About a year ago I was in the Lake District looking at a Mahogany Longcase Clock which had caught my attention. It was in something of a sorry state having been made in Cockermouth by Lott Barwise and having never left the town. Over 250 years of telling the time had left its marks on this as it moved house through inheritance etc. I admit, I fell in love with this the first time I saw it and I will try to explain why it had such an impact on me. It was quirky and yet somehow reached out to me.
As you can see from the above picture the Verre eglomise panels which continue on the sides had been broken through and the pediment seemed to have acquired a curious tree branch like gilt ornament between the swan necks. The dial had rubbed in places but was all there as were the original hands, decoration and brass collars to the wind holes. The movement was ticking away but had been neglected for many decades and was in need of a thorough clean and service.
Despite the grime, it was still easy to see the name Wilson on the falseplate showing that he had made the dial in Birmingham and helping to date the clock. James Wilson was in partnership with T. Osborne from around 1772 to 1777 and they are widely credited with being the first real manufacturers of painted or japanned dials for clocks in imitation of the much more expensive true enamelling on to copper. Wilson continued to sign his dials with just his own name after the partnership was dissolved and died in 1809 thus helping to date this example from between 1777 and 1791 when Barwise died.
The case was in reasonable order with a few minor splits and cracks but the finish had been allowed to deteriorate to the point where the true qualities of this clock were difficult to discern. It was dusty, faded and covered in the sort of yellowish brown film which pieces acquire when they have stood for centuries in rooms heated by wood and coal fires and where the owners have been pipe, cigar or cigarette smokers.
I removed the curious central gilt object from the hood which revealed a hole on the top where it had originally had a finial. You can also see here the damage to the glass panels more clearly. These panels could not be restored and we replaced them using the motifs from the originals but we have kept the broken examples so they can be preserved with the clock for future generations.
Whilst the movement and dial were being serviced we set about cleaning and polishing the case and in so doing came to appreciate so many more details which had been dormant for years but which were now becoming plainly visible. Part of the charm of this clock is the enigmatic smile on the moon in the arch. It is almost as though Lott Barwise wanted to make a statement with this clock.
The case is often referred to as a “Whitehaven” case as it would appear that the finest examples of case making in the North East of England came from that town which was a thriving port during the 18th. century and would have offered case makers early opportunities to acquire imported timbers.
Over the past 70 years we have saved many bits and pieces while carrying out conservation works in our workshops so it was pleasing to find a suitable and old brass finial to place on the hood and which certainly is an improvement on what was there previously.
As time rolled on and the cleaning and waxing processes continued so increasing details complemented one another like the dentil moulding above the blind fretwork frieze and the double shaped inlaid and crossbanded trunk door flanked by fluted, stop fluted columns.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being an Antiques Dealer is that we have the opportunity to take the weary, tired and neglected pieces and by recognising the potential and understanding how these masterpieces were supposed to look we can return them to the state they would have been in originally. We are indeed fortunate to still have the skills necessary here in the United Kingdom to have these works carried out and often for far less cost than the servicing of a motor car!
I admit freely that I developed a great attachment to this clock and the sheer joy I have every time I hear it strike the hours or when I walk past it is indeed a reward. As a dealer I am often asked how I can bear to part with some of the special examples I come across and the secret to that is to acknowledge the huge enjoyment others have when they have acquired one of these from me.
There really is no area where I could see any improvement to this. In a way, I wish I had the time to do further research and find out who Lott Barwise made this for or was it the one he made for himself to show just how good he was and take orders for similar examples from prospective clients. The inclusion of the lunar calendar in the arch may be an indication of Barwise’s clients being wealthy merchants who were dependent on ships and therefore on tides which are ruled by the moon.
Lott Barwise was himself the son of a clockmaker and he moved to Cockermouth in 1750. His son John who eventually left to set up the famous Barwise of London clock company was born in 1755. He eventually went to London and was married there in 1790. He found premises in St.Martin’s Lane. John Barwise took his sons into partnership from 1819 to 1823 setting up Barwise and Sons. Clearly, Lott trained John up in the trade of clockmaking.
Lit: G H Baillie “Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World” Vol. I Lott Barwise, Cockermouth 1770-1791
Brian Loomes “Painted Dial Clocks, 1770-1870” Plate 28, pp 18-22, 68-78,