Edmund Linfield of Storrington, Clockmaker

I was most interested to read in Sussex Life of the recent purchase by the Horsham Museum Society of a long case clock which was made by Edmund Linfield of Storrington. The article, which I saw in the June issue, also states that “very little” is known about Edmund. It continues: “He may have been a journeyman clock maker visiting Storrington for a year or so, making one or two clocks for local families. Or he may have lived in the town and worked at other trades. These and other questions will be answered after the Museum staff and volunteers have researched this interesting and elusive clock maker.” Since Eric, Alan and myself are all members of the Horsham Museum Society, I was somewhat surprised that nobody from the organisaton had bothered to contact us, so I sent them a letter giving details of all the information we presently have about this “elusive” clockmaker. I have been intending for some time to write an article about Edmund, so what follows is based upon the information I sent them.

Edmund was baptised at Thakeham Church on 14 October 1722, the younger son of William and Jane Linfield. William was a husbandman in the parish and married Jane Hooker at Fittleworth on 17 June 1711. Baptised at Itchingfield in 1683, William was the eldest child of George Linfield and Elizabeth Stringer of Shipley, who were married on 15 May 1681. Although I have not yet found their marriage entry in any of the local parish registers, Edmund married Mary Richardson in about 1750. The earliest Storrington reference to Edmund takes place on 8 November 1753 with the christening of his daughter Ann. In the parish register he is referred to as a “clocksmith” so his business was presumably established in the village at around this time. Undoubtedly, this must have been his main occupation although he would have worked at other trades related to his craft. He probably made all his clocks to order, whilst the cases would have been made by a local carpenter to the specific requirements of the customer. All his children by Mary were christened in Storrington, namely Ann (1753), Elizabeth (1757), James (1759), Sarah (1761), Richard (1763) and Catherine (1766).

Extracts from the Thakeham Manor Court Book (add. Ms. 2298) for 1755 refer to a cottage with acre of land at South Common in Thakeham. This property was eventually to revert to “Mary the wife of Edmund Linfield (clockmaker)” daughter of Richard Richardson, after “the deaths of Samuel Richardson & the said Richard Richardson the father.

My own research into the life of Edmund Linfield was originally motivated after I first saw one of his clocks, which belongs to a cousin. I have also subsequently corresponded with a lady who has another, quite different, example of his workmanship and I have heard of at least one other clock in Sussex. Although I have not seen the clock at Horsham Museum, I shall describe the two clocks I am familiar with since it will be interesting later to see how they compare. I believe the basic product of the Sussex maker was the thirty-hour longcase clock, earlier made with a single hand but after the mid 18th century with two hands. My cousin’s clock has a brass face, with a chapter ring which shows Roman numerals for each hour and a minute band marked at every fifth unit (see illustration and front cover). The word “LINFIELD” is engaved in plain capital letters; beneath, more artistically executed, is a flowery “STORRINGTON”. The minute band is placed around the outer edge of the dial. This clock is therefore a classic example of a two handed 30 hour longcase clock. There is also a clue to the year of its manufacture: the year 1761 is pencilled inside the door of the case. I would imagine that it may be engraved on the workings, possibly with Edmund’s signature, and that whoever pencilled in the date may have found it whilst carrying out renovation work. Its year of manufacture, 1761, was at a time when the majority of 30 hour clocks were two handed; whereas, twenty years earlier, most would have been single handers.

London was the main centre of clockmaking until the mid-18th century, and most of the clocks produced there were 8 day clocks. Interestingly, the 30 hour and 8 day clocks were available from the same time, although the 8 day types were the most popular. The dial consisted of several parts – the dial sheet, corner-pieces or spandrels- attached by a screw – and a main chapter ring carrying the numbers. The most obvious difference between the 30 hour and 8 day clocks is the presence of two winding holes on the latter, since 30 hour clocks do not wind with a key. This is not to deny, of course, that there are exceptions: some people liked to give the impression that they possessed an 8 day clock by positioning “dummy” winding holes on the dial of their 30 hour clock. They also provided a decorative effect to improve the appearance of an over-plain centre, whilst at the same time following the fashion of the capital.

The numbers or chapter ring was a separately cast brass disc onto which the hours and minutes were engraved. It was usually silvered over to enhance the appearance of the numbers, but my cousin’s clock shows no sign of silvering as, in most cases, it has been polished away over the centuries. It is, however, a legitimate restoration technique to resilver the dial by using a paste of silver chloride.

