Friday, December 21, 2018


An Englishman, a Scotsman, and…

Having started a short series on clocks, I couldn’t end before sharing this one, the veritable grandfather of all shop clocks, on Baker’s Jeweller’s in Gloucester. It’s as if the ‘Practical Watchmaker’ of the shop sign had had enough of making miniature timepieces and decided to take his one chance to make something really big. As well as an ornate round clock face (above the figures and not included in my picture), he created a series of five figures, representing each of the four countries of the United Kingdom plus Old Father Time himself, who stands in the centre. These figures strike their bells at each quarter. They are usually known in the trade as ‘jacks’, although this masculine term seems inappropriate for the Welshwoman and the Irishwoman. Are the women ‘jills’? Whatever we call them, I call them impressive.

The person who carved them – someone who specialised in those highlanders outside tobacconists,* perhaps – went to town on this set. The details of the dress, the musical instruments (that harp, especially), and the characterful faces are all done with verve. Father Time has a magnificent Shavian beard and what look like well carved wings (though it’s hard to see them in the gloom); his scythe is at the ready behind his right shoulder, and he also has a symbolic hourglass. The hourglass, of course, is not strictly necessary with all the hard work that’s being done by Edwardian clockwork.

These figures have stood in their niche at the front of Baker’s shop, right in the middle of the city, since 1904. Their position in the niche means that as one approaches, they’re not all immediately visible, and discovering them up there is a process of steady revelation as one walks along the street. The arch also means that quite often the figures are in shadow, but the bright colours help them to stand out and their bell-ringing display still inspires amazement from tourists as it joins Gloucester’s other bells, ringing out from the cathedral and some of the city’s other medieval churches, across the shops and offices of the modern city.

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* I did a post about a fine tobacconist's highlander here.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

"Shavian" - Is there a subliminal message in making Old Father Time look like Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw? Or in the fact that Mr England uniquely looks a bit overweight? And "Miss Wales" looks like an English dowager duly dressed up for St David's Day as a concession to the Servants? In any period, I'm sure a sculptor could have found a pretty, petite Welsh lady in the streets of Gloucester to act as model. Volunteers to climb up and attach to the lady with the harp a speech balloon saying "Brexit - Irish Border Back-Stop"?! Thanks for the photo - a bit easier to make out than the thing itself, if caught in the wrong light.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you! As you say, these figures are often quite difficult to make out and it was good to catch them in flattering light. I was particularly struck by the portly figure of Mr England: as if he'd overindulged in the roast beef of old England, with (lord help us) all the trimmings. And yes, there are plenty of Welsh women, or various sizes, to be found in Gloucester.