Clock making has enjoyed a long tradition in Wales. The first known clock maker was recorded in the Caernarfon Court Records in 1394, soon after some of the earliest known clocks in Europe. By the end of the nineteenth century, at least one clock maker worked in every town throughout the country, with the greatest concentrations to be found in Wrexham, the Vale of Clwyd, Caernarfon, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Swansea and Neath, Merthyr Tydfil, Chepstow, Cardiff, Abergavenny and Brecon in rough order of importance. Most of the smaller market towns of central Wales and the borderland had at least one clock maker, but a good number of others were based in the smaller communities of rural Wales.
For many years, the lists compiled by Dr Iorwerth Peate, published in his pioneering small book Clock and watch makers in Wales (published by the National Museum of Wales in 1945, with revised editions in 1960 and 1975), have been the only systematic study on this most sophisticated of crafts. Incomplete, soon outdated, and long out of print, we have been waiting for a much more up-to-date account of clock making in Wales. And now we have it in this magnificent new authoritative book by Dr William Linnard, who, currently, is Chairman of the Wales and Marches Horological Society, and formerly was a Keeper at the Welsh Folk Museum in St. Fagans (National Museum of Wales), now the Museum of Welsh Life.
Wales: Clocks and Clockmakers constitutes a major work of horological scholarship which will continue to be important for Welsh historians, specialists in the study of craftsmanship and technical innovation, as well as horologists and readers with a love of antiques. Its easy written style and clarity means that this important book will be enjoyed by individual owners of clocks with the name and town of a Welsh maker on the dial.
The contents fall into two major divisions: chapters 1-11 deal in depth with all types of clocks and their makers. In the long and substantial chapter 12 we are provided with considerably updated lists of clockmakers, and specific background on individual craftsmen working in different parts of Wales. Details are given of their dates of working, location/s, and the types of clock or watch that a specific maker and his descendants made. A good number worked in several different places, at any specific date or sequentially. Clear distinctions are made between the master craftsmen who were fully accomplished expert designers and makers of clocks, and the later makers especially those in business from the early 19th century onwards, who, in reality, were primarily clock retailers involved in clock finishing (using parts produced elsewhere, especially in the Birmingham region) and carrying out repair work for local people. This is an important distinction not readily understood.
The study begins with two important chapters dealing with the early historical background, presenting interesting documentary and artefactual evidence concerning those Welshmen - invariably in these early times all were men, young and old - who made clocks. In addition to documentary sources, occasionally early clocks were described, sometimes in remarkable detail, by a few of our greatest poets, including Dafydd ap Gwilym. The book then describes the turret clocks found in churches and other public buildings, including some of the earliest to be found anywhere in Europe. Domestic clocks came much later, but almost always they are listed as amongst the most highly valued items in any domestic inventory.
Since the publication of Peates pioneering small book, there have been a number of important regional studies on which Dr Linnard draws in a variety of interesting ways in the development of his themes. But, despite the importance of these local studies, with notable exceptions, until the arrival of this new book, we have been without an account that provides in-depth treatment of clock making throughout the whole of the country of Wales. Moreover, the author completes his scholarly canvas by dealing with clock makers of Welsh origin who followed their craft in major cities such as Bristol and London, and in the towns of the borderland, such as Shrewsbury.
Chapter 12, Clockmakers and watchmakers working in Wales,(incorrectly given as Chapter 10 on p. 142 of the main text) runs to 109 pages and, rightly, accounts for nearly half of the book. No doubt, this will be the section where most casual readers will find the specific information about the maker of their own clock, and, where known, the makers of the clock cases which to us today are so very distinctively Welsh. At the end of the book, in Appendix 1, we are given a very helpful cross referencing list of clock and watch makers by town and county. If you are trying to decide which makers clock to buy, this is a good starting place for here you will find listed all the makers who worked, for example, in your home town or birthplace.
The book contains 242 photographs, many published for the first time. These add considerably to the attractiveness of the text. On the front cover, and again inside on p.192, we are provided with photographs of a splendid long-case clock by the famous Richard Joynson of Wrexham, church warden and master craftsman, who died there in 1711. Probably this is the earliest known surviving domestic clock made by a Welshman but today, rather than being in Wales, it has found a home in Australia where it is a treasured possession.
This is a splendid book, by an accomplished author who writes with much perception from within Welsh culture. Both Dr Linnard and the publisher, John Robey (a leading antiquarian horologist in his own right), are to be congratulated; and, also, thanked for providing us with such a feast of horological scholarship.
Dr W. T. R. Pryce
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatad Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.