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Ian D. Fowler FBHI

Uhrenrestaurator u. Uhrenhistoriker

Uhrmacher Biographien


Shepherd / London
New Data to Family- and Company History
Part 1
Eugen Denkel

Translation from German by Svenja Viola Bungarten

In 2015 an article about the London based Shepherd family of watch makers / chronometer makers was published in DGC annual magazine to mark the 110th anniversary of the death of Charles Shepherd Jr. The article dealt with the main points concerning the history of Shepherd with special reference to Charles Shepherd Jr and reported based on the level of knowledge in 2014. In the past four years, additional sources have been evaluated that complete the previous picture, but also reveal new facets. They apply to the number of electrical clock systems, their scope, and thus also the importance of the Shepherd company. The most important new data are presented below as a supplement and update of the previously mentioned article from 2015. Let us begin with Charles Shepherd Sr, who was first mentioned as a watchmaker in connection with the 1841 census and several fire policies. The policies (1830-1836) do reflect a steadily growing economic success of Shepherd. The sum insured increased from £ 200 in 1830 to £ 400 in 1834 and £ 900 in 1836. Glass and porcelain, which were still a luxury item at the time, are also listed in the policies - as well as a work shop and materials behind the house (Chadwell St) for the year 1836. It seems noteworthy that books are listed in the policies as well.

Chadwell St
Fig. 1 Chadwell Street / No. 7 (yellow brick wall) residence and workshop of Charles Shepherd Sr. before moving to Leadenhall St. © Denkel 2017

The move from Sydner St to Chadwell St (around 1830) was most probably due to the economic success of Shepherd, as Chadwell St was a much better address than the somewhat narrow Sydner St. We have reason to believe that the earliest known Shepherd chronometer with serial no. 126 originates from this time. Two other chronometers, with the numbers 132 and 134, are documented for the year 1835. (Chronometer trial 1835). The number with which Shepherd began numbering his chronometers is unknown. Presumably, according to general practice, this was probably not the number 1, but rather the 100 or 101. Thus the above chronometer would be the 26th chronometer made by Shepherd. Furthermore, it seems relevant that London is the only given location on the dial, without the indication of a street. There is no engraving to be found on the backplate. The early serial number and the lack of a street name suggest that the chronometer dates back to when Shepherd lived and worked on Sydney St or Chadwell St. We know of Chadwell St that Shepherd had a workshop there. Both addresses were outside of the city, both residencies had no business premises with shop windows, as they were primarily residential buildings. Due to the location outside the business center of London and considering a later settlement in the City of London, it makes no sense to give a street specification at this time.

The lack of a street name also supports another assumption. We know that Shepherd's predecessor at 53 Leadenhall St, Christopher Rowlands, was a watchmaker as well. Rowlands is not known to have built chronometers. However, he may have collaborated with Shepherd and sold his chronometers, presumably a win-win situation for both parties. The fact that Shepherd took over the premises at 53 Leadenhall is another strong indication of contact and possibly an earlier collaboration between the two. An advertisement in the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette from October 19, 1847, regarding the auction (... at Lloyd's Captains' Room, Royal Exchange) of two ship chronometers (Poole, Thornby) gives us first indications of direct business activity from the address 53 Leadenhall St. The auction objects could be sighted in advance at this very same location. For 1849 we find a similar advertisement regarding the auction of a Poole chronometer, also previewed at Shepherd. He might have moved to 53 Leadenhall St, next to the Cock Inn, around 1844/45.

pocket watch movement by Rowlands
Fig. 2
Fragment of a pocket watch movement by Christopher Rowlands
53 Leadenhall St / London.
© 2019 Denkel


pocket watch movement by Shepherd & Son
Fig. 3
Fragment of a pocket watch movement by Shepherd & Son
53 Leadenhall St / London.
© 2019 Denkel

The story of the "failure" of the Shepherd electric clock system in the Crystal Palace (Great Exhibition 1851), appears quite frequently in given horological literature. Grimthorpe is often given as the source. But Grimthorpe is not an impartial reporter on the matter, as he competed with Shepherd’s tower clock designs. Two contemporary newspaper articles are likely to contradict his statements regarding Shepherd's electric clocks, which he published several times in his books. The reason for his portrayal was probably an act of sabotage against Shepherd's electrical clock system during the exhibition. The Illustrated London News of August 23, 1851 reports on this event:

"The great clock, notwithstanding the large surface, exposed to the wind, and the recent high gales, has continued to mark the time satisfactorily. We regret, however, to record that some mischievous or malicious person has cut the wires, on one or two occasions, which communicated the power to the dial in the Western Nave, and the same clock, having received some injury, has not performed as well as its more noble companion."

