be taxed every one
according to their power and possession."

\Jth December 1595. "The said day the provest
and council considering that the two common knokis of
the burgh, to wit, the kirk knok and the tolbooth knok,
since Martinmas last has been evil handled and ruled and
hes nocht gane during the said time, therefore feit
Thomas Gordone, gunmaker, to rule the said two knokis
and to cause them gang and strike the hours rightly


both day and night quhilk the said Thomas promised
faithfully to do, for the quhilk the council ordained
him to have for his pains in ruling both the said knokis
weekly six schillings aucht pennies."

2$t/t January 1597. "The quhilk day the provest,
bailies, being conveened upon the supplication presented
to them by David Andersone, younger, bearing that he
had devised an instrument of his own ingenuity to draw
and make dials or sun horologes, and that he was willing
to make one on the fore wall of the said burgh which
should show hours very justly by the sun with every
month of the year the langest, shortest, and equi-
noctiall dayis and when the same should be perfect
and ended he would refer his recompence for his pains
to the guid discretion of the provest, bailies and council
at their pleasure ; the which supplication being thought
reasonable they allow David to upput one dial or sun
horologe on the tolbooth on sic pairt thairoffas sail be
thocht meit and expedient."

30^/2 September 1618. (i The said day in respect the
town's common knokis to wit, the kirk knok, tolbooth
knok, and college knok, are out of all frame and order
and are not sufficient and able to serve the town
pairtlie because they are auld and worne, and pairtlie
for want of skilful men to attend them, therefore,
it is thought meet that the magistrates write south
with all diligence and try quhair the best knock-
macker may be had and cause bring him upon the
town's charges to this burgh and visit the knokis
thairof, that such of them as may be mended be accord-
ingly done and sic as will not mend be made new as
soon as the same can be conveniently gotten done."

ist December 1630. "The council grants forty
pounds of fee yearly to Robert Mailing for his pains in
rewling of the town's three clocks, to wit, the Kirk
clock, Greyfriars Kirk clock, and Tolbooth clock, and
ordains the town's treasurer to answer him of twenty
merks and the master of kirk work of forty merks yearly,
in complete payment of the said sums during his service
at the two usual terms in the year Whitsunday to


Martinmas in winter by equal proportions beginning the
first term's payment at Martinmas last, and so forth,
thereafter aye quhill (until) he be discharged by the

igth September 1632. "The provest, bailies and
council nominates and appoints Alexander Willox,
wricht to be keeper and rewlar of the town's common
clockis, to wit, the tolbooth clock, the clock of the high
kirk, and college kirk, as likewise to ring the town's
common bell in the tolbooth steeple at five hours in the
morning and nine hours at even and ilk Wednesday
to the Council at aucht hours in the morning for the
space of an year next after the date hereof, and grants
to the said Alexander for his service and fee during the
said space the sum of one hundred merks (Scottis) to
be paid to him quarterly by the master of kirk wark.
Likewise the said Alexander being personally present
accepted the said charge in and upon him and promised
to do honest duty therein."

nth June 1645. "The quilk day anent the suppli-
cation given in to the provest, bailies and council
by Robert Melvill, son to umquhill David Melvill,
stationer burgess of this burgh, making mention that
quhair his said umquhill father being but an cautioner
for Edward Raban, printer of this burgh, for payment to
the master of mortified moneys of this burgh of
the principal sum of five hundred merks (Scots), yet
by his own consent before his death allowed that
such a number of books should be given to their

Online LibraryJohn SmithOld Scottish clockmakers from 1453 to 1850 → online text (page 1 of 36)