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By: Hans Kreft.
(translated and adapted for the Horological Foundation website by R.K.Piggott.)

Table of contents:

Reference sources & acknowledgment.
The Dutch origin.
The religion.
The Dutch connection.
Problematic biginnings in London.
A 24 year hiatus.
The Dutch contract.
The technical revolution.
Questions rising from Huygens' use of pendulum.
Returning to politics.
The disasters of 1665 and 1666.
The next generation.
The Amsterdam branch.
Fromanteel & Clarke.
Clarke & Dunster (Drury).


The response to my article in the Dutch Kunst & Antiekjournaal (August 2003) and my lecture at Schoonhoven NL (September 2003), reviewing the development of the long-case clock and the contributions of the Fromanteel family, revealed a broad public interest in the Netherlands.

Many Dutch enthusiasts visited the highly important exhibition of "Horological Masterworks" at The Museum of the History of Science at Oxford, England (29th March-22nd June 2003) held under the auspices of The Antiquarian Horological Society (AHS), to mark the society's 50th anniversary celebrations. It has been confirmed that this exhibition, with additions relating to Dutch horology, will come to Het Loo Palace at Apeldoorn in Holland during late 2004. Seeing Holland's background and horological history, this major exhibition will bear repetition.


Over the past century a number of authorities have shone light on the Fromanteels, by research and publication, to form a treasury of knowledge. At forefront, I mention journals of The British Horological Institute (BHI), antiquarian section, and The Antiquarian Horological Society, formed in 1953 from that BHI section; respectively the Horological Journal and Antiquarian Horology.

I acknowledge all of these authorities, in particular J.Drummond Robertson, H.Alan Lloyd, R.W.Symonds, Ernest Edwardes & Richard D.Dobson, Ronald A. Lee & R.T.Gwynn, Michael Hurst, Reinier Plomp, Edward A.Aghib, J.H.Leopold and not least Brian Loomes who continued Plomp's work on the Fromanteel genealogy and who highlighted many hiatuses in the Fromanteel story (he is also a regular contributor to "Clocks" magazine).

Following such august experts I do not propose here to add insights or resolve hiatuses, but I would hope to bring the Fromanteel story before a greater public than has hitherto been the case. I also hope that by this important exhibition coming to Holland, it will regenerate efforts to research the Fromanteel history and to close these hiatuses.


Furthermore, as Dr R. Plomp showed, the Fromanteel family had deep-rooted connections with the Low Countries ( De Lage Landen), before, during and beyond the 17th Century. The longcase clock first derived its distinctive form after Huygens' development of a practical pendulum controlled clock (1656) and during the Fromanteels' relationship with Coster (1657-58); events in which they played an intrinsic and important part, that may perhaps infer their Dutch origin, that as yet cannot be proven conclusively. No doubt the Dutch language was an important bridge.

Around 1600 in England, in the cities and environs of Colchester, Norwich and London, there was a Netherlandish community, who apart from their trades, were connected by faith and the Dutch Reformed Church (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk). This church is still extant in Holland, but I doubt its influence today is comparable. Their main industry was textiles, at any rate in Norwich and Colchester in East Anglia (where the wool export trade flourished).

It is generally accepted that the Fromanteels originated from Flanders (Southern Netherlands). Many spelling variations of the name 'Fromanteel' are known. At that time there was no civil registry to enforce and record standardised spellings. Even Fromanteel himself often spelled his own name differently.


The Dutch Reformed Church was established in London in 1550, at Austin Friars, in the centre of London. It is still in use today, although rebuilt after 2nd World War bombings. The church was founded by Protestant refugees from the Low Countries; similar faith-bound Dutch communities also arose in East Anglia.

