HISTORY OF THE HENLEY ENGLISH CARRIAGE CLOCK
Much 20th Century carriage clock production in England followed the traditions of the French clock makers of the 1800s – not mass-produced but built by artisans rather than industrialists – retaining the charm of a handcrafted product that works faithfully and is loved by future generations.
The Henley Carriage Clock was first handcrafted in 1976 in Shiplake, Near Henley in Oxfordshire by its creator, Roger Field.
Although Roger had started his career as an apprentice engineer with Thornycrofts, he always had an interest in clocks and watches. He says it was his brother who introduced him to Peter Weiss a local clockmaker and encouraged him to follow his love and take up a job with him. So in 1972, Roger joined the Weiss Clock Company in Reading who at that time made battery operated quartz driven mantle clocks. As a result of Roger joining the company with his keen interest in carriage clocks the company, via Roger, started making the traditional French designed carriage clock including the Obis and the Anglaise, which was created especially for the English market.
In 1976 Roger left Weiss Clocks and started DRE Clocks with David Roberts Engineering [DRE] who were precision and general engineers. They formed a partnership and started manufacturing carriage clocks in Shiplake. However, producing clocks was only a sideline for DRE and the relationship did not last. When they separated Roger decided to continue on his own and he set up Henley Carriage Clocks Limited. This was the beginning of the production of the now famous Henley-branded Carriage Clock. Although other English carriage clock companies were beginning to source components from across the world, from the offset Roger made the conscious decision to build a quality English product that only used the best components from the UK and Switzerland.
At the beginning most of his sales were made to existing contacts via word and mouth, however, when he produced a brochure and mailed it to jewellers around the country sales took off and the company started to grow.
For the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, Roger produced a limited edition silver carriage clock to mark the occasion. 150 silver plated clocks were made. Each clock had the Queen’s Silver Jubilee emblem on its dial and, not surprisingly, was much in demand and stocks were soon sold out.
As well as producing his own branded Henley carriage clock, Roger also made his clocks with the same casing and movements for a number of prestigious brands including Aspreys and Mappin & Webb. A miniature carriage clock he made with a black marble top base became a favourite of the late Princess Diana who gave them as gifts on her Royal duty visits.
In 1986 after the company had been running for ten years the local Henley Standard Newspaper did a feature on Roger and his Henley Clocks of which he is still very proud.
Unfortunately, Henley Carriage Clocks Ltd was not recession proof and in 1992 had to drastically reduce in size to stay in existence and Roger sold the business to Ross Electronics. Ross Electronics at the time were well-known for manufacturing battery operated clocks and considered the Henley Carriage Clock to be a good addition to their range. However, it did not quite work out that way; Ross Electronics soon found that they could not make enough profit from the labour intensive handcrafted carriage clock, and in 1995 they offered the company and the Henley name back to Roger. Roger happily bought the company back and continued to make a small number of clocks until he retired in 1997.
Although initially Roger had no plans to pass his business on, he is now delighted to see his famous Henley clocks being lovingly made in Bridport by his old friend Richard Batten. He can often be found these days in the workshop with Richard in Bridport, not making the clocks but talking about the old days!!!