(Part 1 of 5)
Horologists know Deodatus Threlkeld as one of the best eighteenth century clockmakers of Northeast England. A new era, the Scientific Revolution, introduced major innovations in timekeeping. The invention of the pendulum and pocket watch revolutionized the way people kept track of time. Deodatus and his generation of clockmakers put the technological marvels of their day into the pockets and homes of their fellow citizens; often, the first of their lifetime.
Before the invention of the pendulum, it was difficult to know the exact time of day. Clocks of the time lost as much as 15 minutes a day. Navigation on the sea was unreliable. Ships missed their intended destination by miles. Sailors died when their ships struck land or rocks while off course.
Deodatus Threlkeld was born around 1657, the same year in which a Dutch astronomer and mathematician, Christiaan Huygens, invented the pendulum. Building on the work of Galileo, Huygen’s pendulum improved man’s ability to tell time so much that his innovation is one of the most important of all time. Recognized as leading-edge technology during the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment periods, the pendulum rendered existing clocks obsolete and created a demand for new and more accurate timepieces. Established clockmakers, reluctant to change their ways, retired or left the trade.
The first person to build a Huygen-designed clock in England was Ahasuerus Fromanteel. Ahasuerus was an ambitious and successful London clockmaker. His oldest son, John, learned about the pendulum while in the Netherlands. In November 1658, a little more than a year after Huygen’s patent, Ahasuerus placed the first known advertisement for pendulum clocks in the London Commonwealth Mercury:
There is lately a way found out for making clocks that go exact and keep equaller time than any now made without this regulator (examined and proved before his Highness the Lord Protector by such doctors, whose knowledge and learning is without exception) and are not subject to alter by change of weather, as others are, and may be made to go a week, a month, or a year with once winding up, as well as those that are wound up every day, and keep time as well, and is very excellent for all House Clocks that go either with springs or weights; and also Steeple Clocks that are most subject to differ by change of weather. Made by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, who made the first that were in England. You may have them at his house on the Bankside, in Mosses Alley, Southwark and at the sign of the Mermaid, in Lothbury, near Bartholomew Lane end, London.1
Ahasuerus Fromanteel had four sons who followed their father into the clockmaking business. Ahasuerus’s youngest son, Abraham, learned the new technology as an apprentice to his father. Freed from his apprenticeship around 1670, Abraham opened a shop in the booming town of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, intending to bring pendulum clocks to Northeast England.
His father blessed Abraham Fromanteel with a recognized family name for the shop in Newcastle, but Abraham needed help to make the business a success. He needed an apprentice.
Abraham chose Deodatus, the son of a former clockmaker2, as his apprentice.3
1 John Timbs, Wonderful Inventions: From the Mariner’s Compass to the Electric Telegraph Cable (G. Routledge, 1868), 123.
2 Brian Loomes, Clockmakers of Britain 1286-1700 (Mayfield: Mayfield Books, 2014), 489.
3 Keith Bates, The Clockmakers of Northumberland and Durham (Morpeth: Pendulum, 1980), 14.