BOOKREVIEW: Severs - Concise Guide to Northallerton (Yorkshire, UK) Clocks

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001

Clocks from Northallerton (North Yorkshire, UK)

A Concise Guide to the Clockmakers of Northallerton and their Clocks, by David F. Severs. Published 2008 by the author, Northallerton UK; paperback, 355 pages. 15x21 cm; No ISBN number. 10 figures (B&w), 42 plates (color photographs), Bibliography, Index. Text in English. Limited numbered edition of 400 copies. Available from the author ([email protected]) for UK Pounds 16 plus postage or borrow from the Library & Research Center at the National Watch & Clock Museum.

Note: This book is the ‘companion volume’ to the 1998 book by the same author titled “Northallerton Clockmakers: Hugh Pannell and his successors” [limited to 300 copies, long out of print, but occasionally available through used books channels], and it is impossible to review either book without discussing the other.

The town of Northallerton is a relatively obscure county seat in the north of England with a population today of around 15’000 people. The author is a lifelong resident of the area, who by chance in his youth had learned that one of his ancestors named Hugh Pannell (1721-1788), had been a clockmaker in the area. Starting in 1966, the author began researching his ancestor and learned much about his life, output, and offspring. Through a combination of perseverance and luck, by 1990 the author had discovered and documented 67 Pannell clocks. Pursuing countless leads that eventually led to clocks not made by the Pannell clan, the author automatically became quite an expert on all the local historic clockmakers, and documented 62 additional locally made clocks, mainly from three other families (Hepton, Tessyman and Cade), bearing 13 other signatures. In the 1990s, this accumulated knowledge was cast into a self-published book, and distributed in only 300 copies in 1998 under the title “Northallerton Clockmakers: Hugh Pannell and his successors”. In this book of 250 pages the author rightfully notes that rarely is there so much data available on the horological history of such a small town, let alone one semi-rural dynasty of clockmakers. The bulk of Severs’ first book is devoted to record in detail the genealogy of the local clockmakers of Northallerton in the 18th century, and to describe and document their surviving output, mainly tall-case clocks.

Contrary to the author’s expectations, putting his knowledge on paper did not provide closure on the project. The local publicity surrounding the publication brought a wave of new hints and leads about locally produced historic clocks. In the last 10 years he has expanded his list of clockmakers known to have produced clocks in Northallerton from 46 to 55, and the number of locally produced historic clocks from 129 to 232. And not surprisingly, he felt the need to create a permanent record of new discovery. The result is the book under review.

In the opinion of this reviewer “A concise guide…” never really makes up its mind if it wants to be a second volume, i.e. an addendum to the earlier book, assuming the reader has read the first book, or if alternatively it wants to be an expanded and improved second edition of the first book. The second book tries to be both things at the same time, and that at times is problematic.

Apart from that issue I find it absolutely amazing to see how many facts a lone diligent and dedicated researcher can assemble and present on what really is but a microscopic sliver of mankind’s horological history. I am grateful that somebody recorded and documented all this in excruciating detail for future generations of local historians and horological scholars. At the same time I can not help but wonder who - if anybody - other than an owner of a unattributed Northallerton clock, will actually work his or her way through this mountain of facts, while so many broad based, interesting horological themes wait to be explored. But there clearly are to two kinds of scholars: those that like to know a lot about so little, and those who prefer to know a little about a lot.

While I myself clearly belong to the latter group, I am nevertheless thankful that there are horologists like David Severs who are part of the former. The title under review clearly is a syteematic, fact filled horological book for those who want to know everything there is to know on a subject, even if the subject is as narrow a the horological history of a unextraordinary North Yorkshire market town.
Fortunat Mueller-Maerki. Sussex NJ January 20, 2008


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