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A Tale of Two Clocks

Lucky us! We are fortunate enough to have two examples of an English lantern clock in our collection and on display in our museum. Lantern clocks are a distinctly English clock form, a mixture of contemporary German and Flemish continental designs and an organically developed domestic style that was influenced, as most things were at this time, by a bubonic plague epidemic, which killed off many foreign workers, including clock makers. Lantern clocks, as with most types of clocks, were usually centrally located in the house, the great hall or the stairway, for example, so the chimes could be heard throughout the house. And also so there was room for the weights to hang as the clock unwound (White, 43/44).

1610 Harvie clock

Based on evidence from estate inventories, most 16th and early 17th century English homes only had one clock in the entire household as they were very expensive, but we proudly display two (White, 43). Our oldest lantern clock and, reportedly, the earliest known surviving English lantern clock in the entire world, dates from around 1610. It is inscribed ‘Robertus Harvie Littel Brittain London fecit.’

1610 Harvie clock inscription

Robert Harvie created this clock in Littel Britain, an area in the old city of London. This piece is from early in the development of English lantern clocks and, therefore, has more features common to German and Flemish clocks of the time—large size, iron strapping around the bell, secured with a lug nut, and flattened feet. This clock has a face decorated with roman numerals and a door on each side, although these are probably replacements to the original plates. The crest of the clock is an organic, floral design and Harvie has included an iron loop on the back for hanging and iron spurs to latch into the wall to make sure the clock stays put.

Iron loop and and spurs for hanging

Our second lantern clock dates to around 1640. Similar in design to the older, 1610 lantern clock, this one has roman numerals on the face plates and the crest is composed of a floral, marine mammal design

Crest of 1640s clock

This clock, like the 1610 Harvie clock, is made of brass. This style is sometimes called a ‘yeoman’s clock’ because, by the end of the seventeenth century, many in the yeoman and merchant classes owned a lantern clock, but in the early years of this design, most were bought by the wealthy English aristocracy as they were expensive clocks (White, 44/45).

Our two lantern clocks show the evolution of clock making in England. The Robert Harvie 1610 clock show lantern clocks in their infancy, larger and more continental in style, while the 1640 lantern clocks shows the more settled style, smaller with characteristics found on most lantern clocks. Come for a tour and keep your eyes (and ears!) out for both clocks!

1640s clock


White, George. English Lantern Clocks. Suffolk, UK: Antique Collectors Club, Ltd. 1988.




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