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Wincanton Clockmakers

The following article has been extracted from the book
"History of Wincanton from the earliest times to the year 1903" by George Sweetman.

One of our poets has said:-
" We take no note of time but by its loss,
Togive it then a tongue were wise in man,
As if an angel spoke, I hear its solemn sound."

There have been many methods of measuring time, and it ia considered a very low state of intellect where time is not measured. Many clocks and watches of the present day are marvels of skill, and very costly; but it was not always the case that a clock or watch could be purchased for a few shillimgs, nor could time always be as accurately kept as now. Many have been the devices for measuring time in years long since past. Perhaps some of the earliest time keepers were the flowers which mark the time by their opening and closing, by which every hour of the day, if not of the night, is indicated. It is said that Julius Caesar kept time by a water clock as long ago as the commencement of the christian era, and the Bible tells of a sundial several hundred years before Caesar's time.

It is not long since that sundials were abolished. I learnt myself to tell the time by lessons given me by my father on the sundial at Charlton Musgrove church, over 60 years ago, and there are fragments of other dials at some of the old churches and houses in the neighbourhood. I recall now those of the house on the Batch, Balsam House, Mr Cooper's, Roundhill, Temple Combe, and elsewhere.

The oldest 8-day and 30-hour clocks have but one hand, the minutes have to be guessed at. The clock at the dame's school I went to, had but one hand, and this was, to me, as difficult as the sundial. Amongst the old clockmakers of this immediate neighbourhood was a Noah PRIDHAM, of Sherborne, many of whose clocks are to be found all round the neighbourhood. They must have been comparatively modern, as I do not remember seeing a clock of his with one hand only.

William COCKEY is the first Wincanton clockmaker, whose name I have found on the clocks themselves. I have not found a date on either of them, but they may have been made at least as early as 1692, when he became churchwarden, or a few years before, or as late as 1721 or later. Of his make, there are those of Mr PHELIPS, of Montacute House ; Mr John ALFORD of Bayford Hill ; Mr MARRIOTT, late of Roundhill Grange, now of Curry Rive ; the late William TUFTIN, of Bayford ; Mr F. SALT of High Street.

Osmond CROSS, 1746-1760. Of his clocks , there are those of Mr Charles MULLINS, of Silton dated 1746. Mr James PORTNELL, sold by auction, 16/3/1897. Mr E. Spencer WEARE.

John ANDREWS, 1741. I have not seen any house clock of his, but, as I said before, he supplied a new Town Clock in the year just mentioned.

Richard LEWIS, 1760. I have seen him described as a goldsmith. Of his clocks I have seen those of the late Mr Aaron BELL, Church Street ; Mr Henry STACEY, Mill Street ; Mr Harvey BLAKE, High Street. Mr E. Spencer WEARE has also a watch, engraved, "Richard LEWIS", the silver mark being 1765.

Charles LEWIS, 1774. Mr E. Spencer WEARE has one of his make at the present time.

George WAY, 1796 and in 1805. He attended to the Town Clock. In 1801, he supplied the dial at the Congragational Church, where at this day it remains to speak for itself. He charged £5-5-0 for it, as the church accounts show. In the census for 1801, George WAY is described as an Innkeeper, but there is no account of a clockmaker of that name. There can be but little affinity in the two trades, but I have no explanation to give.

John OLDING, 1801. In the census of that year he is described as a shopkeeper, but Mr E. Spencer WEARE has a clock bearing the name of John OLDING on its face.

William DONEY, in the census of 1801, is described as a watchmaker, and as living where Mr Robert BASSETT now lives in the High Street. In 1811, when the next census was taken, he had removed to South Street, where Messrs. New & Morgan's drapery establishment now is, and there he is described as a shopkeeper. Mr E. BIGGIN, who recently resided inthe Tything, has a 30-hour clock with mahogany case, with the name of Wm. DONEY, Wincanton, thereon.

Edward CROSS, in the 1811 census, is mentioned as a clockmaker ; probably he had no shop. It is said of him by old people that he went to Penselwood to clean a clock, and was never seen after. He had a brother Martin CROSS, who was also a travelling clockmaker. I remember him as a very quaint sort of man ; he died, I believe, sometime in the forties.
Robert BUSH, 1813 - 1821, looked after the town clock, and I believe that I have seen his name on case clocks, but I know of no example at present.

Harry BUSH was a clockmaker here about this time. Mr John MACMILLAN, of Edgbaston, Birmingham, who was a Wincanton boy, said in the Castle Cary Visitor for August, 1897, that he had a clock bearing the inscription, "Harry BUSH, Wincanton."
Nathaniel OLDING, as near as I can get to it, was in business here about 1830. Several good clocks bear his name. Mr W. T. GOODFELLOW has one of them in handsome rosewood case ; and I have another, much plainer.

John WAY, 1809 - 1836. I can only repeat here what I have said before, that he was connected with the town clock from 1805 to 1836.