This community commonly used Old Testament names, some remained unchanged in English, while others were anglicised. The name Ahasuerus is itself an example of the first. It is this Fromanteel, born in Norwich in 1607, whom we now rightly acknowledge as 'the godfather' of the English clock development. He had siblings, baptised respectively Daniel, Esther, Samuel, Abraham, John and Elizabeth. Their father was Mordechai (eng. Murdoch), Leah their mother. Old Dutch names were richly represented.

fig. 1 (click to enlarge)
Signature of Ahasuerus Fromanteel (Sr.) on the dial of a longcase clock, abt. 1660


There is other evidence for this putative Dutch connection. In 1631, Ahasuerus Fromanteel married Maria de Bruijne, yet another Dutch-Flemish name. His sister, Elizabeth, married in 1646, to the clockmaker Andrew Prime, baptised as Andries Priem!

Once established in London, by the1640s, Ahasuerus had become embroiled in a dispute with the Dutch Reformed Church. That correspondence was carried out entirely in the Dutch language!

Further, the well-known notarised contract with Salomon Coster, dated 3rd September 1657, that John Fromanteel signed in The Hague, is set out entirely in Dutch, unintelligible to most Englishmen. While this is normal for any contract made on Dutch soil, one party was English, so at the very least, I suggest a translation into English should have been made, unless John (and even his father) had declared full command of the Dutch language.


In his relationships with both the Clockmakers Company and his Church we learn to know Ahasuerus as a "man for the barricades". People with abilities are often not the easiest of characters. Many learned that Ahasuerus was no exception to this rule. Archives show that he disputed with his guild and with his church. Notwithstanding this, in these early years in London, he married, had children and gave the impression he was able to make a very good living indeed.

Ahasuerus Fromanteel (Senior) went to London in 1629, already a fully trained clockmaker. It is uncertain by whom, but Brian Loomes surmises by a Jacques van Berthen, later anglicised to Jacob Barton. The accent of Ahasuerus' training was probably tower-clocks. At that time the house-clock was not widespread, the craft then lay more in direction of smith (clocksmith) and/or lock maker (locksmith). During his journey to London he was accompanied by Samuel (de) Guys. Both men carried letters of introduction. As Loomes rightly says, they did not go to London "penniless" and "barefoot". Ahasuerus already had behind him a first class grounding in the clock making craft and he also had the right contacts at his disposition in London.

In 1630 he became a member of the old Blacksmiths' Company. Then in 1631 a new guild, the Clockmakers' Company was founded by a Royal Charter, whereupon, on 29th November1632, Ahasuerus was accepted as a "brother", not a "freeman". Brian Loomes claimed that the significance of this distinction is that "brothers" were not allowed to sell clocks under their own name ('Clocks', Vol.2, Nr.11, May 1980, p.53). If correct, that must have been a most frustrating situation for Ahasuerus.

In July 1654, Mary, eldest daughter of Ahasuerus, married the young clockmaker Thomas Loomes (no relation to Fromanteel enthusiast Brian Loomes as far as I know). This Thomas Loomes was also inclined to ignore the rules of his guild. In 1657 fines were imposed upon him for exceeding the number of apprentices allowed by the guild. At an earlier session, hearing this matter before the Clockmakers Company, Ahasuerus had apparently lost his self-control; he had then felt obliged to offer his written apologies for his language being "not entirely gentlemanlike".


If Brian Loomes is right, that "brother" clockmakers could not sign their own clocks, it would raise question: for whom did Fromanteel work while he had to remain a "brother" of the Clockmakers Company over some 24 years? Who had profited by his workmanship? Under whose name were his products distributed for sale? What is known? There are no insights that I have read, so where are the clocks signed by other makers between 1632-1656, that now may be positively attributed to Ahasuerus Fromanteel?

Such a rule -if fact- seems to have been better observed by the breach. Several pre-pendulum lantern clocks and East's silver mounted grand-sonnerie spring clock bear Fromanteel's name. Other makers admitted as "brothers", eg. violinist-composer Davis Mell, admitted in 1655 (ceased attending 1660 and died in April 1662), signed some exquisite watches and balance lantern clocks, including an important original pendulum automaton and musical chamber clock that Mell may well not even have made! If the Clockmakers Company had ever demanded Ahasuerus to desist from selling clocks under his own name for some 24 years to 1656, and he was a marked man, then a conflict surely would have arisen. However, no record of any such restraint order or dispute is known.

