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Charles Gretton Book Project


The Gretton Book Project – September 2012
Considerable progress has been made in the drafting of our book on Charles Gretton, Clockmaker. We have completed the drafting of nine of the thirteen chapters of the book and a further three are about half complete. Our goal remains to have all chapters drafted, ready for editing, by the end of 2012. Based on the degree of changes suggested by the editors, we hope to have the book ready to present to publishers by mid-2013.

We are now well into our sixth year on this project, and what a journey it has been. The authors have learnt a considerable amount about early English watch and clockmaking, horological as well as London’s history, genealogy and of course much about our subject Charles Gretton. Our focus covers the period of Gretton’s adult life from 1662 until 1731, however there is detailed coverage of his family from 1600 until well past the eighteenth century. Valuable assistance has been received from the major museums, horological dealers, auction houses, archives and records offices both in and outside of London, libraries, banks, churches and of course a multitude of on-line resources. We are also now having communications with a direct descendent of our Charles Gretton.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our annual visits to the UK, and of course to the City of London where most of our story takes place. We have been in the UK once or twice every year during the life of this project, one more visit is scheduled for the spring of 2013.

Charles Gretton has turned out to be a remarkable individual, not just a renowned London watch and clockmaker who was very active with the Clockmaker’s Company for just about all of his adult life, from 1662 until beyond 1729 when his name was again put forward to be Master. Gretton was an astute businessman, a Tory Common Councilman, a Donating Governor of two important London hospitals, a Warden of St. Dunstan’s in the West, a Proprietor of the Bank of England on behalf of the Clockmaker’s Company, a Commissioner of Taxes, a Philanthropist directly supporting a number of charities in both London and Claypole, one of which continued until 1909! He was a land and property owner, landlord and had substantial investments in the market. He certainly turned out to be a very wealthy man, still owning his properties and stock when he died, a remarkable feat considering that his parents could neither read nor write and having just a few shillings to his name when he moved to London. His first born son was to achieve a Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge.

Gretton would have been a paid journeyman from the time that he completed his apprenticeship in 1670 until 1672 when he was admitted into the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. He must have earned sufficient funds during his journeyman days since he was able to quickly set up his first workshop on Fleet Street, likely in the latter half of 1672, for he appears in tax records there in 1673. He married his first wife in 1677, that same year he moved to “The Ship” on Fleet Street, sandwiched between Fetter Lane and Crane Court. He acquired The Ship which was to become his main workshop for the remainder of his career. The Ship was a four story brick building, the construction being according to the new Building Code following the Great Fire.
In 1712 Gretton’s nephew William Moore moved into The Ship and subsequently took on three apprentices of his own. At this time Gretton moved out from The Ship and took up residence in Two Crane Court which would have been adjacent to The Ship, he also acquired Two Crane Court. William Moore was signing clocks under his own name at this time. In 1717 Gretton again moved his residence, this time to Chancery Lane, another property that he acquired. This must have been a more significant home since he was paying the highest taxes on Chancery Lane, he stayed there until 1727. Gretton presumably maintained workshop space at The Ship since he was still signing clocks into the 1720’s. Gretton lost his third wife in 1727, this is the time that he moved to live with his daughter on Milk Street. Gretton died there in 1731.

As previously mentioned, Gretton did not sell his properties, The Ship for example was willed to his son Thomas who was to apply part of the proceeds to Gretton’s Claypole charities, this special charity seems to have had a longevity right through until 1909.

Gretton obviously had good genes, for he was to live to be 83. He fathered about ten children with his first wife, but just three survived into adulthood. Gretton did not have children with his second and third wife. It is also interesting to note that all but one of Gretton’s apprentices died before he did, including Sully and Antram. Only John Farewell was still alive when Gretton died, but Farewell died just four years later at the age of 63, being 20 years younger than Gretton when he died.

Gretton’s clocks and watches continue to surface, we are now aware of 147 surviving pieces, plus two signed dials. There are likely many more survivors, but our reach through the horological media will only be seen by a tiny fraction of those that today have the financial means to own such a clock or watch. Gretton’s main market would have been the wealthy in England, however, based on our findings, it is clear that he made clocks and watches for at least Turkey and Spain. He made some remarkable pieces with the craftsmanship equal to the best of the day. Fortunately for Gretton, the market at the time was such that he could easily sell all that he could produce.

This latest letter is meant as a project update and to let those interested parties know that the project is progressing well, and that a great deal has been learnt about our clockmaker subject, Charles Gretton. While there is still work to do, the end is just about in sight. Not living in the UK has been a disadvantage since access to meaningful resources becomes difficult, and of course costs to visit are high. These reasons form part of our decision to call an end to additional research, no doubt additional facts and clocks will appear after the book has been published, but this is how it must be. Never the less, we do have quite a detailed picture of his life, his accomplishments and of course, of the clocks and watches that he produced. Gretton was a very renowned maker producing examples second to none.

While we are not deliberately seeking new timepieces, should any surface before we publish, they will of course be catalogued and added to the known surviving Gretton pieces.

As always, we do want to thank the many supporters of The Gretton Project. Without this help the book would never have been written. Thank you to all.

Warner Meinen and Dennis and Laila Radage.

Thank you.

Note new contact details:

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

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



Gretton Spring Clock

A nice example of an early basket top, with a very small gilt metal basket and a nice early handle pivoted from the inside. The movement has an early engraving pattern on the back plate; the signature within a drapery cartouche, rosette engravings and border and corning engraving. The rest of the back plate is left plain. The clock also has some nice early shaped fusees and a numbered count wheel.

This nice small clock represents one of Gretton’s earliest spring clocks. It lacks some of the typical features found on his later clocks.

The Apprentices of Gretton and his nephew Willam Moore - pdf.

This chart shows the working period of Gretton from 1672 until 1726, he worked at The Ship on Fleet Street from 1677 until he retired from active clockmaking. Gretton’s apprentices are shown, it is interesting to note that all but one died before he did. Further Gretton moved out from The Ship in 1712 and allowed his nephew William Moore to become the master there. Gretton then lived at Two Crane Court, then Chancery Lane and lastly Milk Street where he died.


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