Collecting Antique Clocks Richard Beck - another lantern clock discovered
Richard Beck has always seemed to me a most interesting clockmaker. He lived at an exciting time historically, during what was the most war-torn period in British history, namely the Civil War, when friends, families and colleagues took bitter sides against each other. Moreover he lived at a historically important time in the history of clockmaking, the very time when the pendulum was just being developed in relation to clockwork. In fact he worked for the actual families who introduced the pendulum into Britain. Sadly he died very young at the age of only about 27 with a working life of only six years. Yet that tragic factor too, is in a sense a bonus to those who are students of clocks, as it means that his clockmaking was confined to a very short period, and that means that we can pin down for certainty the styles we see in his clocks as occurring within that defined and very short span.
I have tried to establish where he came from, but without any great certainty. What we do know of his origins is that he was apprenticed through the Clockmakers' Company in May 1646 to clockmaker John Selwood, who with his older brother, William, ran a thriving business making lantern clocks at the sign of the Mermaid in Lothbury in London. This was one of the most prestigious clockmaking houses in London, of which at this time there were probably no more than half a dozen.
Apprentices were normally fourteen years of age, served a term of seven years and were made free of their apprenticeship at the age of 21. From this we can guess that Richard Beck was born about 1632. We know from bequests in Richard's own will that his parents were Richard and Mary Beck and that he probably had a sister named Ann, who by 1659 was the wife of Samuel Wolfe and therefore probably born before 1638. But we don't know his place or origin.
Irritatingly I found two families of a Richard Beck with a wife named Mary and a daughter named Ann as well as a son named Richard. One such family lived at Broad Hinton in Wiltshire and had a daughter, Ann, born in 1639. Their son, Richard, was baptised in May 1627. The other lived at Grantham in Lincolnshire and their daughter, Ann, was born in 1628 and their son Richard in May 1627. Both these Richards would seem to be too old, as they would have been 19 at the age of apprenticeship, not impossible, but unusual. Of the two the Wiltshire origin seems the more likely as the Grantham parents had several other children too, none of whom are mentioned in Richard's will. But it remains uncertain if Richard Beck was from one of these families, or from neither.
What we do know is that Richard's master, John Selwood, had been apprenticed in 1630 to Peter Closon in the Clothworkers' Company, freed in 1637 then made free in the Clockmakers' Company in 1641. When John died in 1651, Richard would have continued working at the Mermaid under William Selwood, who himself had been apprenticed in the Clothworkers' Company from 1624 to 1632 under Henry Stevens, Peter Closon's former master. Stevens had been apprenticed in that Company under John Harvey, one of the earliest native British clockmakers. Before the founding of the Clockmakers' Company in 1632 many clockmakers belonged to the Clothworkers' Company, possibly because this happened to be the Company the Harveys were in (father and sons), and Company loyalty passed down from master to apprentice.
Unfortunately, barely two years later, William Selwood also died (in April 1653), and this left their former apprentice and workman, Thomas Loomes (freed in 1649) as proprietor of the Mermaid business, so that he was now in charge of the former apprentices of both John and William Selwood. These were: Richard Beck, Simon Dudson, Tobias Davis, Samuel Davis and Edward Norris. John Harvey to Henry Stevens to Peter Closon to the Selwood brothers to Thomas Loomes - this sequence of clockmakers formed a pedigree of training of the finest lantern clock makers in the land and it as in this clockmaking 'house' that Richard Beck learned his skills.
Richard Beck was freed from his apprenticeship in May 1653 after seven years. It was customary for a freeman to work for the same master for a further year before setting up on his own, during which he saved what he could to get married and set up in business, if he could afford to do either - or called on the bank of mum and dad to help with either or both. On the 18th July 1654 Thomas Loomes was married in the bride's parish church of St. Saviour's in Southwark to Mary, daughter of Ahasuerus Fromanteel, the man who was soon (1658) to introduce the pendulum into England and who was probably already in negotiations about this with 'inventor' of the pendulum clock, Christian Huygens in Holland. This marriage united the tradition of the Harvey-Stevens-Closon-Selwood line with the uniquely innovative house of Fromanteel to form what was about to become the most important clockmaking concern in the land. And Richard Beck was there at the time, an integral part of it all.
As well as being amongst the foremost clockmakers in the land, the Fromanteel-Loomes 'company' housed amongst their number a disparate bunch of what were regarded as rebels, including as they did religious nonconformists, reformers, Anabaptists, Protestants and anti-Catholics. But what was probably regarded as worst of all was that they were supporters of Oliver Cromwell. Thomas Loomes was later imprisoned for harbouring wanted ex-Model Army officers on the run and Fromanteel himself gave monetary support to Cromwell, whom he knew personally. The Clockmakers' Company at that time was run by those who voted themselves back into office year after year and who were mostly Royalists and Roman Catholics and Frenchmen - and some were all three! They saw the Fromanteel/Loomes concern as an anti-Royalist thorn in their sides and attempted to thwart them at every opportunity.
