October 20, 2008
The Gretton Project
A book about Charles Gretton by Warner Meinen and Dennis Radage
Project Update – October 2008
The Charles Gretton Project is a collaborative effort by Warner Meinen (Holland) and Dennis Radage (Canada) to research the life and works of Charles Gretton, then to publish our findings in the form of a book. Charles Gretton was born in Claypole, Lincolnshire in 1648, was apprenticed in London in 1662, he became an Assistant within the Clockmaker’s Company in 1689, a Warden from 1697 and Master in November 1700 through October 1701. He was a contemporary with Tompion, Quare, Clement, Stanton, Speakman and others and is believed to have been working into the early 1730’s. He was a well respected clockmaker and took on several apprentices including Henry Sully.
We have been working on this project for more than one and a half years now and expect to continue for another two years before having collected and documented sufficient information for a meaningful detailing of Gretton’s life and output. Almost everyone we meet asks us the same questions, these are; “Why Gretton? and, “Why researchers from as far away as Canada and The Netherlands?” Notwithstanding Gretton’s clocks and watches can be found worldwide, both of us have Gretton’s of our own. Warner initiated the research by searching for information on spring clocks to enable comparisons with his own clock and to try and authenticate his clock. Ads were placed in Antiquarian Horology and I was among those who responded. As questions and correspondence amplified, I posed the subject of a book on Mr. Gretton. After overcoming some skepticism, it was agreed that we would at least start such a project. So, here we are, a year and a half into the project and 106 works by Gretton identified.
We have of course undertaken the obvious by visiting the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Clockmaker’s Company, both the museum and the library. We do have a copy of “The Clockmaker from Claypole” by John C. Stevens and a copy of Gretton’s will. We have recorded all references to Gretton and his clocks by reading through well over 1000 horological books, magazines and catalogues, and listed those Gretton clocks held in stately homes in the UK. We have received considerable support from all of the above in addition to all of the major London and provincial auction houses, dealers and restorers. In an attempt to raise the awareness of this project we continue to promote our efforts by way of letters and articles in all of the major horological journals and magazines, both in the UK and in North America.
Response has been good, we have been contacted by owners and dealers in the UK, North America, Germany, South America, and of course from our own markets in Holland and Canada. As you might expect, most of the contacts have originated from the UK. In addition to those clocks and watches held by museums or currently with dealers, restorers and in stately homes, we have been contacted by many private individuals who own one or more pieces by Gretton.
Our research up to October 10th 2008, has identified 105 clocks and watches by Gretton. Of these, 36 are spring or table clocks, 46 are longcase clocks, 3 are lantern clocks and there are 20 identified watches. Of the 105, we do know the current location (owner) of 48 pieces. This leaves 57 pieces that have been identified, but where we have no knowledge of the current whereabouts. It is our hope therefore, that additional owners will come forward and contact us since many of these yet to be located items are indeed magnificent examples of Gretton’s work.
While 105 identified items may sound impressive, it is our belief that this number represents well under a third of Gretton’s total output. Our initial research suggests that Gretton was producing fine clocks soon after completing his apprenticeship in 1672, and then continued making clocks and watches well into the late 1720’s or later, some fifty plus years of clockmaking.
During late September and early October 2008 we spent three weeks in the UK driving over 2,500 miles to visit owners, examine their clocks, record specifications and then to photograph their clocks and watches. On this visit we have taken close to 7000 digital photographs of Gretton’s work including cases, ornamentation, dials, engraving, signatures, spandrels, pillars, full movements and other significant details. This effort along with some 3000 images currently on file must represent one of the most comprehensive pictorial works of any 17th century clockmaker.
As is usual though in such projects, time did run out, so we were not able to visit all owners. However, an additional visit, the third of such, has already been organized for May 2009. So, if you have a clock or watch by Gretton, please do contact us. Confidentiality is assured.
We are now creating a listing of all known works by Gretton, this we hope to publish in the March edition of Antiquarian Horology. We will detail all of the clocks and watches that are known to exist by Gretton, then identify those where the current whereabouts is unknown. Of course, no locations nor owners will be identified in this tabulation.
We believe that this is an important project, documenting the work and life of one great watch and clockmaker of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. If you believe that you can support our effort, in any manner, or especially if you are fortunate enough to own a piece by Gretton, or know of someone who does, please do contact us, we really do need to hear from you.
Just for interest we are including several photos that illustrate the range of signatures used by Gretton. These few illustrations by no means include all variations that we have found, the complete list, to the extent that we have recorded, will be one of the features of our book. Hopefully these photos will continue to raise the awareness and interest in our project.
Thank you again for your valued support, it is truly appreciated.
Dennis Radage FNAWCC
Chair. AHS Western Canada Section
Note new contact details:
Laila & Dennis Radage: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: +31 (0593) 332860
Warner Meinen: email@example.com