Clock belongs to Rye

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It was an interesting hypothesis put forward about St. Mary’s Church clock.

Much has been written over the years about the organ and the history of the clock. That which is generally accepted was expressed by E.J.Tyler (Hon. Librarian and Curator of the Antiquarian Horological Society) in October 1960 as follows:-

“The earliest evidence of a clock in Rye church is provided by an entry in the Churchwardens’ Accounts for the year 1514/5 concerning “keeping the clock and chyme”. The existing clock is generally believed to be the one made by Lewis Billiard of Winchelsea in 1562. It has been stated by Mr. C.B.Drover in “Country Life” (May 29th 1958) that Lewis Billiard was born in Gascony, and can be traced as working in London between the years 1540 and 1568. In 1540 he was an employee of Alan Bawdyson who was subsequently appointed clockmaker to Edward VI, and soon afterwards Billiard is recorded as a master clockmaker with his own employees. He first appears in the Rye Churchwardens’ Accounts in an entry for 1561/2 when he receives £3 on account for the clock, and various other sums are consequently paid to him making a total of £30.

Now £30 was a very large sum for a clock in those days, so we should expect to find a really magnificent movement for the price and indeed the present clock is something very much better than would have been found in the usual parish church at the time.

St. John’s Church Winchester, purchased a clock about the same time, but the price was only £13/9/0 and the clock is not nearly so fine as the Rye one. The excellence of the present Rye movement and the price paid for the 1562 one point to the existing clock as being the one supplied by Lewis Billiard.

The price also seems to indicate that the clock was a brand new one and not a restoration of the older one. There was also a formal contract made between the Churchwardens and Billiard, who appears in the accounts by name and not just “the man who made the clock” or “a Frenchman ” or “the clockmaker”.”

So, an excellent Winchelsea craftsman, but almost certainly a Rye clock.

Cllr. Sam Souster

Rye Ward.