Thomas WAY is mentioned in the Directory of Somerset for 1830. He then lived, I believe, in High Street. He was caretaker of the town clock from 1837 to 1845. To the best of my recollection, he afterwards lived in Church Street, in the house between the Coffee Tavern and Mr. BOTTLE'S. I have some slight rememberance of seeing enamelled face Dutch clocks in his shop.

Albert or Alberto BIOLETTI was, I believe, an Italian, who came here as an officers servant during the french captivity, 1805 -1815. If in 1805 , he was then about 28 years of age. In 1830, he lived in South Street as a hair-dresser, selling clocks and watches also. He removed to the house, now the printing office of Mrs. Fred SHEPHERD, in High Street. He removed again, this time to the brick house next to Mr. LATCHAM'S printing office. He was living there in 1861, but removed soon afterwards to Portsea. He had a son who was one of the chief hair-dressers and perfumers in "The Hove," Brighton. He was twice married. Mary, his first wife, died in 1834. Martha, his second wife, died in 1858. By his second wife he had two sons, Louis and George. One was apprenticed to the late Mr. George ROYCE, currier, in Church Street, afterwards in Mill Street ; the other was a tinman, apprenticed to the late Mr. Thomas RICHARDS. When they grew up to manhood, the old man left the town. His gravestone in the churchyard tells us that he died in 1869 at the age of 92. There are, I know, two of his clocks in the town at this time : one at Miss GREEN'S at the top of High Street, the other at Mr. KNIGHTON'S in Church Street.

William TOWER is another whose name appears in the Directory of 1830. My memory does not take me back to his time, but I remember his son Thomas, who was working as a coachbuilder about 1843 and after, at Mr. MEADEN'S , when he carried on business at Balsam House, the workshops being where Mr. SNOOK'S stables and coachhouse now are. I do not remember having seen any clock bearing Mr. TOWER'S name.

Gosue SOLDINI, a short stout Italian, is also described in the oft-mentioned Directory of 1830. I believe that on the late Mr. John BLAKE coming from Sherborne in 1843, and setting up business as a confectioner where Mr. Harvey BLAKE now lives, that Mr. CHICK, hairdresser, went out of the upper part of the house, and Mr. SOLDINI moved in. I remember him as a ardent Roman Catholic, and that he went pretty regularly to his parish church at Bonham. He afterwards removed to the house where Mr. BASSETT now lives. He left after living there a short time. It was reported at the time that he had gone back to Italy. His clocks and weather glasses may be seen all round the neighbourhood. He did but very little in his shop, it being generally closed, whilst he, with his box of watches and jewellery, was tramping the country around.

Joseph WEARE, born in 1796, came to Wincanton about 1814. He appears in Directory, 1830, as clock and watch maker. The timepiece in the Baptist church bears his name, with the date 1833, and is noticeable as having been presented by the "Children and Teachers of the Sunday School," the children being the larger contributors. About 1840, he had a shop in South Street, where the County Court Office now is. He removed to Church Street, where Mr. BOTTLE, Tailor, now lives. The Directory shows him to be there in 1859, his son Josiah being with him. On his son's marriage, he retired to a house in Mill Street. He died on 15th July 1886, aged 90. Many a thousand miles has he walked in the exercise of his business. He was but a little man, but of as sturdy health as of ingenuity. At one time, it is said, he employed 7 men. He not only made clocks, but clockmaker's tools, some of them being yet in the possession of his grandson Mr. E. Spencer WEARE. His clocks are to be found in all parts of the district.

Josiah WEARE, son of Joseph WEARE, appears to have been born in Wincanton in 1821. He was early trained to the business by his father, but acquired greater proficiency at Southampton. He set up in business at Stalbridge, but returned home in 1856 and acquired his father's business. He was an exceedingly clever workman and as honest as the day. All who did business with him were able to put the most implicit confidence in him. At one time he had a very heavy stock of clocks and watches, many of them of great value. He died on 27th July, 1900, aged 79.

William WEARE, son of Joseph and younger brother of Josiah WEARE, was also brought up to his father's trade. Quite young in life, he started business on his own account in the house the town side of Tout Hill House, where he remained about 8 years and then removed to his present shop, where for 40 years he has remained, and now is the oldest tradesman in the town. He has a considerable connexion in the country round, especially at Bruton. To him, for some years, the town clock has been entrusted. For many years he has been the Secretary of the Wincanton Friendly Society, in which he takes great interest. He bids fair to enjoy as long a period of life as his father.

E. Spencer WEARE, son of Josiah, was brought up in his father's business, and at the latter's death in 1900 succeeded him. In 1895, he made and fixed the clock in the church tower at Stoke Trister.

I regret that about 40 years ago so many good old clocks were broken up to give place to gingerbread American clocks, which after a few short years have found there way to the rubbish heap.
This but an imperfect sketch, but it may serve to remind us of those who, through several generations, did there best to keep our forefathers "up to time."
Many villages around us have had their clockmakers, or at any rate, there are many clocks still in existence bearing the names of clockmakers so called ; amongst these villages are Stoke Trister and Cucklington.



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