1 . James Woodforde's longcase clock, made at Reepham, Norfolk

The decorative face of Woodforde's clock made by John Symonds of Reepham, near WestonThe decorative face of the well-preserved clock made by John Symonds of Reepham, near Weston. The clock was donated to the Society in 2023 in a member's will [Parson Woodforde Society Collection]A memorable incident took place in Weston Church in 1791. The squire John Custance and his wife Frances, with their house guests, arrived very late. The rector was well advanced as he took the Sunday afternoon service:

20 November 1791 . . . They did not come to church till I was reading the first Lesson, owing to our clocks being so different, mine full half an hour faster . . .

A generous gift

Synchronising clocks was a common problem. Less than a month later Woodforde was scrupulous over acknowledging the way clocks might differ. Having noted a visit to the parsonage by John Custance and the Rector of nearby Great Witchingham on 13 December he observed that 'They left us about half past one by my clock ' [editorial italics].

One of Woodforde's clocks from Weston Parsonage, so out of alignment with the clocks at Weston House, came into the possession of the Parson Woodforde Society on the death of a long-standing member, Tony Blundell, in April 2023.

He bequeathed the very fine longcase clock to the Society in his will, and it has since been restored to full working order. It is an eight-day clock, and strikes the hours on a bell. The name of the maker is clearly displayed: John Symonds of Reepham (a market town five miles north of Weston).

Painted flowers fill the dial's four spandrels. Roman numerals mark the hours. Arabic numerals are used for the minutes, shown at five-minute intervals, and for the seconds, shown at ten-second intervals. The hands, almost certainly original, are of blued steel in a serpentine design typical of the period; the second hand is half-serpentine in design. The day of the month is displayed in a 'sad mouth' aperture.

James Woodforde's longcase clockThe longcase clock, also known as a grandfather clock [Parson Woodforde Society Collection]The case is of oak. The hood has a Norfolk 'whale's tail' pediment with accurate modern replacement finials copied from another Symonds clock formerly owned by a Weston Longville farmer in the mid-twentieth century.

The Reepham clockmaker John Symonds

The clockmaker and watchmaker John Symonds (1734–1815) often makes an appearance in Woodforde's diary. He is listed in a work by two prominent members of the Parson Woodforde Society, Clifford and Yvonne Bird: Norfolk and Norwich Clocks and Clockmakers (1996).

The diarist records the summer's day soon after he came to live at Weston when he took possession of his new clock carried from Reepham:

31 August 1776 . . . Mr Symonds of Reepham brought home my new clock today and put the same up, for which I paid him £6 6s 0d. It is a very neat clock and I like it much.

When making the journey to Weston Parsonage to clean the rector's clock Symonds (sometimes given as Simonds) would usually be given his midday meal. It was taken not with Woodforde and his niece in a reception room but with the servants in the kitchen, as on this typical occasion:

19 November 1790 . . . Mr Simonds of Reepham, watchmaker, brought my watch home this morning and he stayed and dined with our people in [the] kitchen, after he had cleaned my eight-day clock below stairs, which he made . . .

This eight-day clock stood on the ground floor in the hall, from where its marking of the hours could be heard around the house. It seems to be the one identified by the diarist as 'my lower clock', as in his entry for 6 March 1782 when it was cleaned by Mr Symonds of Reepham. It may also be 'my large clock', cleaned by Mr Symonds on 6 February 1789.

Woodforde also had an 'upper clock', perhaps on a landing or on the first floor, which Mr Symonds cleaned on 21 March 1791. This was probably the 'spring clock' which the Reepham clockmaker cleaned on 17 November 1789; the diarist had bought it secondhand in Oxford in 1774. Spring-driven clocks did not rely on weights to drive the machinery in the manner of a longcase clock. They could thus be smaller and might be placed on mantelpieces and tables. Woodforde's smaller timepiece was a bracket clock.

The provenance of the clock

David Case investigates Woodforde's clocks in forensic detail in the Parson Woodforde Society Journal for Winter 2002: vol. 35 no. 4. He identifies three clocks in the house. All three were sold after the rector's death together with many other effects in a three-day sale in April 1803; the sale catalogue is held in the archives of New College, Oxford. The most expensive, the eight-day clock in the hall, was sold for £4 13s 0d to 'Mr Neal'.

Step by step Dr Case traces the fate of the most expensive of Woodforde's clocks and puts forward possible candidates for 'Mr Neal'; the spelling of the buyer's name noted by the auctioneer's clerk is likely to be phonetic. For generations the longcase clock was passed down through the Arthurton family first recorded as owners in 1833, who had been living in Weston at the time of the 1803 sale.

A search of the full text of Woodforde's diary reveals references to Thomas Arthurton of Weston, Woodforde's spelling showing the way the name was then pronounced. 'Neighbour Atterton' first appears in 1777:

1 May 1777 . . . To Neighbour Atterton for 11 young geese paid £0 11s 0d. They are 5 weeks old and fine geese . . .

It was from this family that Tony Blundell purchased the clock in 1998. The vendor, Mr Alan John Arthurton of Southgate, Cawston, near Reepham, had been left the clock in his grandmother's will in February 1998. On 29 September 1998 he wrote down a list of the owners for Tony Blundell:

I have had this clock in my family for four generations, right back to a Peter Arthurton in 1833:
Peter Arthurton 1833, Robert Arthurton 1862, Arthur Robert Arthurton 1887, Frederick Arthur Arthurton 1908.

Phyllis Stanley concentrates on the fate of the bracket clock in the Journal for Summer 2003: vol. 36 no. 2.

