J.Smith & Sons of St. John's Square,Clerkenwell were one of the leading Clerkenwell clockmakers, making all varieties of clocks from the smallest timepieces to the largest turret clocks. They were particularly well known for their turret clocks, which were sent all over the world, and for their skeleton clocks, many of which were supplied partly finished for completion by other 'makers'. It is easy to confuse this company with S. Smith & Sons (Smiths Industries) and J. Smith & Sons of Derby, also famous makers of turret clocks.
The company started in 1780 and by 1830 they were in a factory in St John's Square, Clerkenwell, were they remained until the late 1980's.
By 1851, John Smith and Sons were one of the top half a dozen largest clock makers in England and at the 1851 Great Exhibition, they exhibited a year going calendar clock and another chiming clock, chiming on 8 bells and striking on a gong.
In 'The Illustrated London News' on 20th September 1851 (reproduced in the Antiquarian Horology June 1974 pp 750-754) is an article covering a visit to the clock factory of J Smith & Sons in Clerkenwell. The article includes several wood engravings showing views of the work carried out in the factory (some of these engravings are also shown in the 'Victorian Clocks' book..
The company was based at St. John's Square Clerkenwell and was housed in the old factory of 'the once famous clock manufactory of Colonel Magniac' as the above article states. The factory was unusual in that it held all the disciplines needed to make the clock, so that there would not be any delays incurred in waiting for outside suppliers of parts or cases. All the wood needed was stored in their own yards, and the mahogany was seasoned there for three years before use. The brass was cast in the foundry at the East End of their yard and any brass part needed for their clocks was cast and finished on site.
The dial making shop made the dials from tin, iron or brass, and the faces were coated with white-flake which was a form of white lead. This was then polished to a smooth surface and then baked so that it hardened. The numbers etc. were then painted on with lamp black and then the whole dial is varnished. Church dials were given 4 coats of black paint and then the numbers were added using extra thickness gold in the gilt. The divisions of the dial were added using a 'division machine'.
Even the clock glasses were ground and domed to fit on-site in their own glassworks. The casemaking shop was housed above the brass finishing shop. An interesting observation in the article is that the benches in the casemaking shop used a 'German Screw' as is held the work tighter than the usual screw attached to an English bench.
Across from the case-maker's shop was a separate building where the barrel makers, the pinion makers and the fusee makers worked. It should be obvious from this that no one man made a clock, each person made their own part of the clock and then it was finally assembled in the assembly shops. There were two assembly shops, the lower floor for the large 'dirty' movements and the top floor for the more delicate movements.
Also on site was a showroom where prospective customers can be shown the range of clocks available. These included, 8-day skeleton clocks, some having a single strike and some chiming on 8 bells, floor standing regulators, musical clocks and bracket clocks among others. J Smith & Sons not only supplied the English market at the time, but also China, Turkey and other parts of the world.
In the second Great International Exhibition, J Smith & Sons, Clerkenwell, exhibited a small turret clock designed for a summer house. The clock had 4 3'6" diameter dials, 8 day duration with maintaining power and striking on the hour. They also exhibited a second tower clock with rack striking.
In 1865 their catalogue of the items they supplied showed an amazing collection of clocks available from illuminated exterior clocks to skeleton clocks, such as those based on Litchfield Cathedral and York Minster. The company were also now supplying raw parts to other makers and repairers and skeleton clock kits that could be assembled at home. 50% of all skeleton clocks supplied in the UK in the late 1800's were from J Smith & Son and J Moore & Son of Clerkenwell. There are even skeleton clocks by J Smith & Son in the Royal Collection belonging to the British Monarchy.
In recent years the company ceased clock making activities to concentrate on the stockholding and supply of non-ferrous metals. As part of the Delta Metals Group, they still remain one of the leading suppliers of clock making brass.
Source of text: http://www.onlinegalleries.com/artists/d/john-smith-%26-sons-of-clerkenwell/8217