Furthermore, the Northern Whig (October 16, 1851) reports from the closing ceremony:

"The civil and military bodies continued to close upon the rear, and the passive resistance became weaker and weaker. The electric clock was half-past six as the last invader was driven from Paxtonia."

According to this, the large external clock on the transept was in function and with it the rest of the Shepherd clock system. This also contradicts the impression that Shepherd's electrical clock system was a "failure" which Grimthorpe tried to convey in his book: A Rudimentary Treatise on Clocks, Watches and Bells.

Crystal Palace / South Transept with the Shepherd clock
Fig. 4
Crystal Palace / South Transept / London 1851
Architectural drawing (detail) with the large Shepherd clock.
Archiv Denkel

Detailed information on Shepherd's work in connection with the tower clock (built by Vulliamy) in the General Post Office in St. Martin’s-le-Grand can be found in an article in the Morning Advertiser of January 2nd, 1857, entitled:

“THE EXTENSION OF THE ELECTRO- MAGNETIC SYSTEM TO THE GOVERNMENT OFFICES”. To bring in a short section of the much more extensive article, concerning the tower clock: "...The reason it has not been "going“ lately is, as we have before observed, not owing to any mere cleaning. It has been taken down and cleaned by Mr. Charles Shepherd, of Leadenhall-street; but it could not put again into operation in consequence of arrangements which were in progress for connecting the whole of the clocks in the General Postoffice—which are nearly 100 in number, including those in the money-order chief office, on the other side of the way into electro-magnetic correspondence with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, in order that they may not only invariably agree amongst themselves, but also, the same time, invariably indicate Greenwich mean time. The advantages of this arrangement are so multitudinous and so obvious that we need not enter into any detailed indication of them. The system, once in operation at the Post-office, will be subsequently extended, by Mr. Shepherd, under the direction of the Astronomer Royal, to Somerset House, where there are about 150 clocks, and finally to every Government office throughout the metropolis. In fact, the ultimate object of the Government is, as far as possible, to extend this system to every Government office throughout the kingdom, so that the opponents of “centralisation” will actually have to appeal to the Government authorities to determine "the time of day !"
The article adds:
“Mr. Charles Shepherd, chronometer maker to the Royal navy, to whom, under the Astronomer Royal, is entrusted the execution of this project, is the patentee of the Electro-Magnetic Striking Clock, specimens of which may seen in Lombard-street, at the South-Eastern Railway, and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.“

The newspaper article contains some information about the Shepherd company, the most important statements below in keywords: Charles Shepherd Sr was commissioned with the cleaning of the tower clock. The clocks (approx. 100 pieces) inside the building, as well as the clocks in the building on the other side of the street, should be electrically connected in such a way that all clocks show exactly Greenwich mean time."

General Post Office London
Fig. 5
THE GENERAL POST OFFICE, LONDON.
Quelle:The Queen's Empire. Volume 3. Cassell & Co. London (1887-99) / by Wikimedia commons. Licence: Public Domain

Shepherd's clock system was also to be installed in Somerset House (150 clocks). The astronomer Royal George B. Airy is named as a project manager. The clock system in the General Post Office was divided into four clock groups. Each group consisted of a master clock (here called father clock) with associated slave clocks. These master clocks were each monitored and regulated by Greenwich. The electrical clock system in Lombard St was working, a clock system was to be installed in the House of Parliament (note: was not implemented). It is pointed out in detail that Shepherd has been entrusted with the execution of the project. The astronomer Royal Airy also indirectly mentions this project in his autobiography by writing in the year 1855:

"I have arranged constructions which possess these characters, and the artist (Mr. C. Shepherd) is now engaged in preparing estimates of the expense. I think it likely that this may prove to be the beginning of a very extensive system of clock regulation ”.
For 1856, he records:
”With respect to the regulation of the Post Office clocks, 'One of the galvanic clocks in the Post Office Department, Lombard Street, is already placed in connection with the Royal Observatory and is regulated at noon every day ...other clocks at the General Post Office are nearly prepared for the same regulation, and I expect that the complete system will soon be in action.”-

Shepherd's work for various London authorities is also reflected in a form / invoice sheet from Shepherd, originating in the time when William Henry Shepherd took on the company after the death (1881) of his mother Mary Shepherd. As noted in the letterhead Shepherd & Son were Clock Makers to the General Post Office & Custom House and Indian Government as well as Electric Clock Makers to the Royal Observatory. The Custom House building on the banks of the Thames still stands today, with a dial showing in the gable.

