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Taxing time for Britain; always resourceful, canny clockmakers found an elegant way to get around a fall in demand.

IT'S NOT just the European Union that comes up with crazy tax laws. History proves we are more than capable when left our own devices.

In 1712, during the reign of Queen Anne, painted or printed wallpaper was taxed at a penny a square yard. In 1784, George III's government introduced a tax on bricks.

In 1792, owners of houses with seven to nine windows had to pay a tax of two shillings (10 pence), while those with 10 to19 windows paid four shillings.

This so-called window tax was repealed in 1851, to be replaced by "House Duty", presumably a forerunner of council tax. So now you know why you see Georgian houses with windows that have been bricked up, the advent of tax avoidance - sorry, tax planning - maybe.

Desperate to finance ongoing war with Napoleon's France, tax was raised on everything: soap, tea, tobacco, lace, servants and even dogs, while in July 1797 George III's Prime Minister and former Chancellor William Pitt the Younger had another brainwave: tax the clocks and watches people owned.

The resulting Act of Parliament gave the Revenue the powers to charge an annual duty of five shillings (25p) for a clock, 10 shillings for a gold watch and two shillings and sixpence for a silver or "any other watch, or timekeeper used for the like purpose, not before charged, of whatever materials the same shall be made".

The result was swift and simple: people stopped buying new clocks and watches and those they owned already were either disposed of or hidden away and not used. Britain's clock making trade was decimated.

The London Clockmakers' Company gathered petitions from the manufacturing centres in Coventry, Bristol, Leicester, Prescot, Newcastle-on-Tyne, LT iverpool, Derby and Edinburgh to demand that the act be repealed.

Their survey revealed that in the first six months after the act passed into law the number of gold watch cases passing through assay offices to be hallmarked fell from 3,301in the previous six months to 1,560, while silver cases fell from 93,476 to 74,319. The act was repealed after just nine months.

The clocks illustrated here, all of which will be in a selling exhibition later this month (see panel) became known thereafter as Act of Parliament clocks.

More correctly called tavern clocks, because their design had been around long before the act became law, they were adopted widely by innkeepers and the custodians of public buildings as a service to their patrons who were unable to carry their own watches for fear of being forced to pay duty.

They were designed to be hung high on the wall out of the way of possible disturbance by the patrons of a crowded inn or market hall and had large, easily distinguishable markings so the time could be ascertained from a distance. Some exceed five feet in length.

Earliest examples had a square dial with arched top, which lacked glass or bezel and a short trunk beneath it with cushion-shaped base.

Earpieces, sometimes in carved fretwork, appeared either side of the trunk where it met the dial and it was there that clockmakers signed their work. Later examples dropped the earpieces with the lower corners of the dial curving inwards to meet the trunk.

This allowed less room for a signature, so this appeared on moulding below the dial.

This was followed in the middle of the 18th century by the hexagonal dial, sometimes paired with a trunk shaped like a teardrop.

The circular dial appeared about a decade later, first in black with gilt Roman numerals and minute outer numerals but followed fairly quickly by white with black numerals and fancy brass hands.

At the same time, the trunk started to grow in length. Many tavern clocks had black lacquered cases, chosen to withstand extremes of temperatures likely in inns and public places. Decoration was rprisingly elaborate with noiserie figures, floral nd fruit picked out in d gilt.

nally, examples are found er-covered prints or eaturing country scenes or tavern settings.

gave way to mahogany in 0, allowing the casemaker e to show off his skills but also signalling the end of the tavern clock as it is known best.

In time, the design of the case began to look more and more like a longcase clock to be hung on the wall, having had the lower third of its case removed.

This last development took its lead from Norwich and East Anglian clockmakers, but the fashion spread quickly to all parts of the country.

Movements of tavern clocks were equally robust and technically simple. Rarely are they anything other than timepieces without striking mechanism. They tend to run for little more than seven days, although month-going examples are occasionally found.

However, the single weight-driven mechanism with anchor escapement and long pendulum made it an extremely accurate timekeeper, a vital factor for travellers passing through a coaching inn, for example.

Being intended for public places, the movement was unaffected by smoke and dirt, although hands and dials were prone to damage because they were not protected by glass.

Another frequent problem is caused by the weight falling through the bottom of the case, either through carelessness of the owner or because of failure of the rope of chain attaching it to the movement. Signs of replacement or inexpert repair to this area of the case is often proof that this occurred sometime in the clock's long history.

New owners of lacquered tavern clocks should beware the effects of central heating. The dry atmosphere of a modern home is not kind to lacquer that can flake and become detached with the slightest knock.

Damaged lacquer work makes for expensive restoration as the work is highly specialised.

THE clocks illustrated above are among a collection of timepieces covering the period from 1600 until about 1820 to be shown by London dealer Howard Walwyn in a selling exhibition at the Art & Antiques Fair at Olympia from June 27 to July 3.

Titled, Lanterns and Taverns: Clocks for the Wall and Hall, the exhibition will also feature a group of around 20 lantern clocks, the first English domestic clocks, with examples by makers from London, Oxford, Bristol and Edinburgh.

Martin Gatto, the author of the only book devoted exclusively to the tavern clock will give a talk called "The Tavern Clock 1720-1830: A uniquely British Timepiece." on Thursday June 30 from 12pm to 1pm.

An unusual eight-day tavern clock by Bristol maker Charles Penney, circa 1785, with teardrop shaped gilt and black chinoiserie case Rare Scottish tavern clock by the well-known Edinburgh maker Robert Clidsdale. The trunk door has a risque scene of a gentleman offering his lady a salmon This George III tavern clock by Abraham Bernard of Bristol in about 1760 has a black lacquered case with chinoiserie decoration A good George III mahogany tavern clock by James Pike who is recorded as working in Eltham, South London, from This small tavern clock by Canterbury maker William Chalklen - 1770 - in a bombe shaped black lacquered case, is decorated with figures in a chinoiserie setting


A George II tavern clock by Coventry maker Gabril Holland. One of the earliest tavern clocks made outside London it dates from no later than 1730 and is a great rarity
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 8, 2016
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