Quakerism and clockmaking had a strong connection during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with many Quaker families having an involvement in the clock trade. Many of the most eminent figures in clockmaking during this period were Quakers: Daniel Quare and George Graham were notable examples. Their nonconformist religion made Quakers relative outcasts from many aspects of contemporary society, barring them from attending university or holding public offices, so they looked to establish themselves in ‘innocent’ domestic trades such as china, iron and steel manufacture, pharmacy, chocolate making and also clockmaking.
Fundamental to the ethical and moral code of Quakerism was scrupulous honesty in all dealings, and Quakers gained a high reputation for honesty, fair dealing and probity in business. They also favoured modesty and shunned any sign of pomp and vanity, so that Quaker products, including timepieces, tended to be simple and straightforward in design. The dials of Quaker clocks were plain, with very limited decoration and simple diamond half hour markers, and were sometimes even left unsigned by the maker. Their clocks were also characterised by exceptional good quality and thoroughness of craftsmanship. Quaker clockmaking also benefited from the way the Quaker community operated as a network, communicating with each other and sharing skills and ideas.
One such Quaker clockmaking family were the Ogdens, whose contribution to clockmaking in Yorkshire and the North of England was highly significant. The Ogden family seems to have originated in the Halifax area, and through three generations and over a hundred years from the late seventeenth century onwards, members of the family carried their influence as far north as Newcastle upon Tyne via the Yorkshire Dales, Darlington and Sunderland, training and influencing local makers in these areas. Ogden clocks are robust, solid and well made, a true reflection of the rugged moorland surrounding Halifax where the family lived and worked.
The first known clocks by the Ogden family are lantern clocks with verge escapements made by the brothers James and Samuel Ogden around 1690-1700. Samuel’s son Thomas Ogden continued the family tradition into the second generation: born in 1693 he was no doubt trained by his father but moved beyond the tradition of humble domestic thirty hour clocks that was the mainstay of the elder Ogdens’ output. Thomas’s customers, living in an era of increased prosperity and trade, desired more sophisticated clocks that required less attention and less frequent winding. Thomas clearly had an innovative mind and his clocks demonstrate great finesse in construction combined with an ingenuity of design generally unrivalled by other makers of the region. The eight day longcase clock with beaded edged arched dial was Thomas’s typical product; within the arch he would place features such as a seconds dial, a calendar, and often the moon dial which became his trademark feature. This was occasionally a flat, penny moon, known as a Halifax moon, but more often was a revolving ball moon.
Ogden’s dials usually also feature beautiful engraved work (his engraving skills were second to none and as a sideline he advertised engraving work on silver plate, business plaques and even coffin plates). Although his dials are less plain than those normally associated with Quaker clocks, he revealed something of his roots and beliefs by incorporating Latin inscriptions about the passage of time and man’s mortality.
Time devours all things – Tempus edax rerum
The hour steals the day – Rapit Hora Diem
Be mindful of (thy) short life – Memor brevis esto coevi
(From Keeping Time a temporary exhibition at Fairfax House, 5th October-31st December 2012)