+44 (0) 1962 844443|info@cartermarsh.com

Exhibit № 9. John Hilderson, London, Circa 1663

Exhibit № 9. John Hilderson, London, Circa 1663

A very rare and unusual Charles II ebonised architectural striking day and night table clock with alarm on a turntable base

£98,000


Height

21¼ inches (539 mm)

Case

The case of simplified architectural form with ebonised pearwood veneers onto an oak carcass, the pediment lifting off above the frieze. The full depth architectural pediment, set on either slope with matching raised rectangular panels above a plain frieze, over the unadorned front door that has a fine glazing frame-moulding, the glazed side apertures with matching mouldings. The flat back veneered, the lower section with a mitre veneered back door, glazed to a sufficient height to allow light through to the pierced night chapter ring, the main plinth moulding resting on a square-edge veneered turntable base with later ebonised bun feet.

Dial

The 9½ by 10¼ inch (241 x 260 mm) rectangular brass dial retaining its original fire-gilding and very finely all over engraved with vines and spring flowers, perhaps by Wenceslas Hollar. The top centre with indication slot for the pierced hour night viewing sector from XI to I. Flanked by two opposing Green Man masks with vines and flowers sprouting from their mouths, the centre base with a face-on Green Man, emanating more vines and flowers to each side. The small slender, silvered and screw-fixed, chapter ring with inner quarter divisions, Roman hours and stylised cross half-hour marks, the outer Arabic minutes marked every 5 within the minute ring. The later hour hand with a shaped tail to set against the silvered alarm disc, engraved with a Tudor rose and Arabic hours. The whole dial framed by a line to the edge, and secured to the movement via four pinned dial feet.

Movement

The large but shallow movement, in typical East school style, with seven boldly finned vase-shaped pillars, riveted to the frontplate and pinned to the backplate, with nearly-conical shaped fusees and flanged barrels. The going train with engraved apron to the knife-edge verge escapement and short bob pendulum; the underdial work driving conventional hands but also the large night dial, centrally pierced for access to the winding squares and the frontplate has top extensions to clear the dial feet. The strike train governed by a small, Tudor rose and Arabic engraved, countwheel mounted high on the backplate and engaging a cocked detent lever, striking the hours via a cocked hammer arbor, on a large frontplate mounted bell. The alarm train set opposite the countwheel, with outside click, wheel and spring to the flanged spring barrel and verge hammer striking on the smaller side mounted bell. The backplate is otherwise plain apart from the centre engraved signature, John Hilderson Londini Fecit, in an upward curve. As the night chapter ring revolves, its crossings occasionally pass behind the winding holes making the squares temporarily inaccessible (see the strike train winding square at IIII opposite and overleaf).

Duration

8 days

Provenance

W.G. Barnes Esq, until sold Sotheby’s, 25th Oct. 1979, lot 340;
Private collection UK, until sold in 2000 by Anthony Woodburn for £68,000;
John C Taylor Collection, inventory no.54

Literature

Dawson, Drover & Parkes, Early English Clocks, 1982, p.512-515, fig.759-63;
Antiquarian Horology, June 2000, A Weston, ‘A Reassessment of the clocks of John Hilderson, and other Members of the East School’, p.407-415;
Horological Masterworks, 2003, (illus.) p.52-57;
Huygens’ Legacy, 2004, (illus.) p.62-65;
Garnier & Hollis, Innovation & Collaboration, 2018, (illus.) p.203

Escapement

Knife-edge verge with short bob pendulum

Strike Type

Small outside hour countwheel planted high on the backplate

Exhibited

2003, Oxford & Liverpool, Horological Masterworks, exhibit no.12;
2004, Holland, Paleis Het Loo, Huygens’ Legacy, exhibit no.24;
2018, London, Innovation & Collaboration, exhibit no.43

John Hilderson was one of the ‘East school’ of clockmakers; he does not appear to have been officially admitted to the Clockmakers’ Company. One surviving clock is signed Hilderson in Chesell Street Londini Fecit and Loomes suggests this may have been on or near Cecil Street, off the Strand. Nothing is known of him after 1666 and it is thought he may have perished in the Great Plague; only five clocks by him are currently known to have survived (including a spring clock, inventory no.44, in this collection).

