Civil War Lantern Clock c1644
(Complete with Battle Scar)
With my interest in history and passion for collecting early 30-hour clocks, I have always been interested in the English Civil War period of 1642-1651. This was an historically important time which ultimately led to the death of King Charles I when he was executed on the 30th of January 1649 outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Working as a clockmaker at that time must have been very tough, especially when iron and brass was in extremely high demand for the war effort including the making of cannon, weapons and ammunition for the Royalists and Parliamentarian armies. But despite this, some clockmakers still managed to make lantern clocks during the English Civil War and the clock illustrated here is about one such extremely rare and previously unrecorded example that was made in the first period of the English Civil War by Thomas Browne of Bristol. Although unsigned, the clock can safely be attributed to Thomas Browne and is done so based on his uniquely distinctive style and from comparisons with other known signed and unsigned examples that have all been fully illustrated and attributed to this early Bristol clockmaker. Also discussed is the clock's mysterious ‘Battle Scar’ and I explore the possible reasons why this distinctive and unique feature came about. This, together with further interesting information, forms part of my article which you can read below.
Above. Thomas Browne lantern clock dials typically have an interesting cherubic type head below XII. This example has a ruff collar with crossed wings. The single iron hand is original. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Above. Showing a side view of the early Thomas Browne lantern clock c1644. Wonderfully elegant proportions with an ultra-narrow chapter ring and early rounded brass pillars. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Side view with the doors and back plate removed. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Other typical features of Thomas Browne include an exceptionally slim waste hammer spring and his method by which the chapter ring and dial were attached to the movement crossbar by a long upper lug, plus two dial feet pinned at the bottom of the dial. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Exceptionally large wheel collets such as this one generally ceased to be used after the First Period, except in some West Country clocks. It was also normal to find mixed collets at this period and earlier. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. View of the top plate. The clock retains its original late 17th century conversion from balance wheel control to Anchor Escapement. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
The son of a Bristol blacksmith, Thomas Browne is one of the very few clockmakers who is known to have worked through the English Civil War after having become Free to work in Bristol from November 1643. However, Bristol records show that he took his son as an apprentice in 1641 and this suggests that he could well have been working in Bristol as a clockmaker from at least during the late 1630s and leading up to the start of the Civil War in 1642. Dating from around c1644 or perhaps a little earlier, the clock retains its original late 17th century conversion from balance wheel control to Anchor Escapement. Also during the time of conversion the alarm was removed and the clock was converted to Huygens endless chain drive. However, these 17th century alterations are normal for a clock of this age and is all part of its natural history through the passage of time. The clock is of wonderfully elegant proportions with nicely turned round-based integral pillars and an ultra-narrow chapter ring which has small ‘floating star’ half-hour markers. The brass dial centre is beautifully engraved around the original alarm disc and there is an interesting cherubic type head below XII with a ruff collar and crossed wings. On Brownes earliest clocks he used the combination of brass for his dial sheets with brass pillars of the early rounded integral type with round - shouldered urn finials. However, by the late 1640s Thomas Browne was using the more conventional square-based pillars and copper for many of his dial sheets. It is not known why he started using copper for the dials but with the civil war raging and brass becoming extremely hard to come by Browne may have made this decision to show that he was doing his bit for the war effort. Another possibility could be that Browne was having trouble with major casting faults on his dial sheets from being forced to use an extremely poor quality of brass.
Above. Showing an image of a fine Thomas Browne copper dialed lantern clock c1650. Note that by the late 1640s Thomas Browne was using the more conventional square-based pillars and copper for many of his dial sheets. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Showing a close up of the copper dial centre. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Showing a comparison of the signed Thomas Browne copper dial clock c1650 and his earlier brass dial example of c1644. Almost identical engraved dial style, chapter ring and alarm disc. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
Below. Showing the fret of the copper dialed clock c1650, signed Thomas Browne, Bristol. This is the only known surviving
signed lantern clock by this early Bristol maker. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
It is interesting that when Thomas Browne became Free to work in Bristol from November 1643, it was only a few months after the Storming of Bristol which happened on the 26th of July 1643 when the Royalist army (who suffered heavy losses) under Prince Rupert forced the surrender of Bristol which until then had been under Parliamentary control. However, Bristol records suggest that Thomas Browne had already been working there for some time so it could be that under a new firmer and perhaps stricter Royalist rule - he was ‘encouraged’ to become Free to continue to apply his trade there in what must have been an incredibly stressful and worrying time for everyone living and working there. At the time Bristol was a key port on the west coast of England and was considered strategically important by both Royalists and Parliamentarians.
Click link below to view
The Storming of Bristol. Image by Alamy.com
The Thomas Browne lantern clock of c1644 has an ancient repair to a fracture in its dial centre at 9 O’clock and close inspection suggests this may have been done very early in the clocks life. A small brass plate was riveted to the back of dial to strengthen the crack and then the front of dial had wax applied to fill the gap. Because this clock gives off a powerful presence from it’s historic connection to the English Civil War the repair to me resembles that of a ‘battle scar’
Above. Showing the early Thomas Browne Civil War Lantern Clock complete with 'Battle Scar' (at 9 O’clock). The two framed images are that of King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell who are both wearing battle armour. Photographed by Lee Borrett.
English Civil War
What caused this ancient ‘battle scar’? Could the fracture have been caused by violent events during the civil war? Is it a stress fracture from a casting fault in the dial plate due to the poor quality of brass Thomas Browne was forced to use during those extremely hard times? Or was the clock damaged after taking a fall from the wall? We will never know the answer to what really caused the damage to this almost 400 year old clock but it is all part of it’s long and fascinating history and for me the ‘scar’ only adds to the clocks mystique. However, one thing that I can be sure about is that surviving First Period Civil War lantern clocks by Thomas Browne of Bristol are very rare indeed and the example shown here is one of his earliest, if not earliest to come to light!
For me one of the best things about owning an antique clock is that if you are prepared to spend the time and effort researching its background then quite often you can be rewarded with some remarkably interesting information. The clock illustrated here did not disappoint. During my research I came to realise just how incredible it is that this clock has survived at all through the passage of time. From the day it was first made during the early years of the English Civil War this clock and its first owner(s) were living in very uncertain and dangerous times including civilians’ homes being ransacked or destroyed and often with their owners being shot at or even killed, people dying from the plague and other diseases and men being constantly press-ganged into the Royalists and Parliamentarian armies….
Now almost four centries later the clock’s strong presence gives out so much joy and pleasure but also a powerful message which reminds me of those terrible but historically important times, and which must never be forgotten!
I would like to thank the following for providing me with images and for allowing me to use any previously published material for this article.
The private collector(s) who kindly allowed me to use images of their clock(s) for this website.
For any readers who are interested to learn a more in-depth account of Bristol clockmaker Thomas Browne, his clocks and working practices the following two Lantern Clock books and CLOCKS magazine article are well worth reading.
English Lantern Clocks by George White
There are four Thomas Browne examples illustrated including an unsigned example shown on the front dust cover which George White describes as one of the finest lantern clocks ever made!
Lantern Clocks and their makers by Brian Loomes There are several civil war lantern clocks by Thomas Brown illustrated in this superb book.
CLOCKS magazine. January 2006 page11. Brian Loomes discusses an early Thomas Browne lantern clock with brass dial and rounded pillars c1645 (Now with a later Victorian Movement).