Where Are The Scottish Clockmakers
The making of clocks in Scotland was not
recognized as a separate craft until about 1640. In Aberdeen in
1618 there were but three
clocks, "the Kirk Knok, Tolbooth Knok, and the College Knok, all out of
repair because they are auld and worne and partlie for want of skilful men to attend
In the” Old Scottish Clockmakers" John
Smith gives an account of the progress of the craft in Scotland. The clockmakers were recognized as a branch
of the Hammermen in 1646 in Edinburgh,
1649 in Glasgow, 1753 in Haddington, and not
until 1800 in Aberdeen.
After 1700 the art and craft of clock and
watch making increased, so that by the close of the eighteenth century Scotland was able to turn out work of
the highest class.
For a number of years into the nineteenth century a high standard of
craftsmanship of work was the rule; but with imports of movements and parts, the practice of assembling became more
and more the rule, and so by 1850 or thereabouts the trade
declined.This and the cheap American and other importations, combined to extinguish an industry and a class
of craftsmen who were as necessary in every village and town as the doctor or
The cheapness of these imported movements made it impossible for native Scottish
craftsmen to compete, and with a wave of mistaken prejudice having arisen against the preservation of the
long-case clocks, large numbers were destroyed for no other reason than that they were thought
Like the German clockmakers, the Scottish applicant for entrance into the Guild
had to make a timepiece to prove his ability and to gain entrance among the Freemen.
There were a number of very distinguished
Scottish makers: such men as Humphrey Mylne, 1661; Andrew Brown,
1665-1711; Alexander Brownlie,
1720-39; James Cowan, 1760-81; John Smith, 1770-1809; George Munro,
1750-99; Paul Roumieu, 1692-1710; Thomas Gordon,
1703-43; being but a few of
Far more Scottish clocks found their way to America than most people think and
even today there are many longcase clocks not just bearing the name of the maker on the dial-plate but
“Corbals” which is a suburb of Glasgow, where apparently there was a clock works.
During the eighteenth century the clock making centre of Edinburgh was Parliament
Square, where the shops fairly clung to the walls of the great building, like swallows' nests
One of the many gifted Scottish clockmakers was James Cowan, of Edinburgh,
who was know for his beautiful richly carved mahogany cases. He was apprentice to Archibald Straiton, Edinburgh,
beginning February 4th, 1744 and was admitted freeman
clockmaker to the Edinburgh Hammermen in 1754. Then he went to Paris and
studied under Julien le Roy and to London to study his craft still further, returning to Edinburgh
1760 and opening his own business.
His knowledge of the craft not only gave him a great and widely extended business connection, but brought him
One of these, and probably the most
celebrated, was Thomas Reid, successor to his business in 1781, at the time of Cowan's
Andrew Leadbetter was apprenticed to Andrew
Clark, Edinburgh, 1764 and he settled later in
Congleton, England, and made many good substantial clocks, some of which found their way to
Another Scottish clockmaker, William Robb,
of Montrose, who was working in 1776, made very handsome clocks, the
shape of the case being somewhat in the French style, with two urns and an eagle in brass as
Owners of these Scottish clocks are sometimes anxious to learn if they are by
"good makers." as the Scottish clock making industry does not seem so well documented, but I say “any clock,
no matter who made it, which will go two hundred years or more, is a good clock!”
In many cases, particularly with country makers who sent their clocks to
customers abroad, it was expected that the joiner or cabinet-maker of the neighborhood would make the case.
In the early years many Dutch movements were sent to England and Scotland without the cases, these were
really bulky, and frequently the movements were hung up without the owner going to the expense and trouble of
having a case made.
Such clocks ran until the dust and dirt clogged their wheels and they
If the owner was a handy man he could clean and set them going once more. Clocks such as these are often called in
provincial communities by the quaint name of "wag-on-the-wall" and many Dutch clocks of this type, but much more
elaborate, found their way across the Atlantic to America. The movements were boxed-in, the box and the bracket on
which the clock stood being carved and elaborately painted. In some localities these were called Friesland clocks,
although they came from other parts of the Netherlands as well.
Barry Share is the proprietor of Riversdale Clocks.
Make your own family heirloom. Get your copy
of the case making manual
“Making A Case For A Longcase Clock” from...
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