Hertford’s earliest recorded clockmaker appears to be Humphrey Clarke, son of Thomas Clarke, possibly of London. According to the records of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in the City of London, Humphrey was initially bound as an apprentice in 1657 to Nicholas Coxeter, an eminent clockmaker, who was to become Master of the Company in 1671. For some unknown reason Humphrey transferred to lantern clockmaker Peter Closon, who signed as “Peter Closon Neare Holburne Bridge Londini fecit”. His third master was Robert Robinson, another London lantern clockmaker, who worked from Red Cross Street and The Style in Lothbury. Humphrey Clarke became “free” (i.e., was admitted to the Clockmakers’ Company) in 1668. This was perhaps a little later than is usual, since apprentices frequently became free at the end of their seven-year term.
Humphrey’s own clock-making business is described as being in “London & near Ye Angel Inn Hartford”. His apprentices included John Parker, 1670 (who became free in 1678); Thomas Clarke, 1674; and John Clarke, 1681. There is no record of the Clarke apprentices becoming free. They may have been related to Humphrey – indeed, John could have been his son. Thomas was too old to be a son, but he was possibly a nephew.
Robert Thornton Andrews, Hertford’s 19th century historian, reckoned that the Angel Inn referred to above, was located in Fore Street. The property was originally No. 32, but was renumbered as No. 44 in 1923. The Angel Inn disappeared from the records in the first quarter of the 19th century.* [The Nationwide is now located on the site.] The workshop may well have been off Fore Street in a yard or back premises.
The works and dials of two of Humphrey’s long-case clocks can still be found in Hertford. One is kept at Hertford Museum, the other at Robert Horton’s antique business at 13 Castle Street.
In the records of the Hertford Corporation is a receipt dated 7 May 1713, which reads:
“then re-d of Ro: Devall Tenn Shillings for the looking after the Towne Clock for halfe a year’s Sallary due at Lady Day last past. Humphrey Clarke.”
Robert Devall or de Vale was Mayor of Hertford in 1712-13. In 1742 a Henry Clark(e) was recorded as caring for the Town Clock. Was this Humphrey’s son or grandson perhaps?
The Town Clock was not the one we see today on Shire Hall, but an earlier clock which was housed in the turret of the Elizabethan Sessions House.
This clock was obviously treated with respect and several accounts survive which relate to its care during the 18th century. When the Sessions House was demolished and the Shire Hall completed in 1772, the old clock may have been hung on the wall of No. 1 Market Place with the Market Bell. The present Town Clock was put up in 1824 and that too has been constantly repaired and updated over nearly 200 years.
The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers was founded in the City of London in 1631. One of their earliest members was one Humphrey Clarke who, as an established clockmaker, would probably have been a member of the Blacksmiths’ Company. In 1632, in order to join the newly-formed City Company, he had to produce evidence that he was already a freeman. This he was able to do and paid his quarterage (i.e., his subs) until 1641. So was “our” Humphrey Clarke of London and “Hartford” a member of an extended family of clockmakers? Was the earlier Humphrey Clarke his uncle or his grandfather? Was he – or did he become – a local man or was he itinerant? And what made him come to “Hartford” in the first place?
Further research needed!
Sources of Reference
Atkins, C.E. 1931 Register of Apprentices of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers London
Britten, F.J. & others 1982 Britten’s Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers London
Loomes, B. 1981 Early Clockmakers of Great Britain London
Loomes, B. 2006 Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World London
City of London Corporation – Admissions
Hertford Corporation Records
R.T. Andrews Manuscripts – Hertford Museum