In 1656 Ahasuerus managed to bye-pass the guild's dead hand on him by a 'fast-track' manoeuvre outside the Clockmakers Company, via his contacts and with the personal letter of recommendation of Oliver Cromwell himself (that Loomes learned of during research at City archives), when he obtained "freedom of the City of London" despite the Clockmakers Company.

By the time of his famous advertisements in October/November of 1658, Fromanteel gives two addresses where his clocks may be obtained; one was his own workshop in Moses Alley, Southwark, in the Parish of St.Saviour's - on fringe of city; the other was Thomas Loomes' workshop at "The Mermaid" in Lothbury, at heart of the city. It is not entirely clear what "The Mermaid" infers - house numbers did not exist - perhaps a hanging wall-sign depicting the mythical sea-creature? Loomes has suggested a busy tavern on the ground floor with workshops above.

Of Thomas Loomes, (Baillie gives "CC. 1649-74), only lantern clocks are known, all originally made with balance wheel control, ie. pre-pendulum, so he may have died during the great plague in 1665/6. If he did survive the plague, then possibly any pendulum clocks he made were sold exclusively under his father-in-law's more prestigious name.


As Dobson suggested, Fromanteel senior must undoubtedly have looked over his son's shoulder, (just as Huygens must have over Coster's, because of Patent rights being implicitly revealed). John Fromanteel was just 18 years old when he signed that pivotal historic deed in early September 1657 to make the new pendulum clock movements on Christiaan Huygens' principle (also to learn some undisclosed 'secret', that Dobson showed was Huygens' endless-rope maintaining power). Their contract was notarised by notary Josua de Putter in The Hague.

Fig. 2 (click for more on the contract)
Contract between Salomon Coster and John Fromanteel.

Dr Plomp published a facsimile of the manuscript contract (in municipal archives at The Hague) in his "Spring-driven Dutch pendulum clocks 1657-1710" (page 21, fig.19). The manuscript is difficult to read because of the handwriting, the archaic language used and the many scored-out phrases.

In his book "De slinger als tijdmeter" (The pendulum as timekeeper), R.D.Dobson transcribed the contract in modern Dutch. His condensed English interpretation can be found in "Huygens, The Secret in the Coster-Fromanteel 'Contract' The Thirty Hour Clock". (Antiquarian Horology, Summer 1980, page194). I quote Dobson's English interpretation:

"On 3 September 1657, I, Josua de Putter, notary public, admitted by "den Hove van Hollandt" living in the Hague, declare, that Salomon Coster master-clockmaker and John Fromanteel master-servant clock-maker make the following agreement. Fromanteel will make clocks in Coster's shop or house from 3 September 1657 till 1 May 1658, clocks as Fromanteel had already made some. Coster pays Fromanteel for each clock made of brass and steel twenty Carolus guilders [but] if the brass and steel has been delivered by Coster for maximum 18-10-0. Coster will pay the expense of Fromanteel and will show Fromanteel a clock just like the clocks Fromanteel is to make (but with the secret in it) before 1 May 1658, but will not show it before Fromanteel has finished his clocks and Coster has paid him as he is due to do. Coster and Fromanteel promise to do as agreed", etc.,etc.

These were uncertain times in England: king Charles I had ruled for eleven years without parliament, from 1629 to 1640. Religious differences between Anglican High Church and the Presbyterians - put simply, between English crypto-Catholics and protestants - ran high. In 1642 those divides led to a civil war and in 1649 the king himself was condemned and executed. In 1653 Oliver Cromwell was named Lord Protector, a sort of presidential guardian of society. Ahasuerus stood in Cromwell's camp, even appearing to have enjoyed a personal relationship. His "freedom of the City of London" in 1656 was very probably thanks to that connection. By 1658 Oliver Cromwell's health had failed and he died on 3rd September 1658 after a long illness.

