BOOKREVIEW: Darken - Time & Place – English Country Clocks 1600-1840

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001
Bookreview by Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

Time & Place – English Country Clocks 1600-1840

Time & Place – English Country Clocks 1600-1840 – An Exhibition by The Antiquarian Horological Society at The Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford; by Jeff Darken . Published 2006 by the Antiquarian Horological Society, Ticehust UK; Softcover, 280x230 mm, 282 pages. Numerous color illustrations, Bibliography, Museumlist. ISBN 0 901180 44 0. Available from AHS ( or telephone +(44) 1580 200155) for UKP 30 (less for AHS members) plus postage.

Horologist who are in love with the finest English clocks in existence may well remember the 2003 book ‘Horological Masterworks - English Seventeenth-Century Clocks from Private Collections’ which not only documented a superb temporary exhibit by AHS in Oxford to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization, but also set a new quality standard for publishing horological catalogs. It documented 52 extraordinary clocks by the greatest British clockmakers ever alive.

Both the exhibition and catalog of 2003 were so well received that AHS decided to produce an encore with a slightly different theme: Bringing together the 68 most interesting clocks they could find which had been made by “country” craftsman rather than the masters in London. The resulting exhibit, again in Oxford, is running from the 25th of November 2006 through April 15th 2007, again at the Museum of the History of Science, at Oxford University, and again showing privately held pieces most of which have never before been exhibited in public or published.

While every important temporary horological exhibit deserves to be thoroughly documented for scholarship and posterity, the private source of these objects made it doubly important that a good catalog be created. The same team as in 2003 went to work, and again Jeff Darken, who for this book did most of the editing and photography (with the support and help of countless other AHS members) has once again created a classic that belongs in any well stocked horological library.

The core of the book is the catalog portion, which accounts for 204 pages, devoted to describing 68 clocks. Both the exhibit and the book are organized chronologically, and cover the time-span from 1600 to about 1840, the whole era of pre-industrial manufacturing of mechanical domestic clocks in England. Each catalog entry starts on a new page and takes either 2 or 4 pages (in two exceptional cases 6 pages), with half a page devoted to text, and the rest of the space used for 2 to 6 superb color photographs. In virtually all cases there are images of the dial as well as the movement, often showing separate, well lit and incredibly focused movement details from multiple different angles. In spite of the spectacular images, this book has not been put together for those seeking yet another pretty tome for their coffee table, but for the serious horologist who desires to study these unique timepieces in detail. The primary focus of the book – and the exhibition- is the technical innovations and horological achievements rather than the decorative arts aspects expressed by the cases.

The variety of timekeepers shown is staggering. The shown pieces range from early foliot and balance ring escapement clocks to highly complex musical or astronomical clocks. While many of the cases and dials do not display the sophistication, finish and refinement of their London made contemporaries, these often relatively obscure (and in some cases even unrecorded) clockmakers impressed this reviewer with their innovative solutions to technical challenges and their “can do” attitude, with which they replicated many of the big innovations of their time in horology with vastly fewer resources.

The catalog section is preceded by a highly condensed history of mechanical timekeeping (7 pages), and followed by a series of six separately authored, short articles on specific country clockmakers (The Greenhills of Kent; John London of Bristol; John Watts of Stamford; James Woolley of Codnor; Henry Hindley; and Samuel Deacon of Barton in-the-Beans). A most useful bibliography of specialized horological monographs with English regional themes, and a list of museums displaying English country clocks, conclude the book.

The one glaring shortcoming - for this reviewer - is the lack of an alphabetical index of makers, and a geographic index of the places of origin of the clocks described. I am not an expert on the type of clocks described, but I found the book most enjoyable and informative. There exists a huge literature on English country clocks, but most of the titles are locally focused, describing the –relatively homogeneous- horological output of a single town or a county, or a specific era, or of a specific dynasty of makers. There are only few books that explore the subject “English country clocks” in its whole geographic and temporal breadth, yet limit themselves to the very best and most fascinating examples. This book therefore fills an important hole in the horological literature. The author and the AHS deserve our thanks for creating the exhibition and the book.

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex, New Jersey (USA)
January 8, 2007


Registered User
Jun 1, 2006
REVIEW: Darken - Time & Place – English Country Clocks 1600-1840

I went to this exhibition today and can thoroughly recommend it, a really superb array of mainly lantern, longcase and bracket clocks, all bar one are from the private collections of AHS members. Even my wife enjoyed it but I think the shopping and lunch helped. Fortunately a man was going round winding the clocks while I was there so I made conversation with him and was able to see the movements of many examples up close. There is a downloadable broadsheet available on the site below which gives a brief summary. As for the book I was very tempted as it is as good as Horology says but I have been buying a few books lately one of which was Barder's English Country Grandfather Clocks which covers almost the same period and at £30 for a softcopy this AHS book isn't cheap so will have a think but no doubt end up going back for a second look and a copy before it finishes.

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