Reprinted from Newsletter 120, dated 2006 September
In newsletter 119 Robin Huggins, the founder of Becket’s Inn, photographed this longcase clock inscribed “R. Woollan, Glastonbury” that he was surprised to discover in New Zealand. Matthew Willis, Glastonbury’s clock man of the present, has further details about its maker.

Woollan the local clockmaker Matthew Willis

I have looked after 30-hour and 8-day longcase clocks by Robert Woollan, and changes in style support either a long working life, or Robert senior and junior. I worked on one signed “Robert Woolland Jnr., Glastonbury” — spellings in those days were more casual.

  The clocks are well made, quite robustly built, and two dials were stylistically very similar to those by William Townly (1729–51) of Flax Bourton and Temple Cloud. Townley — another spelling — also looked after church clocks, so both men were clearly practical makers, not just buying in (unless, of course, Woollan bought from Townley or vice-versa).

  I am pretty sure that some of the dials are from the same source. Several of Woollan’s clocks have not survived in their original cases, but one that has is in an oak case. Another reported to me in 1970, owned by a couple in Canada, is in a walnut case. Maybe others were in walnut and eaten by woodworm — or the walnut one could have been recased.

  Here are some entries from 17th- and 18th-century churchwardens’ accounts for maintenance of church clocks. The Butleigh church clock is still in use. Fixed to it is a longcase “chapter ring” (as the roman-numeral part of the dial is called, from monastic times), signed Robt Woollan, Glastonbury: in other words, the face from a domestic clock is attached to the mechanism inside the tower so that the man winding it knows what time is showing outside.

  I recall seeing old clockwork from St John’s tower in Glastonbury — made by John Cuff in 1718, the precursor of the present electric mechanism donated by our namesake town in Connecticut in 1967 — left outside the church for scrap. This was just at the beginning of my interest in clocks. It seems a shame to me now, for it would have been repairable. I heard that someone rescued it, and would love to know who.

From clocks to “living lightly” John Brunsdon

Matthew and Jan Willis dwell in Bove Town, and adopted a sustainable lifestyle decades ago. Both care deeply about conservation and social problems.

  Matthew opted out of industry (systems analysis at Morlands) in 1968 in favour of working with his hands: repairing and restoring antique clocks. To help get him started, Denis Emery the jeweller sold Matthew his duplicate tools. The jewellery shop, where Dicketts is now, still traded under the name of Gillmore, its founder (who also made clocks: Neill Bonham has a 19th-century wall clock with “J. Gillmore, Glastonbury” on its face).

  Matthew is now running down his clock-repair business. He wants to transfer priorities to growing food, to cultivating trees for energy (on a plot at Godney) and in general to being more committed about “living lightly”.

  Jan (née Lawson) is a competent painter. When deteriorating eyesight hampered her, she turned to ceramic sculpture. Some of her work is on display during Somerset Art Weeks (till September 24) at Dower House Cottage, Wood Lane, Butleigh. Go to the Rose & Portcullis pub and follow signs. “I’m in with nine other artists,” said Janet: “lots of variety, a big field, a lovely view, a couple of studios.”

  A photo of her ceramic sculpture of St Hugh and his swan appears on page 1 of this newsletter.

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