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George Newton

At Seend

Almost 400 years ago in the year 1625 George Newton of Seend who was born in about 1605 became the Village Blacksmith. His father Richard Newton had just died leaving George his Forge. However, Richard also bequeathed his son a clock and research suggests that George Newton could have copied his father’s gifted clock to become a self-taught clockmaker, making his first lantern clocks in Seend from the mid-1630s and performed all his own engraving to the wonderfully charming dials and frets of his earliest examples. History suggests that George was more than capable. The famous diarist John Aubrey the compiler of ‘Brief Lives’, wrote about his visit to Seend in 1666: - “I went to the smythe, George Newton, an ingeniose man, who from a blacksmith turned clockmaker to fiddlemaker “ and he assured me that he has melted of this oare in his forge, which the oare of the Forest of Deane &c. will not doe”.

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Above. The location of George Newton's premises as it appears today. The small building to the front left is believed to have housed George Newton's forge where John Aubrey visited in 1666. The large house is thought to have been built by Newton's son. Image courtesy of the Antiquarian Horology Society (AHS).

John Aubrey was born 12th March 1626 and was educated at Trinity College, Oxford. He is perhaps best known as the author of the Brief Lives, his collection of short biographical pieces. He was a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic, and other field monuments in southern England, and who is particularly noted for his systematic examination of the Avebury henge monument. The Aubrey holes at Stonehenge are named after him. His close friends included Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren, and he rubbed shoulders with Robert Boyle, Edmond Halley, John Locke, and Isaac Newton. He showed King Charles II around the megalithic remains at Avebury in 1663. He died 7th June 1697. (Wikipedia)

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Above. John Aubrey (b1626 – d1697). In 1666, during a visit in Seend the famous diarist described George Newton as an ' Ingenious man '. Alamy.com

Below. Portrait of Charles II in Garter Robes (1660 -1665). In 1663, John Aubrey  showed Charles II Avebury at the Kings own request. John Michael Wright, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Alamy.com

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In June 2001 the Antiquarian Horology Society (AHS) published a well-researched and very interesting article about George Newton of Seend. The article was written by the then leading lantern clock expert the Late John Hooper who illustrated what is probably George Newton’s earliest known surviving lantern clock and dated it as being made around c1636. John, who was the co-author of the book ‘English 30 Hour Clocks’’ was a highly respected authority on lantern clocks. His article is an important reference point, showing that George Newton probably made his earliest lantern clocks prior to the English Civil War of 1642-1651.

 

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Above. George Newton's oldest known lantern clock c1636. A fabulous example, discovered by the late John Hooper who was

the authority on the subject of early lantern clocks at the time. Private collection, Photographed by Bill Bruce

John Hoopers AHS article of 2001, was published 21 years after another early George Newton lantern clock had appeared in the AHS journal. The well-researched and superb article was written by C. Thomas and was published in the 1980 Winter edition of the journal which Illustrated a wonderfully interesting early lantern clock signed ‘George Newnten At Seene ‘ and it is about this particular clock which C. Thomas first brought to light 41 years ago that is the main subject of my own article which is fully illustrated and discussed below.

Below. George Newton's second oldest known lantern clock c1636-c1639. A wonderfully interesting early Seend lantern clock that was the topic of  C. Thomas's AHS article in 1980. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett

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The clock is an impressive 17 inches high and is larger than a standard size lantern clock. It is closely similar to John Hooper’s example in every aspect, including the wonderfully charming dial and fret design, their distinctive long arrowhead iron hands and the massive proportions of their heavy-duty brass movement castings including the pillars, plates and crucifix bars which are incredibly over 6 mm thick in some areas and the two clocks could almost be described as twins. However, Newton has engraved this example with a more confident hand and has improved on his spelling, therefore it could perhaps be slightly later than John Hoopers example and possibly dating between around c1636-c1639. 

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Above. Showing George Newton's original and distinctive long arrowhead iron hand.  Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

Below. Showing a close-up of the heraldic fretSigned ‘GEORGE NEWNTON AT SEENEPrivate collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

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The clock retains its original late 17th century conversion from balance wheel control to Anchor Escapement and during the conversion the alarm was removed. However, these ancient alterations  are customary and normal for a clock of this age and is all part of its natural history through the passage of time.

Below.  A rear view with the side doors removed. Note the iron count-wheel which is another feature that both clocks have.

Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

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The Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of England

Both of the early George Newton lantern clocks have the same wonderfully charming, heraldic symbols and flowers engraved on their dials and frets which represent countries including the Tudor Rose (England), Thistle (Scotland), Shamrock (Ireland) and Fleur-de-lis (France). Interestingly, these same Heraldic flowers are also present on the Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of England from 1603 to 1649 used by King James I and Charles I and suggest to me that George Newton pre-civil war was a very proud and patriotic Englishman!

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Above. Portrait of James I, Attributed to John de Critz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. James VI and I (James Charles Stuart; 19 June 1566 – 27 March 1625) was King of Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the Scottish and English crowns on 24 March 1603 until his death in 1625. The kingdoms of Scotland and England were individual sovereign states, with their own parliaments, judiciaries, and laws, though both were ruled by James in personal union.

Below. Portrait of Charles I. Anthony van Dyck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

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Below. Showing the George Newton clock sitting on it's very intersesting antique oak wall bracket with carved Tudor Rose, Fleur-de-lis and Thistle which match that of the clock. Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

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Below. Showing a side view of the George Newton movement.The crucifix bars are 6mm thickness in some places.  Private collection, Photographed by Lee Borrett.

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Summary

George Newton became the Seend village blacksmith and inherited his father’s clock in 1625, which interestingly was the same year as King James I died and Charles I became King of England, Scotland and Ireland as well as claiming the title English claims to the French throne named King of France.

 

There are five lantern clocks known to exist that were made by George Newton of Seend. Apart from the two pre-civil war clocks mentioned above there are also three dated examples in existance that are all post civil war and are dated 1660, 1665 and 1677. George Newton is also known to have made, repaired and maintained turret Clocks. He was a Church warden of the Church of the Holy Cross at Seend from April 1664. He died in 1681.

I think that you will agree that he was an incredibly gifted individual!

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Above. George Newton was a Church warden of the Church of the Holy Cross at Seend from April 1664.  This superb photograph was taken of the Church of the Holy Cross, Seend by David Lovell on 1st of May, 2017. https://historicengland.org.uk

Acknoweledgements

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.

Penny Hooper who kindly allowed me to use John's 2001 AHS article and images for this website.

Further Reading

Please click below to view.

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