Against this background it is clear why his son John had signed-off at Salomon Coster's in May 1658 and returned to London by August, so that as early as October 1658 Ahasuerus Fromanteel's now famous advertisement could first appear in "Mercurius Politicus" reading:

Clearly evident from this advertisement was his approval by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who had just died on 3rd September that year, when the new political situation brought Ahasuerus great uncertainty. Cromwell's son Richard ("Tumble-down Dick") was unable to secure order and fled England. The royal house's star was revived by the restoration of Charles II in May 1660. Promises of amnesty and freedom of conscience were not kept: political promises are usually of little worth. Many were tried and the royalists also vented their wrath upon the bodies of Cromwell and his supporters. Ahasuerus was, of necessity, obliged to keep a low profile. Yet noted patricians like John Evelyn and Christiaan Huygens sought out his works, visited his workshop and drew inspiration from him. in preference to royal clockmaker Edward East?



The advertisement in "Mercurius Politicus" is remarkable for being so soon after the insights John Fromanteel had obtained in Holland - central to which was the escapement of the Hague clock with a short pendulum - with the Fromanteels already being in a position to offer clocks going for a year upon just one winding. The advertisement also declares that such clocks can be made with a spring or a weight drive. The latter is a convenient starting point of the longcase clock, initially with short pendulum! One may deduce that, if applied to anticipated year long duration, its accuracy cannot have been excellent. Yet with a long pendulum, especially later with anchor 'royal pendulum' escapement, it would be improved. We still believe the anchor escapement was first applied circa 1670, the long pendulum cross-beat being somewhat earlier; but prevailing wisdom does not credit Ahasuerus Fromanteel with either.
[Translator's note: my own studies of extant evidence suggests Fromanteel contributed to both].

fig 3. (click to enlarge)
Facsimile of the advertisement in "Mercurius Politicus" October 1658


Many questions arise. Edwardes & Dobson asked, could Ahasuerus (and John) have had some prior knowledge and experience of applying the pendulum to clockwork? The contract itself might well indicate so. Why did Huygens permit England's foremost competitors access to Coster's workshop and his new inventions? Was John Fromanteel's 'work experience' in Holland merely to "dot the i's and cross the t's"? Why did Huygens not seek Patent rights in England as he later unsuccessfully sought in France? Equally, despite Fromanteel not being born an ethnic Englishman - certainly he was no 'continental fool'- might not Huygens' inventions have hurt his own pride and also dented xenophobic English egos?

Further, how was it possible for year-going pendulum clocks to be made so soon after the return of the 19 year old youth John in (August) 1658? Ahasuerus had himself worked as a clockmaker for nearly 30 years, when son John arrives from Holland with that revolutionary application of Galileo's pendulum. Thereafter - within a few months - Fromanteel advertised that clocks could be made to go for a year on one winding. Brian Loomes found this improbable, as it pre-supposes a year long test proving that seemingly would have had to ante-date Huygens' first application of pendulum to his novel crutch - being his admitted real invention [with his endless-rope maintaining-power].


When Charles II had mounted the throne in June 1660, the political and social situation in England was not propitious for the Fromanteel family, Ahasuerus could not so easily throw off his republican reputation and new Anabaptist sympathies; these surely brought him disadvantages financially. Nevertheless he stood by his principles and maintained his acumen and his reputation.

Arrest warrants were issued for two former officers of Oliver Cromwell's now disbanded army described as two of the most dangerous men from the north. It seems they went undercover at Thomas Loomes' place in The Mermaid at Lothbury. All three men were arrested and thrown into the Tower of London. But given his good behaviour Thomas was released on surety of bail put up by Ahasuerus Fromanteel. Also in 1660, Ahasuerus' wife Maria died. He remarried that same year to Sarah Winnock, widow of a textile merchant with four children. She too came from the Dutch community, from Colchester. He had to make financial provisions for her children, requiring a financial undertaking that he ultimately could not reconcile, leading to litigation in July 1664 that lasted several years.


