Towards the middle of the eighteenth century the longcase clock began to give way to smaller, more compact timepieces, commonly referred to today as bracket clocks. Despite the name these clocks were rarely supported on a wall bracket but were instead usually placed on a table, cabinet or, if small enough, on a mantelpiece.

The energy that drove these clocks came from a coiled spring rather than a descending weight, giving them their other and more accurate name of spring clock. Unlike longcase clocks, which were large and awkward items to move around the home, spring clocks were quite portable objects in the domestic environment, typically having a carrying handle at the top of the case. As clocks were expensive commodities households would not have one in every room, so being able to move the clock around the house was useful – especially at night, when a clock could be transferred to a bedroom.

Spring clocks were often repeaters, that is striking clocks, which could be made to repeat the striking of the hours at the pull of a lever or cord. This was a very useful feature at night, enabling someone to hear on demand what time it was without having the trouble of lighting lamp or candle. However, the regular hourly striking of the bell could of course disturb the sleeper, so such clocks also often had a mechanism to silence the strike, or did not strike on the hour at all but only at the pull of the cord. These were called silent pull repeaters.

Many rural and provincial clockmakers would not have the technical knowledge or skills necessary to produce this more complex type of clock and would have continued producing the humble thirty hour longcase clocks that had become the mainstay of traditional clock production. For a more affluent and elite clientele, however, skilled clockmakers mastered the art of creating these intricate, beautifully-cased and often highly decorative pieces. Clockmakers such as Thomas Lister Junior and Henry Hindley were two examples of makers who adapted very successfully to creating superbly crafted and often complex table clocks. By the end of the eighteenth century the popularity of the spring clock was firmly established, making it the clock of fashion for the next century.

(From Keeping Time a temporary exhibition at Fairfax House, 5th October-31st December 2012)

Name: Hannah Phillip

Title: Director

Source: Keeping Time (Fairfax House, 2013)