Scottish Clock Makers, Clockmakers in Scotland
The making of clocks in Scotland was not recognized as a separate craft till about 1640. In Aberdeen in 1618 there were but three clocks, "the Kirk Knok, Tolbooth Knok, and the College Knok, all out of repair because they are auld and worne and partlie for want of skilful men to attend them."
Mr. John Smith's interesting little book "Old Scottish Clockmakers" gives an account of the progress of the craft in Scotland. The clockmakers were recognized as a branch of the Hammermen in 1646 in Edinburgh, 1649 in Glasgow, 1753 in Haddington, and not till 1800 in Aberdeen.
Mr. Smith says: "After 1700 the art and craft of clock and watchmaking increased, so that by the close of the eighteenth century Scotland was enabled to turn out work of the highest class. For a number of years into the nineteenth century good and honest work was the rule; but the practice of importing movements and parts of movements and merely putting these toegther arose, so that by 1850 or thereabouts the trade declined. This and the cheap American and other importations combined to extinguish an industry and a class of craftsmen who were as necessary in every village and town as the doctor or minister. The cheapness of these imported movements made it impossible for our native craftsmen to compete, and a wave of mistaken prejudice having arisen against the preservation of the long-case clocks, large numbers were destroyed for no other reason than that they were thought old-fashioned".
Like the German clockmakers, the Scottish applicant for entrance into the Guild had to make a timepiece to prove his ability and to gain entrance among the Freemen.
There were a number of very distinguished Scottish makers: such men as Humphrey Mylne, 1661; Andrew Brown, 1665-1711; Alexander Brownlie, 1720-39; James Cowan, 1760-81; John Smith, 1770-1809; George Munro, 1750-99; Paul Roumieu, 1692-1710; Thomas Gordon, 1703-43; being but a few of them.
Nor are antique clocks by Scottish makers very rare in America, for besides those bearing the makers' names, I know of at least half a dozen which have "Corbals" on the dial-plate. This is a suburb of Glasgow, and apparently there is, or was, a clock works there. During the eighteenth century the clockmaking centre of Edinburgh was Parliament Square, where the shops fairly clung to the walls of the great building, like swallows' nests.
James Cowan, the maker, served his apprenticeship to Archibald Straiton, Edinburgh, beginning February 4, 1744. He was admitted freeman clockmaker to the Edinburgh Hammermen 1754. Then he went to Paris and studied under Julien le Roy and to London to study his craft still further, returning to Edinburgh 1760 and opening his business. His knowledge of the craft not only gave him a great and widely extended business connection, but brought him many apprentices.
One of these, and probably the most celebrated, was Thomas Reid, successor to his business in 1781, at the time of Cowan's death.
Andrew Leadbetter was apprenticed to Andrew Clark, Edinburgh, 1764. He settled later in Congleton, England, and made many good substantial clocks, some of which found their way to America.