Long case clock by Robert Scholfield

Last updated on April 20, 2020

I acquired this clock from a local seller a few days ago. It has a long family history, mostly in Montreal.

Maker is Robert Scholfield of Rochdale, England, engraved on the bottom of the dial. Loomes lists three successive Robert Scholfield’s. The first died in 1736. His son (II) died in 1759. The grandson (III) died in 1794.

Based on some of the characteristics I’ve been able to identify in the details of the clock, and readings in my two English antique clock books (Cescinsky and Edwardes) it probably originated from either Robert I, or Robert II (and more probably the latter). Possibly dates from around 1750, maybe a bit earlier, and further research will allow me to pinpoint it a bit better.

The clock will need restoration and repairs to the case, some of the mouldings are broken or missing, and some of the veneer has come off. I am not presently sure what kind of veneer wood was used on it (the base wood is oak, obviously).

The hour hand is probably original, and has had a repair to its tip. The minute hand is a replacement. The second hand may or may not be original.

The movement is quite dusty but appears all there and I don’t see any obvious damage to teeth etc. The previous owner told me he had it ticking when he acquired it from a relative, 25 years ago. From the backplate of the movement, it’s clear that some of the pivot holes were simply punched closed in the distant past (an all-too-common practice), and a couple of other pivots have been re-bushed. Some of the hand-made steel parts in the movement are a little rough and show hammer and file marks (compared to more modern clocks, where such components were machine-made) but one can feel close to the original craftsman who made and later assembled these parts into a working clock that told time for almost 300 years.

The brass dial is 12″ in diameter, and is bordered by interesting spandrels. It features a second sub-dial, and a window displaying the date. The dial has some pretty engravings around the date window and below the winding holes. The second sub-dial has seconds divisions on the inner circumference which suggests an earlier design (pre-1740, according to Edwardes). The four “half-quarters” on the minute chapter ring are marked by diamond shapes. Fleur-de-lys markings are positioned between the roman hour markings on the hour chapter ring. The signature is on the chapter ring between VII and V.

I look forward to this restoration project, my first of an 18th century English long case clock.  I attach a few photos of the clock after acquiring it, and upon initial partial disassembly and inspection.

Occasionally, the engraver would practice a few designs on the back of the chapter ring or dial plate. In the case of this clock, as can be seen by the next two photos, the engraver sketched out a floral design on the back of the chapter ring, which he later used in engraving the floral motifs on the dial plate.

This Scholfield clock has recently been the subject of discussion on the NAWCC “Your newest clock acquisition” forum. See link below. https://mb.nawcc.org/threads/english-long-case-clock-ca-1750-by-robert-scholfield-of-rochdale.167263/

An interesting earlier clock by the same maker was sold sometime ago in Yorkshire UK. The dial has a single hand that has an identical design to the one on mine. A photo of the dial on this clock (dated ca. 1720 by the seller), and the seller’s listing are provided below.


Robert Scholfield 30 hour clock dial ca. 1720

I noticed something very interesting on my Scholfield clock dial. As you can see from the first of the 2 photos attached, when the engraver (who may or may not have been the clockmaker himself) got around to 10 o’clock on the dial, he engraved the first “5” of the minute chapter. Then, in a moment of inattention, thinking he was at the next hour, he started engraving a second “5”. He must have noticed his mistake before engraving the top straight part of the “5”, and instead engraved a “0” around what he had already done. He then went on to the 11 o’clock position and engraved the proper “55” at that point (second photo).

These little details show that the makers of these old clocks were human, and able to make (and correct) mistakes. Such little quirks make antique timepieces even more endearing, one can imagine being in the shop at the very moment when the engraver noticed his mistake (oops!).

I took apart the movement for inspection. Everything looks good (pivots, wheel teeth, arbor leaves, etc.). Most of the pivot holes in the plates have been closed by punching and broaching, by clockmakers in the past, but the holes appear round and usable. A few have seen bushings installed. The movement will need a good cleaning to remove several years’ worth of dust, grime and dried up oils. This morning I polished up the plates by cleaning them in warm water with a cotton cloth, old toothbrush, and non-abrasive non-ammonia cleaner (Barkeep’s Friend), which rather quickly restored some of the attractive original lustre. The wheels and other parts will benefit from similar cleaning as a next step.

Photos of some of the components after non-ammonia cleaning. First, the anchor escapement, on which a small steel plate has been added to make up for wear on the escape pallet. A brass escape wheel CAN wear out a steel pallet, because (1) there are 30 teeth to one pallet, so a lot of contacts brass on steel, and (2) small pieces of dirt or abrasive can embed themselves in the relatively soft brass teeth, and over time can start to wear out the steel surface of the pallets.

Second, some photos of the obviously-handmade steel rack piece, where the clockmaker was evidently not concerned with final aesthetics of the part. Still, it has passed the test of time, having done its job for almost 300 years.

It’s probable that the escape wheel has been replaced at some point, the main evidence being the very different type and length of collet on it than on all the other wheels in the movement. The replacement escapement wheel is hand-made, as seen in the last photo, so was made by a good clock repairer.

Got the movement mostly back together today. All looks good, except: I suddenly realized there is a wheel missing! This wheel is meant to go on the post under the snail assembly, is driven by the inner wheel of the snail (between the snail itself and its external wheel), and in turn drives (through a carefully positioned pin) the date toothed wheel on the back of the dial plate. I’ve received some advice from NAWCC forum on how to figure out the size and number of teeth I need to restore that wheel on my movement. Measurements and photos follow showing the missing wheel, and a photo from Edwardes’s book The Grandfather Clock of a movement by John Barnett (London 1695) showing such a date or calendar wheel at the bottom right. Restoring an old English clock is a wonderful opportunity to learn about all the aspects of these wonderful historical timepieces.

Wardle Clock Spares in the UK can make a custom date wheel and offer this insightful paragraph on the reason why this wheel is often missing: The wheels are a common component missing from many antique Longcase clocks. They are often removed from a poorly running clock in a vain attempt to get it running properly again as they use a small amount of power to drive the date. As their name suggests, they are a plain, uncrossed wheel which has a pin drilled at some point on its diameter to pick up the date or calendar ring when it passes once every 24 hours. There will be a stud, or a tapped hole usually close to the hour wheel, which the date wheel, mounted on its collet would have run on, with the date wheel meshing with the driver, sandwiched between the hour wheel and snail.

Some photos of the cleaned and re-assembled Scholfield clock movement. The winding drums are covered in green painter’s tape to prevent the cord/gut from unwinding, before the clock is re-installed in the case and the weights attached.

Below are photos of the date ring (removed from its position on the back of the dial plate, where the day date appears through a small window at the front of the plate, below the two winding arbors. Also shown are closeups of the number engraving in the date ring and in the chapter ring, which suggests that the same engraver may have engraved both components, by similar style of the numbering. Whether the engraver may have been Robert Scholfield himself (as Richard Barder suggests in “English Country Grandfather Clocks” was often the practice in the provinces), or a specialist engraver he did business with, may not easily be known.

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