In 1655 Pope Alexander VII ordered a clock that would show the hours at night in silence, and thus the first ‘wandering-hour’ night dial was conceived and made in Italy. In Country Life, 24th September and 15th October issues, ‘The Night clock from Mediaeval Times’, RW Symonds notes a bill from James East (Edward’s son and clockmaker to the Queen) to Charles II wife, Catherine of Breganza, dated 23rd June 1664 for a pendulum clocke to goe 8 days with a lamp to show the houre of the night £45. Coincidentally the following day, in his diary on 24th June 1664, Samuel Pepys noted: After dinner to White Hall and there met with Mr. Pierce and he showed me the Queen’s bed-chamber with a clock by her bed-side wherein a lamp burns that tells her the time of the night at any time. These are the first contemporary evidences of a night clock in England and Pepys’ particular citation suggests that it was then a novel innovation.
Only 12 English spring night clocks are known to survive and although popular on the continent, especially in Italy, English night clocks are extremely rare. Usually containing a removable oil lamp for use at night to illuminate the pierced-out hour numerals, there was an inherent danger of their wooden cases catching alight. The demand appears to have been relatively small, or perhaps many were destroyed; certainly orphan night clock movements survive in larger numbers than the original wooden cases. In any event, the form soon became redundant following the invention of repeating work in the 1670s.

This fire-gilded dial, superbly and profusely engraved all-over with vines and flowers, appears to be in the same hand as engraved the dial of a Samuel Knibb spring clock (Clockmakers Collection, Science Museum) of c.1665-7. Both clocks were exhibited in Innovation & Collaboration, 2018, as exhibit nos. 43 and 47, and Garnier suggests that it may prove to be the hand of Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677), as some of the individual flowers are very similar to ones featured in his zoological prints, in which flowers feature prominently in the background to the animals depicted.

In a departure from his colleagues of the East school, as well as Fromanteel’s followers, in this unique example, Hilderson did not utilise one of the school’s two ‘wandering hours’ systems, and instead used a conventional movement, very much of the East school pattern, with a far simpler single fretted night dial mounted on the hour wheel pipe directly behind the dial. This had to be high enough for the lamp to be able to illuminate the sequence of passing numerals and involved, in departure from normal practice, the relocation of the wheel trains towards the top of the plates and the provision of lug-extensions riveted to the top corners of the frontplate, so that the top dial feet are clear of the night dial, which in turn has been cut away to give access to the three winding squares for the going, strike and alarm trains. While the case pediment is removable and contemporary, there is no evidence of a lamp stand and chimney. It is notable that the only other known early day and night clock is by Edward East (see Cescinsky, Old English Clockmakers and their Clocks, p.124, fig.184-5 and Edwards, Dictionary of English Furniture, Volume II, p.85, fig.19). The East has no alarm and a plainer rectangular case, but both clocks have removable pediments and neither is fitted with a chimney, Edwards suggesting that the East pediment was simply removed at night. However, the glazing in the rear door of this Hilderson example is of sufficient height that a lamp placed behind the case enables the hours to be read at night, as it happens, in greater safety than the other examples. As this clock combines night indication with a conventional day chapter ring, it retained its usefulness beyond the introduction of repeating clocks, undoubtedly assisting in its survival too.

Sadly, there is little information to indicate who the early casemakers were, but it is thought that the East school’s architectural cases were likely made by indigenous City craftsmen, unlike Fromanteel, who not only appears to have used cabinetmakers outside the City in Southwark, who were foreigners like himself, but initially also used true Palladian designs, attributed to the architect John Webb (1611-1672).