The other Edmund Linfield clock I have come across has some interesting differences. Unfortunately, I have not actually seen it, but I do have a photograph of the clock face as well as some descriptive information from my correspondent. It has a brass dial with the engaved words “LINFIELD, STORRINGTON” in two scrolls. Although the clock has two hands, there are no minutes marked at all, but simply Roman hour numerals, and between them only four spaces instead of five on the inner chapter ring edge. This is very interesting since it suggests that the clock was originally single-handed; the four spaces represented quarter-hour units, to provide clarity of time to the nearest quarter-hour. However, there are also two winding holes in the clock face, which complicates matters somewhat since it would appear to be an 8 day clock – which, according to clock expert Brian Loomes, were always made with two hands! Some single handed 8 day clocks do exist, but they are apparently very rare indeed. What it suggests, of course, is that this particular clock was originally a single handed 30 hour clock which was later fitted with an 8 day movement and an extra hand. There are other reasons for supporting this view: for instance, most 8 day clocks also had a seconds dial, whilst 30 hour clocks did not. This clock has no seconds dial.

Such alterations were probably quite common, and were usually carried out when excessive wear had become a problem. In the case of 30 hour clocks, it was understandably preferable to replace the movement completely and, for the sake of convenience, with an 8 day movement. But it also meant cutting winding holes in the face of the clock, which may have rough edges and no ringing like many original brass dial 8 day clocks. My correspondent also indicated that she thought the case was not the original; the case on my cousin’s clock is very plain and was probably known as a “cottage clock”, judging by its simple oak case which would have been made to order by a local carpenter. It was therefore destined for a more modest household than the much more elaborate and expensive mahogany cases favoured by the rich.

The following family tree should help to clarify what we already know about Edmund. He was born in 1722, and died at Storrington in 1799 at the age of 77. His first wife, Mary Richardson, by whom he had six children, died in 1772. Two years later he married his second wife, Sarah Boniface at West Grinstead on June 25 1774, by whom he had a son, Richard, baptised in 1779.

In a previous article in Longshot (Vol 2 No 1, May 1993), I wrote about the prosperous butcher, Peter Linfield of Storrington, who moved to the village from West Chiltington in 1779 and lived there until his death in 1791. In his inventory, he is shown as owning two grandfather clocks, and it is tempting to imagine that he bought them from his distant kinsman of Storrington, Edmund. As an interesting observation, although they both had businesses in the same village, their fortunes ran in opposite directions: whilst Peter thrived, and his business grew from strength to strength, Edmund’s eventually failed, and what the family tree fails to show, is that when he died in 1799, Edmund was sadly a pauper. However, although we have no firm evidence, there is a possible clue in the family tree.


Family Tree of Edmund Linfield, 1722-1799

 

It is interesting to note that Edmund’s three sons all predeceased him. The eldest, James died in 1791 at the age of 31 or 32, and he may well have helped his father in the business with the eventual prospect of taking it over. Increasing infirmity probably precluded Edmund from continuing with his clockmaking skills, but the premature death of his son would have finished the business completely since there was nobody else to take over. In such circumstances, without any means of support, he ended his days in the local poor house. Such a scenario may well describe the situation which developed. We still need to find out what happened to his wife, since there is no record of her burial in the Storrington parish registers.

I wonder how many clocks Edmund made during his career. Assuming he probably worked at least 40 years, and he finished a clock every two weeks (the usual time taken to complete a clock), the maximum he could have completed during his lifetime would be 1000. However, taking into account possible vagaries in demand – which he must have experienced in a small Sussex village – and the fact that he probably made all his clocks to order, the final total would have been much lower – probably less than half this amount. In order to make a living, he would have found it necessary to supplement his income by other means; perhaps he also repaired and serviced local clocks, for example. But in the end it was either incapacity or a serious decline in the demand for his clocks which destroyed his business and forced him into the workhouse. It may well be that he failed to adapt to changing fashions, such as the introduction of the white dial which began in 1772, although the majority began from about 1780. However, by 1790 most longcase clocks had white dials. For someone who had been making brass dial clocks since 1750 or thereabouts, it would have been a very difficult process to adapt to the new technology, particularly as there were a number of impediments involved. In remote rural Sussex, Edmund may have failed completely to realise that fashions were changing.

References Loomes, Brian The Concise Guide to British Clocks (Barrie &amp Jenkins Ltd, 1992) Tyler, E J The Clockmakers of Sussex (Watch & Clock Book Society, 1986)

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