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Charles Gretton Book Project

LETTER TO THE EDITOR – ANTIQUARIAN HOROLOGY – July 2011

The Gretton Book Project

This is the first Gretton Project update for quite some time. The delay is not indicative of a slowing project, quite the contrary is the reality. In order to get the now identified 137 Gretton clocks and watches properly documented and dated, we have been spending a considerable amount of time selecting those pieces which will be featured in the book, reviewing and selecting photographs from our huge photo library, and structuring the various specifications, photo formats, and of course using all of the gathered information to jigsaw together an acceptable methodology for dating and describing these 300 year old timepieces. As past authors will know, this is a daunting task.

We are no longer deliberately searching for additional clocks or watches, however, new ones do keep surfacing. Of significance is that we have now located the first of Gretton’s clocks that once formed part of the famous Wetherfield Collection that was sold off in 1928.

We spent another six weeks in England during February and March this year (2011). The purpose this time being to re-photograph several pieces where poor color balance could not be adequately corrected, photographing newly discovered pieces and spending many days searching the archives in London, Essex and Lincoln. The London archives being the National Archives in Kew, The London Metropolitan Archives and the archives at Guildhall; the records of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. We feel that a fascinating picture is developing of Gretton’s life, both horologically and otherwise, for Gretton was a successful individual who had many interests besides horology. Although it is clear that his wealth grew out of his horological successes he also benefitted from various business investments and real estate ownership.

Members of the Antiquarian Horological Society who attended the Spring Meeting on March 10th heard first hand why we started this project, how it is structured, the many obstacles being faced as well as the progress being made. Several of Gretton’s timepieces were illustrated during the talk, and quite by surprise, two previously unknown pieces were brought to the meeting for us to see and catalogue.

As it turns out, we will return to England again this year. This next visit is scheduled for September when we will photograph several pieces as well as increase the depth of the genealogy research. Gretton’s family tree now has some 79 names on it. Some of the family members had quite colorful lives and from what we can gather, interesting personalities. The parish of Springfield, Essex saw a hundred year reign of Gretton rectors.

During our March visit, Gretton’s profile was greatly elevated since we discovered that there is a Gretton watch in the Royal Collection. We owe a great deal of thanks to the curators of the Royal Collection, and of course to the Queen’s horologist who temporarily interrupted their very busy schedules, ahead of William and Kate’s wedding preparations, to show us the watch and to allow us to photograph it, as a complete watch, and as components. This watch has an unusual and interesting history that will be revealed in the book.

On the subject of watches, those who have read or know the book “The Artistry of the English Watch” by Cedric Jagger will no doubt realize that there are several Gretton watches mentioned in the book. There are two for which we would like help; Plate 64 on page 93 illustrates a filigree case that holds a Gretton watch, and Plate 69 on page 104 illustrates a decorated tortoiseshell outer case also bearing the arms of the Lee family, that also houses a Gretton watch. If any reader knows of the whereabouts of either of these watches, we would appreciate the information. We have no details of these two watches, their specifications, style, signature nor any possible watch number. Of course, we would also like photographs of these watches. If you know the owner, please have them contact us, all personal and ownership information will, as always, remain strictly confidential. Once examined, we feel that we can now date most Gretton watches to within 2 or 3 years.

And a note to put the records straight; we would hope that all those involved with Gretton’s work will read the following summary, since we often find that old mistakes are being repeated when Gretton’s work comes up for sale. Obviously we will not divulge too much here, but the following basic dates should be public knowledge and understood:

  • Charles Gretton was born in Claypole, Lincolnshire in 1648, (1647 according to the Julian calendar).
  • He relocated to London at the age of 14, in 1662, to take up an apprenticeship through Lionel Wythe, then immediately handed over to Humphrey Downing. This was an eight year apprenticeship.
  • While Gretton would have completed his apprenticeship in 1670, it was not until 1672 that he was released.
  • He was master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers for the year 1700/01.
  • His workshop was on the north side of Fleet Street at the corner of Fetter Lane. This was at “The Sign of the Ship”, “over against Sergeant’s Inn Gate”
  • His neighbor, just across the street was Thomas Tompion.
  • Gretton retired in 1726, he then leased out his workshop.
  • Gretton died while living with his daughter in Milk Street, London in July 1731.

If all parties would use these basic dates, much of the confusion about his life will be cleared up. Naturally, we will fill in much more about Gretton’s life in the book.

For interest we have attached two images of a 30 hour movement signed “Charles Gretton London”. The 9 ¾” dial of this clock has remarkably fine center dial matting for a 30 hour clock, and nice early original spandrels. The brass posted movement has typical tapered arbors of the period and back mounted count wheel striking control. The escapement was originally verge and crownwheel, but has been converted to anchor with a long pendulum.

As always, we would like to thank all of the individuals, dealers, museums, auction houses and archives who continue to support our efforts in this project. Good progress is being made, we expect to see various sections of the book starting to merge during the coming winter.

Thank you.

Our contact details have changed:

Dennis Radage:
Tel: +1-604-921-1666
Dennis Radage: grettonproject@shaw.ca

Warner Meinen:
Tel: +31 (0593) 332860
Warner Meinen: grettonproject@hetnet.nl

Gretton Clock Dial
Gretton Clock Movement

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