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Upon The Origins Of Baddeleys

May 17, 2015
by the gentle author

Last Sunday, I told the story of John James Baddeley, the journeyman die sinker who rose to become Lord Mayor of London in 1922, and this week I explore the origins of this extraordinary family endeavour which spans five centuries and innumerable generations, and whose specialist printing business Baddeley Brothers still flourishes in Hackney

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A mahogany four-train musical and quarter chiming longcase clock playing seven tunes, made by John Baddeley of Albrighton in Shropshire c.1760 (courtesy of Bonhams, London)

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The celebrated Engraver and Satirist, William Hogarth, was first apprenticed as a Silver Engraver, while his contemporary, William Caslon, the father of British Letter Founding, was originally apprenticed to a Gunsmith – thus it comes as no surprise to discover a certain Phineas Baddeley apprenticed as a Clockmaker. You only have to look at the elegant italic lettering upon the engraved face of this fine eighteenth century longcase clock by John Baddeley to recognise the seamless nature of related trades in this era and the possibility of advancement for talented artisans who could redirect their skills to the most advantageous reward.

A skill in the creation of intricate and precise metalwork serves a Clockmaker, but may also be lent to the design of instruments. While draughtsmanship and the ability to carve lettering into metal plates permits an Engraver to create attractive designs for clients, he is also able to produce the printed copies too. Thus, in possessing technical and aesthetic skills equally, artisans were both designers and manufacturers, and through successive generations of Baddeleys, each apprenticed to the one before, individuals with diverse specialities found different ways to make an independent living.

As you will appreciate, this is a tale of many Baddeleys – and the earliest record of any of them is of Phineas Baddeley’s apprenticeship in July 1652  and his admittance at twenty-one years old to the Clockmakers’ Company in the City of London in 1661. Phineas established himself in Tong, situated on the boundary of Staffordshire and Shropshire with the Blue Mountains of Wales to the west and the Black Country, cradle of the Industrial Revolution, to the east. For subsequent generations in this border country, the Baddeleys enjoyed a significant reputation as clock and watchmakers, and a clock by John Baddeley of Albrighton counted out the hours at the church in Tong until 1983.

In the eighteenth century, John Baddeley rose to become a member of the Royal Society, was reputedly a clockmaker to George III (who collected more than two thousand timepieces) and, turning his attention to barometers and optics, invented a new type of refraction telescope. At his demise, he was recorded as ‘Gent’ in the Parish Register and commemorated by an unusual cast iron tomb in Albrighton churchyard, upon which the date of his death on January 25th 1804 is still legible as testimony to the enduring quality of his innovative memorial, most likely cast in the foundries of Coalbrookdale, less than ten miles away.

While other members of the Baddeley family embraced the possibilities of industry burgeoning in the shires around them, diversifying into producing jewellery in Birmingham and pottery in Stoke on Trent, it was John Rock Baddeley, born in 1797 in ‘The Cape of Good Hope,’ his father Thomas’s pub in Staffordshire, who first made his fortune in London. Remembered by subsequent generations as, “A clever draughtsman and very skilful die sinker, chiefly of jewellery spoon dies, badges and livery button dies,” John Rock married in Lewisham in 1818, but set set up home with his wife Lucy at 27 Seward St, Clerkenwell, where they had seven children.

It was a strategic location John Rock chose, positioned within proximity of the jewellery trade in Hatton Garden yet in the very midst of the clockmaking and printing industry which defined Clerkenwell at that time, ensuring professional security through the widest range of opportunities for employment. By 1841, he was in 63 Compton St- the next street to his brother Thomas, who had set up as an engraver in Rahere St, Clerkenwell. Although we know of no evidence they collaborated professionally, these two might be said to be the original ‘Baddeley Brothers’ who, by working as die sinkers and engravers at the fringe of the City of London, established a pattern of family industry in specialist printing which persists through their descendants to this day.

In the early nineteenth century, Hackney was still a rural area and, as a passionate fisherman, John Rock took keen advantage of it – setting out weekly with his rod and line north-eastward from Clerkenwell towards the White House Inn on the Hackney Marshes in search of sport. Besides founding the ‘True Waltonian Society’ in honour of Izaak Walton, whose ‘The Compleat Angler’ recorded Walton’s exploits fishing on the River Lea in the seventeenth century, John Rock was himself author of ‘The London Angler’s Book or Waltonian Chronicle’ which he published in 1834. As the sole surviving example of his engraving, his elegantly playful membership card for the Waltonian Society, designed in 1820, is the earliest Baddeleys’ print sample and a modest yet apt means to remember him.

Perhaps it was the connection to the White House Inn that led to John Rock’s son (who styled himself John Baddeley Junior, Engraver) marrying Elizabeth Beresford whose father was a Bailiff on the River Lea and ran a commercial fishery there? In 1841, after John Baddeley Junior had a completed a seven year apprenticeship to his father in Clerkenwell, the couple set up their first home in Goldsmith’s Row off Hackney Rd. The introduction of Rowland Hill’s Penny Post in 1840 boosted the trade for notepaper and envelopes in London, opening up the possibility to create all manner of personalised designs for stationery, often ornamented with crests and monograms.

Consequently, John Baddeley Junior’s business thrived and, in 1853, the growing family moved to a house in the Triangle, Mare St, with a large garden and a laundry which they converted into a workshop. So it was that they truly arrived in Hackney, at a location less than a hundred yards from where Baddeley Brothers now operates, more than one hundred and fifty years later.

“He made my die dish, spanner and a set of hammers,” recalled John Rock’s grandson John James Baddeley fondly, when he first set up on his own in Little Bell Alley in the City of London  in 1865, drawing intimate consolation from the generations of skilled endeavour that lay behind him at the anxious moment of commencement of his own chapter in the story of Baddeleys.

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Mahogany eight day longcase clock by Thomas Baddeley c.1715 (courtesy of Bonhams, London)

John Baddeley’s Prayerbook 1779

John Rock Baddeley’s design for a membership card for the True Waltonian Society, 1830

John James Baddeley’s annotation upon the reverse of the card, confirming it as the earliest surviving Baddeleys’ printing sample

Clerkenwell in 1820 before the railway came through

Izaak Walton’s house on the corner of Chancery Lane and Fleet St

You may also like to read about

John James Baddeley, Die Sinker

Roger Pertwee, Manufacturing Stationer

Terry Smith, Envelope Cutter

4 Responses leave one →
  1. May 17, 2015

    A most interesting family ,and good to hear that their business still survives. Valerie

  2. May 17, 2015

    What a brilliant piece, even by our usual high standards! Wood engraver supreme was also a devoted fisherman – do the two skills go together, do you think?

  3. Pauline Taylor permalink
    May 17, 2015

    Fascinating, and of great interest to me as I have an almost identical mahogany longcase clock as the c1715 one. Mine is slightly earlier and was made by Joseph Jackman of London Bridge, and is ticking away beside me now and still keeping good time after well over 300 years.

  4. May 17, 2015

    Very much enjoyed this article.

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