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E J Dent & Co (Edward John Dent, 1790-1853)

Biography

Dent, E. J. & Co.

A family of horologists
Born in 1790 and apprenticed to a tallow-chandler, which he hated, Dent had learned the trade of watchmaking while living in lodgings with a married couple called Rippon. Richard Rippon was a watchmaker, and upon his death Dent married his widow, his two stepsons took his surname. Dent himself worked for some makers of repeating-actions for watches, called Callam. From 1815 to 1829 he worked for Vulliamy & Son, and he also spent some time with Barraud & Son, probably both on repeaters and helping with their chronometer work.

In 1830, John Roger Arnold, still one of the leading chronometer-makers in the metropolis, took into partnership in his business Edward John Dent who jumped at the chance and they formed Arnold & Dent. During this time a number of unusual chronometers were issued as the results of Dent's experiments with balances and glass hairsprings, also a number of astronomical clocks incorporating the ideas of Sir George Biddel Airy the Astronomer Royal. The partnership lasted ten years and towards the end of it, in 1839, the firm was added to the list of approved royal tradesmen. They continue to be listed until 1843, although Dent moved away in 1840, setting up shop two doors away from his former partner, at 82 Strand. How Dent contrived to switch the Appointment to himself alone is unclear. The partnership had obtained the sponsorship of G. B. Airy, the Astronomer Royal, and he spoke flatteringly of them. Yet when, on it's dissolution, Dent again approached Airy to supply a testimonial for a similar Appointment for himself alone, he was refused. E. Dent continues to be listed annually as a royal tradesman until his death in 1853.

In February 1852 E. J. Dent had been given the order for the great clock for the Houses of Parliament , designed by Edmund Becket Denison (later Lord Grimthorpe). A prototype of the gravity escapement had been built and tried successfully and is now in a Church at Cranbrook in Kent. On his death, one of his successors, his stepson Frederick William Dent, reportedly an unenthusiastic clockmaker, expected to take it over automatically. In fact the business was left to both his step sons, Frederick William Dent and Richard Edward Dent, on condition that the business continued with the same name.

Frederick took over the Strand & Royal Exchange shops as well as the Clock and Compass factory in Savoy Street. He did succeed to his stepfather's Royal Appointment, which in his case ran from 1854 to 1875, although he died in 1860; but he was not so fortunate over the Houses of Parliament contract, despite the fact that manufacture of the clock had been under way for some time, it was only after much argument, legal as well as technical, that he was eventually allowed to proceed, during which time the clock, completed in 1854 ran in the workshop. Delays in completing the clock tower itself meant that, in the end, the clock could not be installed until May 1859.

Richard took over the Cockspur Street shop and received £10,000 towards stock. He married Marianna Fredericka Cowslade in 1850. See the pages named M. F. Dent.

Frederick William Dent and his wife continued to prosper until 1858 when she suddenly became ill and, at the age of only forty-six, died. Frederick himself, distraught at the loss and the problems concerning the great clock at Westminster on his mind, gradually slid into alcoholism, dying on 25th April 1860. His intestacy was the subject of several lawsuits before being resolved. The litigation that followed Frederick Dent's death produced a settlement in one very important respect:, his business was taken over by his mother, Mrs Elizabeth Dent, formerly Rippon. She also seems to have inherited the Royal Appointment, which was still legally in the name of Frederick and was so published in official journals. In 1864 the firm adopted her initials into its business style, becoming 'E. Dent & Co. Watch & Chronometer Makers, To Her Majesty and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales'.

At this point it is interesting to consider where the Royal Appointments may have affected the fortunes of the Dents. Frederick Dent, apart from his connection with 'Big Ben', as it came to be known, had constructed a special design of chronograph, used to determine the time of Transits, for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, as well as the Standard Astronomical Clock for the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh.

From 1872 until 1925 the Standard Timekeeper was a Dent clock, then adapted to produce the "pips" and used until 1990 when the BBC took over. He also made a turret clock for the Palace of Balmoral -this in 1857- which indicated time on four dials, each 6 feet in diameter. Elizabeth Dent was granted the contract to maintain Big Ben, the parties thereto being specified as 'The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, The First Commissioner of Her Majesty's Public Works and Buildings and Elizabeth Dent' -quite an accomplishment for a woman, in those days. The annual fee for this work, 100 guineas a year (equalling about £2,000 in 1977). To fulfil the contract entailed employing two men for about three days a week so it cannot possibly have shown any profit but in terms of prestige and status, it must have reaped substantial dividends.

Elizabeth Dent died of gastro-enteritis, at the ripe old age of seventy-six, on 21st May 1865. The firm then passed into the hands of Thomas Buckney senior and his sister, Amelia Lydia Sophia Gardner - directors of the business previously. Still trading as E. Dent & Co, it was granted, in 1863, the Appointment of Watch and Clockmakers to HRH The Prince of Wales, by special warrant. They already held Appointments to the Queen and Prince Albert as well as to the Emperor of Russia. In 1876 the triangular trade mark, since applied to all E. Dent & Co watches and clocks, was obtained.

Thomas Buckney died in 1872, his son Thomas Buckney junior, born in 1838, had become superintendent of the manufacturing division of E. Dent & Co in 1864 and a partner in 1872, just a fortnight before his father's death. He then became acting senior partner, a post which was to become substantive on the death of Amelia Lydia Sophia Gardner, in 1881. From 1864 until his death in 1900, he was virtually in charge of the firm.

In December 1884, they company moved from their old shop at 4 Royal Exchange to 34/35 Royal Exchange. The factory was at 4 Hanway Place, London. In that year, Thomas Buckney, trading as E. Dent & Co, had been granted the Appointment of Chronometer, Clock and Watchmaker to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. In about 1920 it finally amalgamated with M. F. Dent to reunite the two halves of the original business.

Approximate Date periods and addresses for this company
Approx date period Address
1830-41 84 Strand, London
1841-46 82 Strand, London
1844-62 33 Cockspur Street
1846-62 35 Royal Exchange, London
1846-72 34 Royal Exchange, London
1852-97 61 Strand, London
1853-72 Savoy Street, London (factory)
1862-72 34 Cockspur Street
1887-1944 4 Royal Exchange, London
1916-21 28 Cockspur Street
1937-44 41 Pall Mall


Known serial numbers/dates
293 - c1827 - Regulator signed Arnold & Dent, Strand, London
504 - c1820 - mantel clock signed Dent, London
517 - c1844 - Carriage clock by Dent
522 - c1845 - Table Regulator signed Dent, London, Clockmaker to the Queen
693 - c1845 - Carriage clock by Dent London
966 - 1840 - 2 day Marine Chronometer signed Arnold & Dent, 84 Strand, London
1299 - c1860 - longcase regulator signed Dent, London
1302 - c1850 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent
1503 - c1852 - Carriage clock by Dent 61 Strand
2612 - c1930 - wall clock signed Dent, 4 Royal Exchange & 61 Strand, London
12683 - c1845-7 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, London
14880 - c1849-50 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, London
17966 - c1853 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, London
17967 - c1850 - