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Monday, October 2, 2023

Something About Sir John Bennett

Keeping to his schemes, the hours tick away.

I mentioned the Gog and Magog clock jacks recently (from The Lamp from the Warlock's Tomb (1988)) and how these Michigan immigrants were originally from London.  Gog and Magog tolled each quarter hour at the Sir John Bennett Jewelry Shop on Cheapside.

Soon after completing this entry, I learned more about the watchmaker John Bennett (1814-97).  A native of Greenwich, John Jr. followed his father's footsteps as a watchmaker and opened his own shop at 65 Cheapside, a few blocks east of Saint Paul's Cathedral and south of the Guildhall.

The London Street Views blog noted Bennett loved self-promotion:

Bennett was "watch maker to the Queen", "clock maker to the Royal Observatory", and sold "foreign clocks French Swiss and American", besides chronometers and Sheffield plate.  He went into advertising in a big way; no opportunity was overlooked to promote his business.  A large number of his advertisements included pictures of the various watches and clocks he sold.

But making watches and selling them in the shop was not the only activity of Bennett.  He gave lectures, for instance in Leeds, where in 1856, he not only treated his audience to an explanation of how watches were made, but also to his opinion why Switzerland was so far ahead of England in producing good watches.  He ascribed their success to the education of the people, the subdivision of labour and the extensive employment of women who were particularly well-suited for the delicate work of watch-making.

And before he ran out of time, Bennett ran for political office, too:

His career in politics started with election as councilman for the Cheap ward in 1860.  In 1871, he became sheriff of London and Middlesex, but he was, however, thwarted in his attempts to become an alderman and he stood unsuccessfully for parliament three times as a Liberal.  Some of the failures were undoubtedly due to his flamboyant personality which showed not only in his outspoken ideas but also in his dress and public appearance.  In the Lord Mayor's show he tended to appear in a velvet jacket and a broad-rimmed hat, seated on a white horse, and receiving more applause than the Lord Mayor himself.

He was described in an obituary as "a man of strong character, very eccentric, and one of the most familiar figures in London", whereas the family of his daughter, Alice, described him as 'abominable' and 'something of a monster'.

Sounds like a delightful fellow, though I wonder what his inspiration for creating figures of Gog and Magog were – other than their appearance in British mythology.

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