Costom House / London
Fig. 6
Custom House / London seen from the River Thames.
Shepherd was "Clockmaker to the General Post Office & Custom House."
© 2019 Denkel

Shepherd had also installed an electrical clock system in the post office in Lombard St for test purposes. The Morning Advertiser of March 26, 1856 reports about it: "On Saturday a new striking clock, constructed on a novel principle, called the galvanomagnetic clock, was erected at the Post-office, Lombard-street." It is remarkable to note that it was a "striking clock", i.e. a clock with an electric striking mechanism. Absurd, had Grimthorpe not written that electricity was incapable of lifting anything of weight? Grimthorpe's arguments against Shepherd can be seen as an indication of how seriously he viewed Shepherd as an economic competitor.

Shepherd's clock systems and their scope also show the importance of the Shepherd family and their company in the mid-19th century. Shepherd was the industry leader. Additionally, Charles Shepherd Sr’s role in the field of electrical clocks needs a positive reassessment, as he continued to be successful in the field of electrical clock systems during the absence of his son Charles (who was in India). The convocation (1851) of Charles Shepherd Sr into the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce supports the assumption that he played an important role in the field of electrical clocks (alongside his son Charles Jr).

In 1860 a litigation between Charles Shepherd Sr and his foreman Daniel Mapples unfolded. This process received a lot of coverage in the London press, which probably would not have been the case if Shepherd had been an insignificant personality. Shepherd thereafter dismissed Daniel Mapples with immediate effect for violating the statutes of his employment contract. Mapples sued the Mayor of London for the circumstances of his dismissal and demanded that his wages be paid for 14 days. His lawsuit was dismissed.

One other source that mentions Shepherd’s foreman in connection with the procurement of a new clock for St John's in Exeter should furthermore be consulted. Shepherd had sent his foreman to Exeter to answer questions from the Improvement Commission there. The Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, dated April 6, 1854 reports:

“The St. John's Clock.- A meeting of the St. John's Clock Committee was held last evening, when it was stated that the foreman of the patentee of the electric clock, (Mr. Sheppard) had visited the city, and reported favourably on the establishment of an electric clock at the Guildhall which might be placed in connection with that at the Cathedral and other public clocks...“.

The St. John's Church in Exeter belonged to the smaller churches in Exeter. In 1844/45 the dial was added a second minute hand. This enabled the clock to display both Exeter local time and Railway Time (Greenwich mean time). In 1853 a request for the purchase of an electric clock was made to the Improvement Commission by the parish of St John's. The old clock often showed the wrong time or stood still. A debate began that extended over a long period of time as to which type of clock should be purchased. A conventional, purely mechanical tower clock or an electrical clock, which should then also be controlled by the existing Shepherd clock in the Guildhall was up for discussion. The proponents of the new technology, an electric clock, could not prevail. All arguments, including a letter from Airy, did not help; Dent received the order. Regrettably, no electrical clock was procured, but the correspondence nevertheless is of great value, as various information about Shepherd and his clocks were given there. It is mentioned that Shepherd supplied a 6-foot high external dial for the city of Chester and that it was to be installed. "Who is now erecting a 6 feet dial for the city of Chester ..".
We also find an exact indication of the number of Galvano-Magnetic-Regulators delivered to India for the local telegraph administration: “has by this mail forwarded 4 electric normal regulators to India“ (December 15, 1853, Exeter Flying Post). It was also previously unknown that the Western Railway Company in Paddington was planning to purchase an electrical clock system from Shepherd.“and that the Great Western Railway Company are about to adopt the like system for their extensive premises at Paddington.“ We can only speculate about the premises (train station? Or administration building?).

Thanks to the initiative of Ellis, besides Greenwich / London, Exeter was one of the pioneers in the field of electrical clock systems. In 1854, Shepherd supplied a Galvano-Magnetic-Regulator for the Guildhall in Exeter. It was converted in 1891 by F. T. Reid, a watchmaker from Exeter, to weight drive and graham escapement, all electrical components were removed. The original dial bears the number 48. Accordingly, by the time this clock was finished, another 47 electro-magnetic regulators should have been made by Shepherd. An illustration, in connection with an article by Ellis from 1854, shows the regulator in an architecturally designed wall niche, which remains undiscovered until today. The question of the exact location of the Shepherd clock within the Guildhall was answered by an architectural drawing/floor plan from 1875. The clock is marked on this floor plan, in a prominent place, which should underline its importance. The red circle shows the niche in the wall with the small rectangle that the Shepherd clock indicates. Heading that, barely decipherable, the written entry Clock. This niche can no longer be found on later interior shots of the Guildhall, as it is covered by wall paneling.

Floor plan Guildhall Exeter
Fig. 7
Floor plan (ground floor) of the Guildhall in Exeter.
Source: The Building News and Engineering Journal / Apr. 23, 1875 / Denkel Archives.