The summer of 1665 was the hottest in living memory, ideal conditions for the outbreak of plague, later called the 'Great Plague'. The death rate passed 1,000 people a day for September 1665. The Fromanteels too did not escape the slaughter; Ahasuerus's second wife Sarah died, also John, his silk-merchant brother and nothing more was heard of his son-in-law Thomas Loomes. So it may be assumed he too perished. Subsequently, on 2nd September 1666, fire broke out in Pudding Lane, London - 'The Great Fire" - razed much of the City, including Thomas Loomes' Lothbury workshop. Ahasuerus meanwhile had moved to Colchester to escape London's pestilences. Clues suggest that he had survived infection by the plague but bore its external stigma thereafter.


Ahasuerus's son John, who had learned the pendulum application at Salomon Coster's, became a free-clockmaker in 1663. Given fact that clocks bearing his own name are known, it is conjected that he worked independently of his father, possibly from his own workshop elsewhere. He was then 25 years old. Ahasuerus junior, the second son to became a clockmaker, probably remained with his father. He too spent time in Holland, more of which later. A third son, Abraham, born in 1646, was established as a clockmaker in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but also played a role in the 'Dutch Connection'. In any event by 1675, Abraham worked in Newcastle. In 1678 he was a witness in litigation having roots in Cromwell's time (the 'interregnum'). Several of Abraham's clocks, bearing signature "A Fromanteel Newcastle", are known; also one marked "New Casteel", perhaps to signify an intended Dutch outlet?


Brian Loomes conjected that the Fromanteels exported clocks to Amsterdam, via Newcastle, to evade regulations of the Clockmakers Company. Certainly, John Fromanteel visited Holland in 1675/76, possibly accompanied by Ahasuerus Jr. It is not known if this was to visit family or was justified by business. By 1681 both the brothers were established on the Vijgendam in Amsterdam; as we now would say, an 'A1' location, almost opposite Dam Palace, where the Krasnapolsky Hotel now stands. Much earlier, by 1667/8, Ahasuerus Snr. had already decided to establish a branch in Holland. He therefore spent time in Holland, which we only know of by his new collision with the Clockmakers Company in 1676, the year he returned to London after a long absence. He was then years in arrears with membership dues and he reneged on payment; pleading "he should pay only during his being in England, he having been beyond the seas some years". That is taken to mean Holland. What activity employed him so long in Holland? Was he accompanied by his son John or by other members of his family? Were they working there as clockmakers?

fig. 4 (click to enlarge):
Longcase clock, 11" dial, signed Fromanteel & Clarke, abt. 1710.

In 1680, Abraham's brothers were probably still in Holland when his father recalled Abraham from Newcastle to London to run the family business. Ahasuerus Sr. was 73 years old, perhaps unable to manage affairs. In those days 73 was a considerable age. He would however survive his son John, who would die circa 1690. Finally, on 15th July 1692, at the age of 85 years, Ahasuerus Sr. made his will and died in February 1692/3 just before his 86th birthday. His long-time rival at the Clockmakers Company, Edward East, was even made of sterner stuff and survived him by four years, living to the very advanced age of 95 years.

fig. 5 (click to enlarge):
11" dial of a month going movement signed Fromanteel & Clarke, abt. 1710

Fig. 6
View on the wheelwork of a month going movement by Fromanteel & Clarke (frontplate removed), abt. 1710

Apparently, Abraham Fromanteel was a regular visitor to Holland. In 1694 he had determined that henceforth he would no longer pay his fees to the Clockmakers Company, because "he was forthwith going to Holland". His wife Anna Brown died there in 1694. (Was she originally a de Bruijne, even from the same family as his father's first wife Marie?) Also in 1694, at The Hague, his daughter Anna married clockmaker Christopher Clarke, whose name appears jointly on later dials as "Fromanteel & Clarke" and "Clarke & Dunster".