Contact us about this item

Product Description

John Hilderson was one of the ‘East school’ of clockmakers; he does not appear to have been officially admitted to the Clockmakers’ Company. One surviving clock is signed Hilderson in Chesell Street Londini Fecit and Loomes suggests this may have been on or near Cecil Street, off the Strand. Nothing is known of him after 1666 and it is thought he may have perished in the Great Plague; only five clocks by him are currently known to have survived (including a spring clock, inventory no.44, in this collection).

In 1655 Pope Alexander VII ordered a clock that would show the hours at night in silence, and thus the first ‘wandering-hour’ night dial was conceived and made in Italy. In Country Life, 24th September and 15th October issues, ‘The Night clock from Mediaeval Times’, RW Symonds notes a bill from James East (Edward’s son and clockmaker to the Queen) to Charles II wife, Catherine of Breganza, dated 23rd June 1664 for a pendulum clocke to goe 8 days with a lamp to show the houre of the night £45. Coincidentally the following day, in his diary on 24th June 1664, Samuel Pepys noted: After dinner to White Hall and there met with Mr. Pierce and he showed me the Queen’s bed-chamber with a clock by her bed-side wherein a lamp burns that tells her the time of the night at any time. These are the first contemporary evidences of a night clock in England and Pepys’ particular citation suggests that it was then a novel innovation.
Only 12 English spring night clocks are known to survive and although popular on the continent, especially in Italy, English night clocks are extremely rare. Usually containing a removable oil lamp for use at night to illuminate the pierced-out hour numerals, there was an inherent danger of their wooden cases catching alight. The demand appears to have been relatively small, or perhaps many were destroyed; certainly orphan night clock movements survive in larger numbers than the original wooden cases. In any event, the form soon became redundant following the invention of repeating work in the 1670s.

This fire-gilded dial, superbly and profusely engraved all-over with vines and flowers, appears to be in the same hand as engraved the dial of a Samuel Knibb spring clock (Clockmakers Collection, Science Museum) of c.1665-7. Both clocks were exhibited in Innovation & Collaboration, 2018, as exhibit nos. 43 and 47, and Garnier suggests that it may prove to be the hand of Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677), as some of the individual flowers are very similar to ones featured in his zoological prints, in which flowers feature prominently in the background to the animals depicted.

In a departure from his colleagues of the East school, as well as Fromanteel’s followers, in this unique example, Hilderson did not utilise one of the school’s two ‘wandering hours’ systems, and instead used a conventional movement, very much of the East school pattern, with a far simpler single fretted night dial mounted on the hour wheel pipe directly behind the dial. This had to be high enough for the lamp to be able to illuminate the sequence of passing numerals and involved, in departure from normal practice, the relocation of the wheel trains towards the top of the plates and the provision of lug-extensions riveted to the top corners of the frontplate, so that the top dial feet are clear of the night dial, which in turn has been cut away to give access to the three winding squares for the going, strike and alarm trains. While the case pediment is removable and contemporary, there is no evidence of a lamp stand and chimney. It is notable that the only other known early day and night clock is by Edward East (see Cescinsky, Old English Clockmakers and their Clocks, p.124, fig.184-5 and Edwards, Dictionary of English Furniture, Volume II, p.85, fig.19). The East has no alarm and a plainer rectangular case, but both clocks have removable pediments and neither is fitted with a chimney, Edwards suggesting that the East pediment was simply removed at night. However, the glazing in the rear door of this Hilderson example is of sufficient height that a lamp placed behind the case enables the hours to be read at night, as it happens, in greater safety than the other examples. As this clock combines night indication with a conventional day chapter ring, it retained its usefulness beyond the introduction of repeating clocks, undoubtedly assisting in its survival too.

Sadly, there is little information to indicate who the early casemakers were, but it is thought that the East school’s architectural cases were likely made by indigenous City craftsmen, unlike Fromanteel, who not only appears to have used cabinetmakers outside the City in Southwark, who were foreigners like himself, but initially also used true Palladian designs, attributed to the architect John Webb (1611-1672).

Additional information

Dimensions 5827373 cm