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Thomas Aldridge
A Deal Clockmaker

In Deal Museum, stands a beautiful oak cased Georgian grandfather, or longcase, clock. The brass face is engraved with a church and a cottage with a smoking chimney. It has a second and a date dial and is probably a thirty day clock that strikes hourly. It is clearly signed, Thomas Aldridge, Deal. 

We have not been able to identify the church, but with its surrounding wall and the ensign flag flying from its crenellated tower it seemed, to us, a unique depiction. So we contacted The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers at The Clockmakers Museum, London to ask their opinion. Although they don’t have a record of this clock or indeed of such a clock face they felt that as “…Pastoral scenes were popular on clocks, and it may well be that this design was one of a few available from the dial engraver for the customer/clockmaker to choose from…”   This left us thinking that if it was not commissioned by someone, the design may well have been chosen by a naval officer, for whom the image meant something. If this is the case then the identity of that person is lost to history.

When the clock arrived in the museum it was in a somewhat neglected state. The beauty of the oak was hidden under over two hundred years of accumulated coal smoke dust and at some point a bad attempt to re varnish it. From its blackened state it has been carefully cleaned by a specialist and has now been brought back to life.

Finding out who this clockmaker of Deal was, has proved a bit of a problem as we found two Thomas Aldridges’ who were both apprenticed to clockmakers in the 1750s, and so almost certainly born at around the same time and both of whose fathers, according to their apprenticeship records, were deceased and named Thomas!

So what do we know? Well, there is a burial record for the Deal clockmaker which gives us the burial date of December 14, 1804, and states he was born in 1735. We also know he was married to Elizabeth Wellard in Dover’s St. Mary’s the Virgin Church in 1765. But where or how the couple met we don’t know but Thomas, according to the St. Mary’s register, at the time of his marriage, was a ‘bachelor of Deal’ so was already living and working there.

Elizabeth was the eldest surviving daughter of a Naval Captain Robert Wellard and Elizabeth Mosier. In the same year that she married Thomas, he became a Freeman of Deal, enabling him to trade  in the town and vote in the Borough elections. Beyond these certainties and those of his children, Elizabeth, Ann, Martha, Lucy, Mary and Sarah Mosier and the two sons, both named Thomas, one of whom died in infancy, we know very little about this clockmaker of Deal. 

 Our first candidate, as to who he may be, is the son of a Canterbury victualler, Thomas Aldridge and Barbara nee Gooding. At the time of their marriage Thomas senior was a widower, his first wife Elizabeth having died in 1734 with whom he had several sons, all named Thomas who all died before their mother. Following Elizabeth’s death Thomas, if the newspapers are to be believed, almost immediately asked another to marry him but being turned down, he tried to hang himself. It has to be said that this story was only found in two, north of England, newspapers so if there is any actual truth in the story we may never know. The dates, if nothing else, certainly fit this tale. Elizabeth was buried on November 3, 1734, and a month later Thomas married a widow, Barbara Gooding, by licence, in Canterbury’s St. George’s Church. Two years later a son, John was born followed by Thomas. 

Newcastle Courant 16 November 1734

Thomas Aldridge, the son, was apprenticed to Christopher Potter, a London based clockmaker in 1753. His apprentice indenture states his father was then deceased. But where his father died or what happened to his mother or brother has also proved impossible to determine. 

Thomas, though, would have completed his apprenticeship in around 1760 and from there, it seems, he returned to Canterbury where he registered as a freeman, by birth, in 1761, the record stating ‘Watchmaker from London.’ However, there appears  to be no records of this Thomas in Canterbury after that time, though we noted a Mr. Thomas Aldridge was buried there in 1785. Whether this is the same man we have also not been able to determine!

As we have the signature of the Canterbury Thomas’, from his Apprenticeship agreement, which he signed when he was fifteen years old, and that of the Deal Thomas, from St. Mary’s Dover marriage register, that he signed in 1765, we compared the two. They do appear to be quite different but, there is admittedly a gap of twelve years between the two so this is inconclusive. 

                                                                            1753 Apprentice Indenture                      1765 Marriage Register

The next candidate we found was apprenticed in 1752 to Stephen Wilmshurst in Odiham, Hampshire although we only have the record from the ‘Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures for this Thomas. 

