This is my final entry on Huguenots for 2015. All being well, I’ll have another series next year.

Until the 19th century, many English clockmaking firms were in business. The English, being scientifically minded (until the past 20 years), had exceptional talents when it came to inventing ways to improve horology and keeping time.

Unfortunately, tempus fugit and, with cheaper clocks coming from the Continent combined with the loss of the United States as an export market around a century ago, the industry has diminished.

Present day situation

Today, only two English firms exist: Thwaites & Reed, established in 1740 and operating near Brighton on the south coast, and a newcomer, Newgate Clocks, founded in 1991 in Shropshire.

That said, the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, established in 1631, still exists. It is the oldest surviving horological institution in the world. The Company’s motto is Tempus Rerum Imperator, Latin for Time is the ruler of (all) things. Isn’t that the truth!

Compared with the history of lace making in this country, no one argues about Huguenot participation in timepiece making.

The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers have a museum, created in 1814, which has the best of ancient and fine timepieces. Before the collection relocated to the Science Museum in the summer of 2015, the curator was on hand in April in the Guildhall location:

The Curator will be at the Museum for the most of the day on Tuesday 9th April and will be happy to answer any questions from visitors and highlight the Huguenot clocks in the display cases.

It is regrettable that the Guildhall and the Clockmakers were unable to arrive at an agreeable negotiation for renewal. The museum had its home there for 150 years. The Guildhall location closes on September 1, 2015.

The Clockmakers Collection is now on the second floor of the Science Museum and visits are free of charge.

Huguenot horologers

British History Online tells us that records of English clock and watch manufacture are thin on the ground. What follows is a summary of the article.

Were it not for the mandate to stamp gold and silver watches with the manufacturer’s name, we would know even less than we do. What is lost are the names of those who worked behind the scenes.

In London, clock and watch makers lived and worked in the City — the oldest part of London — and the West End, the political centre near the royal Court. Another watch and clock making centre was to the northwest of London in Middlesex.

The Huguenots settled in Soho (part of Westminster) in the West End.

The article states:

Some of the most skilled clockmakers employed in England during the 16th century were foreigners. Nicholas Cratzer or Craczer, (fn. 3) a German astronomer, was ‘deviser of the King’s (Hen. VIII) horloges,’ and lived thirty years in England. He was a Bavarian, born in 1487. Six French craftsmen were imported in the time of Henry VIII to make a clock for Nonsuch Palace. Nicholas Oursiau, Frenchman and denizen, was clockmaker to both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and constructed the old turret clock at Hampton Court. (fn. 4) He as well as his two assistants Laurence Daunton of the French Church and Peter Doute of the Dutch Church, are returned as living in Westminster in 1568.

Many Huguenots involved in the industry were workers, not owners. However, their well-honed skills and attention to detail helped English manufacturers ensure quality products for the Royal Family, the gentry and wealthy merchants.

Notable Huguenot watchmakers and clockmakers

A few Huguenots owned their own firms and were very successful.

Debaufre

The Debaufre (de Beaufré) family settled in Soho in the 17th century. They were highly skilled watchmakers. Peter Debaufre’s workshop was located in Church Street and the company was in business from 1686 to 1750. Debaufre was admitted to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1689.

In 1704, he, Jacob Debaufre and Nicolas Facio (Faccio, Fatio de Duillier) were granted a patent for jewel bearing, the application of jewels to the pivot holes of watches and clocks.

Incidentally, Nicolas Fatio de Duillier, a fellow of the Royal Society, was a controversial figure. Although he was a brilliant Swiss mathematician with a keen interest in astronomy and physics, he became involved with the ‘prophetic’ Camisards around the time this patent was granted. In 1705, he became the ‘chief’ of this radical and violent French political-religious sect. Parliament suspected Fatio de Duillier of plotting against the state and, at the instigation of the French Church in London, sentenced him to be pilloried as a common cheat and impostor spreading ‘wicked and counterfeit prophecies’. He was nearly killed on the day by a violent mob. Afterward, he left England for a tour of Europe and Asia, returning in 1712. He died in 1753, near Worcester. But I digress.

Once the Debaufres’ patent was granted, they put a sign up in their shop advertising jewelled watches. You can see an example of a ‘Debauffre’ watch in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Peter Debaufre also devised a dead-beat or ‘club-footed’ verge escapement, later adopted and adapted by several other watchmakers.

James Debaufre joined the family firm in 1712. The business closed in 1750.

De Charmes

Simon De Charmes escaped to England in 1688. He was admitted to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1691.

He was highly successful and was able to build a grand family house in Hammersmith (west London), Grove Hall, in 1730. His son David succeeded him in the business. David died in 1783.

