The esteemed Mr Pace, clockmaker of Bury St Edmunds

Our 14th December Fine Art & Antiques auction will include a rare and important year-going triple-dial skeleton clock by John Pace of Bury St Edmunds.


John Pace (1783-1867) was born in Whitechapel and hailed from an eminent Quaker family of clock and watchmakers who had been registered as working in the area from at least the 1630s.  By 1804 he is recorded as working in Bury St Edmunds, and later more specifically in Abbeygate Street (No.19) from 1823 until 1855.  


In a town bristling with renowned clockmakers, Pace managed to rapidly gain a good reputation for his inventiveness as well as for the quality of his work.  His ingenious nature led to him patenting an illuminated ‘night timepiece’ (No.6506) in 1833, and creating elaborate skeleton clocks such as this example.  In fact, it is highly likely that Pace actually invented the pyramidal skeleton clock.  However, Pace was clearly happy to work on all manner of clocks, watches and barometers, and formed a strong working relationship with Bury St Edmunds gunsmith and clockmaker Benjamin Parker – sharing design and precision work between them to produce excellent pieces.


During this time he married Frances Rebecca Hancock of Mitcham with whom he had four children. Pace was also a leading figure in the Bury St Edmunds Society of Friends and was secretary of the local Quaker meetings between 1827-1832.  He is also recorded as being Alderman for the North Ward in 1843 and secretary of the Mechanics Institution which was based in Crown Street from 1824.


By the 1850s Pace was at the peak of his powers, and as such exhibited three examples of his work at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held at the Crystal Palace in 1851.  This comprised of two clocks and a barometer; one of these being a skeleton clock which ran for three years on just one winding.  He is referred to in the Exhibition catalogue as “Pace, J. Bury St Edmunds, - Inventor, Designer & Manufacturer”.


Pace’s fame even led to a contemporary poem being published:

A Silversmith is Mr Pace ,

He makes new clocks, old ones new face,

Guards, Broaches, Pins and other things

Ah! Yes and sells new wedding rings.




Pace moved to Chelmsford after the death of his wife, where he himself died in 1867. His obituary in the Norwich & Bury Post describes him as being “widely esteemed outside the boundaries of the religious community to which he belonged, at a time when members of the Society of Friends suffered in various ways…”. It also demonstrates how Pace’s scientific mind didn’t stop at timepieces, as he is remembered as being the first shopkeeper in Bury “to substitute gas-light for the dimness of former days”.


Such was his reputation, that even by the end of the 19th century his clocks were still considered highly desirable.  The auction at Hengrave Hall in 1897 included “A fine old early English striking clock… made by John Pace, Bury”.  Two silver watches by Pace are also included in the world-famous Gershom Parkington timepiece collection on display at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds.  This particular clock found its way into the collection of Joseph Maumus Meraux (1922-1992), a major landowner in Louisiana, whose collection of ‘Rare and Unusual’ clocks were sold at Sotheby’s on 28th June 1993; this lot being No.396.  


Full lot description: John Pace of Bury St Edmunds - a rare year-going skeleton timepiece, mid-19th century, the arched chamfered plates with five turned pillars, gilt Arabic chapter ring above interlaced rings for weeks of the year and date, shaped blue steel hands, the twin chain driven fusees each with two spring barrels, anchor escapement, five and six spoke wheels, all raised on an oval plinth engraved 'John Pace Bury St Edmunds' to the front, h.40cm, all upon an ebonised oval stand with glass dome (dome cracked). Estimate £12,000-16,000. (Buyers premium 24% incl VAT).

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