This register records the ‘Stamp Duty’ which was paid by a master, on their apprentices however, masters did not have to pay this tax on apprentices who were assigned to them.This happened when a child was orphaned or their family fell on hard times. A child could be bound to a master in another parish, so they were not a charge on their birth parish ratepayers, and this could happen without parental agreement. This may have been the case for the Canterbury Thomas as his apprenticeship indenture has the line ‘…in Consideration of being the money given with this said Apprentice…’ crossed out.

The Wilmshursts were a watch and clock making family mainly based in the Sussex area. Stephen and his family seem to be the only ones to have moved into Hampshire then later into Berkshire. There are surviving clocks signed by him and or his son, in Odiham, Basingstoke and Reading.

Other notable Wilmshursts clock-makers of the same family are Thomas and Ninion. Ninion continued his trade in Sussex and clocks signed by him have also survived. 

Thomas is interesting to us as he moved to Deal where he set up in business and several of his signed clocks are also in existence. He married Sarah, née Wilmshurst, the widow of Edward Aldridge, who was also a clock-maker working in Deal. We can only find one reference to clocks made by Edward in an article by M. J. Ward in the Antiquarian Horology magazine where he describes an … eight-day longcase clock by Edward Aldridge of Deal, prob­ably made in about 1710-20

Edward, we believe, may have been born in 1684 in Horsham, Sussex and in 1704 married Sarah Wilmshurst in Lewes. She is probably the daughter of Stephen and Elizabeth Wilmshurst and was born in 1680 in Rotherfield, Sussex. Her father or perhaps her brother is the clockmaker that the Odiham Thomas Aldridge was apprenticed to in 1752.  

Edward Aldridge and Sarah arrived in Deal in around 1712 by which time they already had had two sons, both named Thomas, the elder son dying as a baby in 1705 and the younger born in Rotherfield in 1710. Three daughters, Sarah, Lucy and Elizabeth were all born in Deal. Just after the family’s arrival in Deal in 1713 Edward became a Freeman of the town. Where the family lived and worked at this time we don’t know but Edward did take out a lease, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1720 with Malster, Thomas Blown for a Tenement in Middle Street. Whether one or other ever lived there is not known and it may have been an investment that was sub-let. Sadly in 1724 Edward died leaving his widow with four young children.

A year later Sarah’s son, Thomas, was apprenticed to a papermaker in Speen, Berkshire, later marrying Martha Thornton in 1735. It may just be possible that his mother’s father or brother had heard of the apprenticeship and secured it for him. 

This left Sarah at home with her three young daughters. Although we haven’t been able to prove a family link it is nonetheless possible that clockmaker Thomas Wilmshurst was related in some way to Sarah and that he arrived in Deal to help her carry on the business following the death of her husband. In 1727 Sarah and Thomas Wilmshurst married in Ripple’s St Mary the Virgin Church. By 1729 Thomas was a Freeman of Deal and made clocks in his own name.  In 1757 two of Sarah’s daughters, Elizabeth and Lucy and, we presume their relative, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, leased a tenement on Beach Street. A year later Lucy married carpenter Joseph Iggulden. The indentured document, signed by the then three spinster ladies, for this Beach Street Tenement was witnessed by Thomas Wilmshurst.

In 1760 Elizabeth Wilmshurst died, Elizabeth Aldridge followed her in 1763 leaving an inventory of her goods and a will. The inventory, like the tenement deed, was signed by Thomas Wilmshurst. Unfortunately, neither inventory nor the will gives us any clues as to a link between the Wilmshurst or Aldridge families and our Deal clockmaker, Thomas Aldridge.

Although we have not found a death or burial record for Sarah Wilmshurst, her husband Thomas, was buried in Deal’s St. George’s Chapel Field in 1777.  

It is interesting to note that Thomas Wilmshurst, left a bequest in his will to “…my son-in-law (stepson) Thomas Aldridge Papermaker of River …”  

This Thomas Aldridge it seems had returned to Kent to work in one of the Paper Mills in River, near Dover, where at least one of his sons, John, also found employment. John Aldridge married Elizabeth Radford in River in 1773, she was the daughter of Thomas Radford who had leased the mill until his death in 1760 when his wife and son took over the business. 