DiscoveringClocks tells us that the Huguenots (emphases mine):

brought with them many skills which enlightened and changed fashion and brought luxury items to the market place.  Furniture and clock-making reached their zenith in this period.

DiscoveringClocks has two photos of a surviving De Charmes carriage clock, neither of which I wished to copy here as the object is so rare:

It has a green lacquer case and the domed top is exquisitely decorated with polychrome floral sprigs set against a soft bottle green ground colour …

The case has four gilt metal flambeau finials and is surmounted by carved gilt wooden sound frets set below the dome; it also retains its original gilt metal foliate handle.  One can image how colourful it was when the purchaser brought the clock home, fresh from the workshop.  It has mellowed over a period of time but it is still strikingly beautiful.

Magniac

British History Online mentions Francis Magniac. His workshop was in Clerkenwell (east London) and was in operation between 1770 and 1794.

Magniac was a highly skilled maker of complicated clocks and automata.

In addition to his mechanical expertise, he was also a colonel. He exported many of his wares to China.

Magniac married an Englishwoman, Frances Attwood, who gave birth to their son Hollingworth in 1786 in Bedfordshire. They also had two other sons, Daniel and Charles.

Francis Magniac sent Charles to Canton to keep an eye on the family business interests in that part of the world. Charles established Magniac & Co in China. It soon became one of the most powerful and successful trading houses there.

To avoid too much commercial control by the East India Company, which monopolised British trade in Asia, prominent British businessmen there renounced their citizenship for that of another European country. John Reid, a Scot, was the first to do so in becoming an Austrian citizen. Charles and Hollingworth followed suit under Prussian nationality.

Amazingly, Reid became the Chinese Consul by appointment of the Emperor of Austria. Charles was appointed Prussian Consul and Hollingworth Prussian Vice-Consul.

Charles Magniac was killed in Paris in 1824. The Wikipedia article did not state the circumstances. Daniel took over Magniac & Co but fell into disrepute when he married his Chinese mistress.

This put Hollingworth in charge, but, by then, the company was rapidly falling into decline. The Magniac brothers knew Scottish merchants William Jardine and James Matheson well. Hollingworth appointed Jardine senior partner and Matheson also received a highly responsible position.

Hollingworth returned to England in 1828. He left his capital in trust to Jardine and Matheson. His former company continued to trade as Magniac & Co until 1832, when it became Jardine Matheson and Company, a Fortune 500 company today.

In England, Hollingworth married in 1827 and became a partner of a merchant banking firm Magniac, Smith & Co in 1835, agents for Jardine Matheson. When Jardine returned to England, the merchant bank was renamed Magniac, Jardine & Co.

Hollingworth died in 1867. He is buried in the Magniac mausoleum in Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire.

Vuillamy – Swiss not French

My final mention here is of particular interest to me, as I occasionally have an opportunity to see and hear a Vuillamy clock when I am a guest at a private member’s club in Pall Mall.

Justin Vuillamy moved from Switzerland in England around 1730. He was already a skilled watchmaker and went to work for Benjamin Gray in Pall Mall. Gray was the clockmaker for George II and the Clockmakers Collection at the Science Museum has several of his specimens on display.

Vuillamy married Gray’s daughter and succeeded Gray as head of the business. British History Online tells us:

The watches made by this firm were of very fine quality: one of them fetched £120 15s. when the Hawkins Collection was dispersed by auction in 1895. This beautiful example had an outer case of gold and crystal and a diamond thumb-piece to press back the locking spring, the inner case being enamelled in colours with a garden scene.

Vuillamy’s son Benjamin later took over the business. He was a favourite of George III:

and much consulted by the king on mechanical subjects, especially in connexion with Kew Observatory.

His son, Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy, born in 1780, was the next head of the firm:

and obtained a high reputation for the exactness and excellent finish of his work, both in clocks and watches. Until his death in 1854, the office of clockmaker to the reigning sovereign continued to be held by members of the Vulliamy family.

The royal palaces and Windsor Castle have several Vuillamy clocks.

Elsewhere:

Among the public timekeepers made by B. L. Vulliamy were the large clock at the old Post Office, St. Martin’s-leGrand, and one at Christ Church, Oxford.

Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy also wrote:

several pamphlets on the art of clock-making; one of them being on the construction of the deadbeat escapement.

And:

He was a very active member of the Company of Clockmakers, of which he was five times master; in recognition of his services to them, the company presented him with a piece of plate in 1849.

The Vuillamy clock I have the pleasure of seeing is beautifully made, although without much ornamentation. The highlight for me is when it strikes the hour. The delicate chime is heavenly. I’ve not heard the likes of it before or since.

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