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Minutes of the 371st meeting held at 10.00 in Stokesley Town Hall on Tuesday 15th

 January 2019:  

Speaker David Severs: ‘Stokesley Clocks and Clockmakers’

David Severs was the police sergeant at Stokesley. He worked upstairs on prosecuting cases! He gave us a very interesting talk on Stokesley clockmakers, not least because it gave a picture of part of Stokesley’s 1000 year history with which many Members may not have been familiar. He has written a book on the subject and talked to various groups including Tennants at Leyburn.

Clockmaking in the area started in the 17th century with a maker in Askrigg in the 1680s and one in Guisborough in the 1690s. The first in Stokesley was John Cornforth whose business started in 1735. He produced both 30 hour and 8 day clocks and until his death in 1773, he produced nearly 1000 clocks, of which over 100 are still in existence. David showed a picture of a Cornforth clock face. An 8 day clock can be recognised by its 2 winding holes.

Hugh Pannell was David’s 5 times great grandfather and was born in Stokesley in 1721. He was apprenticed to Cornforth at the age of 14. Following his 7 year training, he worked as a journeyman until he got married. Pannell then moved to Northallerton in 1749/50 and lived there until his death in 1788. David owns the only known Pannell clock in working order. It has a single hand and a 30 day calendar.

Thomas Calvert was apprenticed to Cornforth in 1750. After he had completed his apprenticeship, he became the second clockmaker in the town. He died in 1781 at the age of 44. His clocks had two hands, but the face had quarter hour marks to help the old folk who could not cope with the new technology of the minute hand! We were shown pictures of several Calvert clocks with narrow cases. Matthew Hinderwell was baptised in 1750 and became an apprentice with either Cornforth or Calvert. At this time, the dials were manufactured in Birmingham and frequent spelling mistakes were made by the visiting salesmen. We saw a picture of a Hinderwell clock with the spelling ‘Hinderswill’ and the spellings of Stokesley on many clock faces were many and varied. Hinderwell moved to Stockton after completing his training. On his death, he was buried in Stokesley in 1833.

Other makers included the 3 generations of Robert Stephensons. They produced highly decorated floral faces with Arabic numerals from about 1800. Later Roman numerals came back into fashion. The last of the Stephensons died in a haymaking accident in 1838. Robert Kneeshaw was apprenticed in Leeds and settled in Stokesley in 1832. He had 12 children and moved to Canada in 1832. Robert Armstrong took over Kneeshaw’s premises and employed journeymen to make clocks. John Turnbull was born in Scotland and got married in Seamer. He had a clockmaking business in the Market Place until he died in 1854. David showed a picture of a Turnbull clock with a rolling moon face.

The Unthank family moved from Guisborough to Stokesley in 1840. They produced clocks typical of Victorian times with lots of decoration. A German named Salomon also made clocks in Guisborough and Stokesley during the reign of George IV. Andrew Mace combined the professions of clockmaking and dentistry in Stokesley. Sadly the importing of clocks from the USA at below cost price resulted in the end of long case clockmaking in England.

In answers to questions, David said that the cost of a clock when it was made was less than £10. At one time the cost of a working clock was thousands, but recently Tennants sold one for £150. Norris Wilson said he had sold his for £1200 about 25 years ago. David said that at the height of its successful period, Stokesley had 4 clockmakers. He explained that the origin of the term journeyman was French, referring to a man paid by the day.