As a postscript the longcase clock is photographed in the Journal for Autumn 1997 without its finials and with a faded face. Tony Blundell had not yet embarked on its restoration: vol. 30 no. 3, page 24.

Time-consciousness: lives governed by the clock

List of Norfolk fairs in 1790, showing 74 towns and villages and 107 separate fairsNorfolk fairs in 1790, showing 74 towns and villages if Norwich's two are treated as distinct. Many towns had two or even three fairs a year, making a total of 107 separate fairs [Crouse & Stevenson's Norwich and Norfolk Complete Memorandum Book (1790)]As well as three clocks in the house Woodforde and his niece had pocket watches. They were able at all times to mark the passing of the hours.

They lived in an age which has been characterised as witnessing 'an industrious revolution'. The long-hours culture and the observance of clock time, as opposed to task time, were firmly established well before the introduction of factory labour discipline. The third clock at the rectory, and the cheapest, was set up in the kitchen. The maidservants and manservant needed to be time-aware in a well-run household.

Tensions developed between those who clung to the old culture respectful of custom, such as Woodforde – up to a point, when it came to noting his servants' absences – and the forces of change in the form of capitalist employers determined to extract every ounce of labour from their employees. These tensions are charted in the Journal for Winter 2014: vol. 47 no. 4. The article studies the way the servant class had increasingly to fight to be allowed time off to attend fairs and frolics, hitherto treated as their customary right.

The granting of paid holidays was to come far in the future. Woodforde's servants pressed hard to be allowed to stay late at local fairs such as St Faith's, Mattishall and Reepham. These events were particularly valued by the labouring class as marking their only opportunity to renew ties with family and friends. As it happens, the diarist was a generous master and sometimes allowed his servants time off on other occasions.

Manufacturers subject to oversight by the excise service, such as maltsters and brewers, were especially watchful of their workforce's habits. The Excise required those 'under their survey' to adhere to precise timekeeping in their processes. A maltster had by law to soak his barley in the steep or cistern for forty hours: no more, no less. His staff had perforce to be keenly aware of the passage of the hours, for fear of landing their master or mistress with a magistrates' fine.

Woodforde's use of clock time to record comings and goings is worth noting. It disproves the commonly-held notion that he lived in a leisured age free of such pressures.

Weston Parsonage: Woodforde's 'happy, thatched dwelling'

Woodforde's rectory no longer exists. It was demolished some thirty or forty years after his death, the 1845 county directory stating that the rector 'has lately erected a handsome rectory house'. A sale notice in April 2016 for its successor, by then the Old Rectory, states that the replacement, larger parsonage was built in 1842. The last rector to live there moved out in 1971.

The parsonage known to Woodforde was still standing in 1829, the date of the Weston estate map prepared for New College by Robert Corby and housed in the college archives. The T-shaped rectory is shown in pink on, or very close to, the site of the Old Rectory. The Norfolk Heritage Explorer database speculates that the cellars and garden walls of the Old Rectory predate the building. If so, they form the sole vestiges with which Woodforde would have been familiar.

Corby shows the house standing back from the road now named Rectory Road, at the turning to Hungate Common and Hockering. He also depicts the road leading to the church, which stands half a mile away to the north and off the map.

A large pond is seen across the road, while a smaller one stands in the large rectory garden – the 'basin' referred to in the diary. Non-domestic buildings, marked in grey and presumably the barn, outhouses and stable, stand a little way from the house. The main front of the rectory (the crossbar of the 'T') would appear to face east-northeast, with the back offices stretching behind; these would have included the kitchen and possibly the dairy.

Some of the fields comprising the glebe farmed by the rector and his hardworking farm servant Ben Leggatt are individually marked near the parsonage and over the road, with their acreages.

Roy Winstanley describes the house and its furniture in his biography Parson Woodforde: The life and times of a country diarist (1996), pages 123–9. We are invited to take a tour of the rectory, with elevations and plans, in the Journal for Spring 1984: vol. 17 no. 1.

The Weston terrier of 1777, which details church property in the parish, opens with the rectory and its homestead or 'homestall'. The property, including a barn, stable and other outhouses, extended to 8–9 acres. Not all of this would have been a cultivated garden: the rectory grounds included a field or paddock.

James Woodforde took a delight in his home, despite its many discomforts. It was very cold in winter, as he describes in detail, and the chimneys of the parlour and study smoked when the wind was in the west. It was not very capacious. In common with many middle-class Georgian houses it had no dedicated dining room. Meals would be taken in either the parlour, sometimes called the 'great parlour', or the rector's study.

Two principal bedrooms occupied the space over the carpeted reception rooms, and the female servants had attic bedrooms above. The male servants slept on the first floor, presumably above the kitchen and back kitchen extension in small bedrooms reached by their own stairs. The longcase clock stood at the back of the front hall near the main staircase. Beyond lay the kitchen and back offices. Despite its obvious inadequacies the diarist was in his later years to call it our 'comfortable, quiet, happy, thatched dwelling'.

His diary, rich in detail on domestic life and his possessions, opens our eyes to the backdrop to daily life for a well-to-do householder. It also forms a treasure-house for historians of the domestic interior and material culture. The 1803 inventory further expands the coverage, confirming Woodforde's liking for comfort. A small carpet lay beside his four-poster bed with its goose-feather mattress, and the room was well equipped with mahogany furniture.

His oaken clock with its attractive dial beckons us towards the world he so memorably recreates for his readers. We have cause to be deeply grateful to Tony Blundell.