The Quaker Clockmakers of Adderbury and North Oxfordshire

In June 2013 the Adderbury History Association organised an exhibition of Quaker clockmaking, which illustrated the output of local Quaker clockmakers from around 1700 to the middle of the nineteenth century, from the early works of Thomas Gilkes senior of Sibford Gower to the last Quaker clockmaker working locally, Ezra Enoch, also of Sibford Gower. This article is taken from the introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition.

The history of Quakerism in North Oxfordshire is almost as long as that of Quakerism itself. It arrived in Puritan Banbury during the 1650s and quickly established itself in the rural area to the west and south of the town in the second half of the seventeenth century. Adderbury Quaker Meeting House was opened by George Fox in 1675 and the first Sibford Gower Meeting House followed in 1681.

The same could almost be said about the longevity of Quaker domestic clockmaking, although it was not until the 1689 Act of Toleration created stability and safety for the Quakers that the two converged. We see then the emergence of a group of Quaker blacksmith-turned-clockmakers, in the form of the Gilkes family of Sibford Gower and later the Fardons of Deddington who went on, through their descendants, relatives and apprentices, to dominate the craft and create a clockmaking tradition that was to last throughout the eighteenth century.

During this time they produced one of the most iconic styles of English country clockmaking, instantly recognisable to enthusiasts everywhere – the iron-posted hoop and spike clocks with distinctive ring and zig-zag engraved dials. These were most probably first produced in the workshop of Thomas Gilkes senior of Sibford Gower around 1700, and were continued by his three sons, Thomas junior, who remained at Sibford, John, who moved to Shipston on Stour, and Richard, who became the Adderbury clockmaker. Thomas senior’s apprentice, John Fardon, went on to establish the Fardon dynasty of clockmakers at Deddington.

These pioneers were followed by further generations, each in turn providing an example of the Quaker ideals of education, apprenticeship and travel within their working lives. From this group of clockmakers a network of trade was created throughout North Oxfordshire, extending, after 1750, further afield, to Charlbury, Burford and Milton under Wychwood. At each location we find the local clockmaker taking a prominent role in the running of their local Quaker meeting.

It was this organisational system, set up by George Fox in the early years of Quakerism and then administered via a network of meetings radiating out from the London Yearly Meeting,that underpinned the Quakers’ success and reinforced their core principles of simplicity and truth in all aspects of life. By these means Quaker clockmakers, or, for that matter, Quakers in general, exercised economic power way beyond what their number alone would have justified.

You can learn more about Quaker clockmakers at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, from the Quaker records held at the Oxford History Centre at St Luke’s Church, Cowley, from the Victoria History of Oxfordshire, or from the following books:

C. F. C. Beeson & A. V. Simcock (1989):Clockmaking in Oxfordshire 1400-1850. Oxford. Museum of the History of Science

Tim Marshall (2013): The Quaker Clockmakers of North Oxfordshire. Mayfield Books

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