In January 1655/56 Ahasuerus Fromanteel was admitted as a Freeman of the City of London by virtue of his freedom in the Clockmakers' Company 'upon the letter of his Highness the Lord Protector (i.e. Cromwell) in the behalf of Ahasuerus Fromanteel for his obteyning his freedom of this Cittie'. Though apprenticed in the Blacksmiths' Company, he had been a Free Brother in the Clockmakers' Company for twenty four years (since 1632) but not a full Freeman. Now through the personal intervention of Oliver Cromwell's letter he became one.
In late 1656 the oppressed Company members could stand it no longer and a group of thirty three of them wrote in protest to the Lord Mayor. They were headed by the Loomes/Fromanteel clan, which included Richard Beck. Another group led by the Clockmakers' Company Assistants summoned up a counter-petition on behalf of the Company running to a mere fourteen names, though if we discount those unqualified to sign (such as several non-members!) the number drops to just seven. Seven Company members were content with the situation, whilst thirty three were not. The Lord Mayor persuaded all concerned to meet to undertake reasonable discussions to resolve the matter , which they seemingly did, but the outcome was that the Company reported Thomas Loomes for having five apprentices instead of the permitted two, and he was ordered to comply.
Ahasuerus Fromanteel, a man never known to eat humble pie, was perhaps emboldened by his new status as a Freeman of the City at Cromwell's personal order, when he wrote a letter of "reconciliation" in March 1656/57 to apologise for intemperate words uttered at the meeting, which words he said 'did not become Christians nor Civil men'. The irony is that this is believed to have been a phrase taken from a speech by Cromwell himself, which would have rubbed even more salt in the wounds of the Royalist administration. He admitted he should not have told the Company Assistants that his journeyman could do more than any five of them put together - even though it was true, he added! A few other home truths were hardly going to heal the wounds and the Company administration must have been seething with rage and took out their anger on Thomas Loomes by fining him forty shillings for having too many apprentices. If Tom Loomes could not afford it, his father-in-law certainly could, and Fromanteel probably considered forty shillings' worth of satisfaction a bargain.
On the 22nd May 1655 Richard Beck was married at St. Benet's Fink in Threadneedle Street to Elizabeth Gilbert, a seamstress. We can take it by now that Richard had left the Mermaid in Lothbury and had set up on his own just two streets to the south opposite the French Church in Threadneedle Street, which must have been on the south side of the street. Richard and Elizabeth had three children baptised in their local church of St. Benet's: 24th June 1656 Elizabeth; 25th November 1657 Richard; 20th February 1658/59 Mary. He last attended Company meetings in 1658. On the third of September of that year sixty-year-old Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, died of malarial fever, during a night of most violent storm, said by some to be caused by the devil carrying away his soul. In October Fromanteel rushed to publish an advertisement for his new pendulum clocks, no doubt anxious to establish his British rights to the 'invention' lest the removal of his Protector weakened his status in whatever unknown turmoil might follow Cromwell's death. In the following Spring, not long after the birth of their third child, Richard Beck was struck down with a sudden and severe illness. By the 31st May he was so ill he signed his will, 'being sicke in Bodye'. He died within a day or two and was buried on June the 4th 1659, his will being proved just thirteen days after the funeral.
According to the custom of the City of London Richard Beck requested his wealth be divided into three parts. One third part of everything he left went to his widow, another third was to be divided amongst his children - as was customary. The third part, by custom, could be left at his discretion, and this he left to his father and mother. He left twenty shillings each to his "brother-in-law", Samuel Wolfe and his wife, Ann, to buy them mourning rings. But "brother-in-law" at that time might imply a variety of relationships. I could not trace Samuel Wolfe, who might have been the husband of Richard's sister, Ann, or might have been the husband of a sister of Richard's wife, Elizabeth (Gilbert), named Ann, or might have been the husband of a deceased sister of unknown name of Richard or of his wife, re-married to a lady named Ann. I could not pin down any Samuel Wolfe who fitted the bill.
One witness to the will was "Carr" Coventry, a former apprentice of Samuel Davis, himself a former apprentice at the Mermaid under the Selwoods and a Nonconformist with Quaker leanings. Carr Coventry, correctly Carolus or Charles but always known as Carr, was himself freed in 1657 and may well have been working for Richard beck at this time, as no clocks are known in Carr Coventry's own name. By 1662 he is thought to have worked for Samuel Davis, but of course by that time Beck was dead. The other two witnesses, Thomas Browning and Peter Bell senior, were not known clockmakers, but perhaps just neighbours.
I usually try to keep a tally of known lantern clocks by particular makers, as best I can. Of course I cannot know of all of those in private hands, but I have been able to log those going through auction in the past 30 years or more. I know of five clocks by Richard Beck,all of them originally made with balance wheel control.
Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes
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