Samuel Watson

Detail of clock face

  Today’s guest blog is written by Huw Jones, Keeper of Collections. 

The Watson Clock on display in What’s in Store

 One of our prize objects is back on display after an absence of five years. It is a magnificent longcase clock made by Samuel Watson of Coventry around 1690. It came off display in 2005 when the redevelopment of the Herbert began and then it was sent away to a specialist clock conservator to have some work done on it, but now it has gone on display in What’s in Store

Samuel Watson was one of the most well known clock and watchmakers of his time. We don’t know much about his life, but we know that he was sheriff of Coventry in 1686. He called himself Mathematician in Ordinary to King Charles II, although there is no evidence that this post really existed. However we do know that he made a clock for the king in 1683. In 1690 or 1691 Watson moved to Long Acre in London. The last known mention of him is around 1712, when he submitted a proposal for an instrument to allow ships to measure longitude at sea.  

Detail of case

We actually have two clocks made by Samuel Watson. One is a bracket clock, which is on display in the History Gallery.  But the longcase clock is the really impressive and intriguing one. It’s much larger than usual longcase clocks. Its case is an unusual shape and is very ornate with beautiful marquetry designs of flowers and birds. It is this case which is the intriguing part of the clock.  

 In 1683 Watson began work on an astronomical clock for King Charles II. This was a type of clock that showed the position of the sun, moon, stars and planets and various other information. The clock was not finished until 1690, by which time the King had died. William and Mary were now on the throne but were not very interested in the clock at first. At one point Watson even tried to raffle the clock off. However in the end Queen Mary bought the clock. This brings us to the mystery.  The astronomical clock is still in the Royal collection in Windsor Castle, but it is not in its original case.  However we know from an illustration made at the time that this clock had a case exactly like ours. Why is our case so large, unusually shaped and ornate? Is the case of our clock in fact the original case for the astronomical clock? If Queen Mary didn’t like the case, she may have removed the clock and given the case back to Watson. Watson then made a new clock to fit in the case. The other possibility is that Watson made two clocks with identical cases, one with the astronomical clock in it and the other with the clock we have here.  

We may never know. What is certain is that we have a very fine clock with a royal connection. 

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Posted on 19/07/2010, in Collections and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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