The red circle shows the niche in the wall with the small rectangle that Shepherd's clock indicates. Before that, barely decipherable, the entry Clock.

Let's come back to the issue of the foremen at Shepherd. William Robert Sykes, who later became known in railway signaling, is said to have worked for Shepherd from around 1861 to 1863, for which, despite frequent mentioning in the specialist literature, no evidence can yet be found. A young man with qualifications like Sykes could have easily been one of Shepherd's foremen. In her last years, Shepherd Jr.’s daughter Mary Louisa interestingly did not live far from Skyes in Herne Bay. Shepherd's daughter and Lavinia Winifred Lightfoot (widow of a London jeweler) ran a guesthouse there. Mary Louisa died on June 26, 1927, at Kent & Canterbury Hospital and was buried in Tankerton Cemetery.

When exactly the Shepherds family moved their private residence from Leadenhall St to 38 Rectory Rd in Shacklewell remains unknown. In the census of 1861, it is recorded that the following people lived at this address: Charles Shepherd Sr (Head), Mary Shepherd Sr (Wife), the sons William Henry, George Augustus, and Francis John, as well as the daughter of Charles Shepherd Jr Mary Louisa. The building at 38 Rectory Rd, also called Rectory cottage, must have been a representative house. Old plans show the floor plan of a large detached house with an ornamental front garden, popular in Victorian times, and another deepened garden behind the house. To the given time, it could be found in a rather rural setting, far from the noise and dirt of the City of London. In old maps, the name Rectory villas can be found for the few buildings in this street section (originally Shacklewell Lane / New Road). Shepherd Sr being able to afford such a residential property (purchase or rent?) once more emphasize his economic success. Despite an intensive search, no picture of the building has been found so far. Furthermore all historical buildings on this side of the street unfortunately were demolished after the war. Today some apartment blocks can be found at the site. Nothing that remains shows a hint of the noblesse that once characterized the area.

Charles Shepherd Sr died on June 21, 1865 at 38 Rectory Rd. The cause of death was reported as "softening of brain paralysis with apoplexy" - Shepherd was only 63 years old. In his will, dated July 24, 1865 (Draw up in February 1864), which is very short, he bequeathed everything to his wife Mary Shepherd including the Shepherd company. Mary Shepherd later was assumed embodying the function of a company owner, which can be concluded from the following documents: She called herself “manager” in the 1871 Census. In her will of March 1st, 1881, she expressly states that she was the owner of Shepherd & Son and that she ran the company together with her son William Henry. It is noteworthy that Charles Shepherd Sr did not consider his second eldest son William Henry in his will (Charles Shepherd Jr was still in India at the time). What could have been the reasons? At the time of his father's death, William Henry was 24 years old. Based on his age and his previous entitlement, he should have been more than able to continue running the company. In fact, given the times, it was more common to provide the widow of the company owner with some kind of pension or assets from the company ensuring her economic security. It was far less likely that a woman became the owner of the company. Mary Shepherd might have played an important role in the management even before the death of her husband. It appears that Mary Shepherd successfully sustained the company for 16 more years and also kept the family members in line. When she died on March 8, 1881, she bequeathed the company to her son William Henry. Only a short time later, the other son George Augustus (former chronometer maker) leaves the family residence in Rectory Rd, marries Esther Templer Spalding in December 1881, and moves into the house at 46 Shelgate Rd / Battersea. In the census of 1881, he is mentioned as a clerk in the public service. George Augustus Shepherd died from tuberculosis on Dec 18, 1886, at Bolingbroke Hospital Wakehurst Rd, Wandsworth Common, SW11 6HN, at the age of only 37. The death was reported by his brother Charles Shepherd Jr, residing at 2 Alexandra Rd. The last address of George Augustus Shepherd was 26 Lindore Rd New Wandsworth. George Augustus had a son named Arthur Charles Shepherd, (born Sept. 18, 1883). The middle name Charles could be a reference to his uncle Charles Shepherd Jr (godfather?). Arthur Charles had four daughters, the last died in 2002. One cannot help but wonder if there are relatives from the Arthur Charles legacy who may own family documents and thus could answer some questions. On the search for people of the next generation, data protection, unfortunately, turned out to be an insurmountable hurdle for the moment. In fact it seems easier to reconstruct the life of a historical person who lived 200 years ago than to find a relative of Shepherd who is still alive today.

Die deutsche Fassung des obigen Artikels erschien erstmals in Chronometrie, Mitteilungen der Deutsche Gesellschaft für Chronometrie   Nr. 158 Sommer 2018, S. 24–29.

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Ian D. Fowler
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e-mail Ian.Fowler@Historische-Zeitmesser.de

Letzte Aktualisierung 26.02.2021