One of the witnesses to Thomas and Elizabeth’s marriage was William Phipps who, with John, invested in the Paper Mill but by the 1780s they were bankrupt. John’s mother, Martha, died in 1780 and is buried in St. Peter & St. Paul’s Church, River but where his father died is not clear.

Returning to the Beach Street tenement, in 1763 John May, as part of an agreement made and stated in Elizabeth Aldridge’s will, then leased the tenement from her estate paying rent to Thomas Wilmshurst then, at his death to the surviving members of her family. By 1773 John May had taken over the lease, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own right, perhaps even living there until his death in 1786. Then, rather interestingly, our Deal clockmaker Thomas Aldridge and his wife purchased the lease from the Archbishop in 1787 and held it until his death in 1804. The Beach Street tenement was then taken over by his son-in-law, husband of his daughter Ann, Ambrose Rose.

It could obviously be a coincidence that the Aldridge and Wilmshurst spinsters had leased this same property but it is the first, albeit a very tentative link, we have found between Thomas Adridge, our Deal clockmaker and the family of Edward Aldridge and the Wilmshursts. The second being the names of three of his daughters, Lucy, Sarah and Martha; two of Edward and Sarah Aldridge’s daughters’ names were also Sarah and Lucy; Thomas Aldridge, the papermaker, his wife’s name was Martha and was also that of the wife of Stephen Aldridge, the Odiham clockmaker. These were all common girls’ names at the time so an even more tentative link.

But then we looked closely at the records kept by Nathaniel Rammell, the sexton of St. George’s Church. Spanning between 1778 and 1837 he recorded not only names but the place of each burial, the date of burial, the age of the person and sometimes the name of the husband, or father of the person being buried. Two of our Deal clockmaker’s children, Thomas and Elizabeth Aldridge, Nathaniel recorded he buried in the ‘Wilmshurst Vault’. However, in 1777, just before he took up his post, Nathaniel Rammell had created a list of all the Vaults then in the Chapel Field. On this list is a vault, in the middle of the Chapel Field, belonging to Thomas Aldridge but, there is no vault listed for Thomas Wilmshurst! This suggests to us that the names on this list are those of the owners and that Thomas Wilmshurst and perhaps his wife, were buried in the vault owned by Thomas Aldridge. That in writing the Aldridge children as ‘…in the Wilmshurst Vault…’ was because Nathaniel could clearly see a Wilmshurst epitaph written on the vault. A question springs to mind here – was Thomas Aldridge the original purchaser of the vault or could it have actually been Edward Aldridge? Whatever the truth, thanks to sexton Nathaniel Rammell, his record proves that there must have been a relationship between the families but whether that is familial, business or friendship is not clear. 

Our Thomas was also a pawnbroker. In 1786 he appeared twice in the county press. The first, in May 1786, when it seems someone was maliciously trying to spoil his business by spreading a rumour that he had taken into pawn, of all things, a leg of mutton! To protect his ‘Trade and Character’ Thomas went before the Mayor to solemnly declare that report was ‘ill-grounded’ and this was then published in the Kentish Gazette. Then in December Thomas’ shop was burgled.

                                                                      The Kentish Gazette 23 May 1786                                Kentish Gazette Tuesday 19 December 1786

Thomas continued to trade probably until early in 1800 but sadly the business was not passed on down through the family. Both his sons had died and his daughters’ husbands and sons were settled in other trades. 

What happened to his business at his retirement or after his death is not clear. His will gives us no clues as neither clockmaking nor pawnbroking is mentioned, suggesting that he had retired sometime before his death. In his will he provides for his granddaughter Elizabeth Wellard Harrison the daughter of his daughter Lucy and her boatbuilder husband John Harrison. Lucy died in 1790 when her only child, Elizabeth, was just three years old. What happened to this granddaughter is not known. The residue of his will is divided between his surviving daughters.

So to conclude Thomas Aldridge, our Deal clockmaker, was born in around 1735. He became a freeman in 1765 and was married in that same year. There are tentative links to two other Deal clockmakers, Edward Aldridge and Thomas Wilmshurst but all we know for certain about our Thomas Aldridge, is that he lived, worked and died in Deal as a successful clockmaker and pawnbroker, and that he has many surviving watches and mantle clocks as well as  grandfather or longcase clocks including this beautiful one in Deal Museum.

Sources and further reading:
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved.
With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (
Deal Museum
Lambeth Palace Archives