(translated and adapted for the Horological Foundation website by
Table of contents:
Reference sources & acknowledgment.
The Dutch origin.
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.
REFERENCE SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT
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.
THE DUTCH ORIGIN
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
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
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,
THE DUTCH CONNECTION
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
PROBLEMATIC BEGINNINGS IN LONDON
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".
A 24-YEAR HIATUS?
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.
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.
THE DUTCH CONTRACT
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
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
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 TECHNICAL REVOLUTION
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].
(click to enlarge)
Facsimile of the advertisement in "Mercurius Politicus" October 1658
QUESTIONS RISING FROM HUYGENS' USE OF PENDULUM
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
RETURNING TO POLITICS
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
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 DISASTERS OF 1665/1666
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.
THE NEXT GENERATION
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
THE AMSTERDAM BRANCH
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
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 &
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.
Movement of a year going clock with striking and pull repeater, signed on
the dial Fromanteel & Clarke, abt. 1715
FROMANTEEL & CLARKE
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
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.
CLARKE & DUNSTER (DRURY)
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