In 1697 Abraham returned to London, when he too fell foul of the Clockmakers Company for his membership dues being in arrears and re-emphasised his unwillingness to pay for intervening years.

fig 7
Movement of a year going clock with striking and pull repeater, signed on the dial Fromanteel & Clarke, abt. 1715


Ahasuerus Jr. died in Amsterdam in 1703. Most clocks bearing joint names Fromanteel & Clarke may be dated to the first twenty years of the 18th Century, so it may be assumed that the partnership between Abraham and his son-in-law Christopher Clarke, which lasted to 1720 or 1722, only commenced when Ahasuerus Jr died (1703). It is also possible that their partnership began in 1694, when Abraham's daughter Anna had married Clarke.

Most of their jointly signed clocks bear no address, rightly creating the impression that movements were being produced in London as well as Amsterdam, being for sale in either place. This astute tradition continued into the 1720s under the business-name of "Clarke & Dunster".

Abraham possibly retained control of the London business, but had, in later life, returned to Newcastle where he died in 1731, making his will there in November 1730. It follows that if Abraham was in England from 1697, no clockmaker bearing the name Fromanteel worked in Holland after 1703, although the business continued under their name.

Given Holland's growing prosperity in first quarter of 18th Century, I believe that not only were London made Fromanteel movements being sold in Amsterdam, but also bought-in movements of other London makers were sold under 'Fromanteel & Clarke's' name. However, the quality of all signed movements, which I inspected, bear witness to a higher-than-average quality. So, whether bought-in from third parties as parts or complete movements, the Fromanteels critically maintained quality control. This also is true of ancillary trade activities, which in all probability were put out, as was usual, such as dial-matting, engraving of dial components, making hands, etc.


Between 1720-1730, clocks with musical work were being sold under the name 'Clarke & Dunster'. Two are in my possession, over the years I have also handled two others. Beneath each chapter ring each dial plate is fully signed "J Drury London". Jaap Zeeman, in "de Nederlandse staande klok" (the Dutch longcase clock), illustrates another "Clarke & Dunster", formerly in my possession, indicating moonphase and date, which dial too bears Drury's signature placed in like manner under its chapter ring.

Fig. 8 (click to enlarge)
Longcase clock signed Clarke & Dunster, abt. 1730. 8-day movement, striking on 2 bells (Dutch striking), quarter chime on spring, see winding hole besides XII, music train playing 12 tunes. Delivered to Fromanteel & Clarke by John Drury, London, whose name is engraved in full on the dial underneath the chapterring.

James Drury became a free-clockmaker in April 1695; his son with the same name qualified in 1720. It may be concluded that the Fromanteel business bought-in complete clock movements from James Drury (in all probability from the younger Drury), which they exported to Holland to be sold under the 'Clarke & Dunster' name. Perhaps Drury made it a condition that his name -though not visible- must stand on all dial-plates of his clock movements when selling to the Fromanteels. Other suppliers of clocks may not have required such a requirement. To my mind, my observation does not detract at all from the reputations of the Fromanteel family, nor their successors.

The astute move to display no address, with only "Fromanteel" being shown, began at the end of the17th Century, in Abraham's time. Again, Zeeman depicts three such, bearing only the name "Fromanteel", though most dials were still being engraved with city name, London or Amsterdam.

fig 9 :
Month dial of a 12" dial, having full calendar work, signed Fromanteel & Clarke, abt. 1720.

I present this resume of what has surfaced in past 25 years. Just how extensive remains to be seen, corrections will probably be needed on grounds of new facts being discovered that extend knowledge and justify follow-up. Accordingly I am delving into the Fromanteel story and into important developments in the field of clock techniques, prompting this history and hoping to align the facts to be better understood by a wider Dutch public. It goes without saying that I am prepared for and hold myself available for informed criticism.

Neerpelt (Belgium), January 2004



























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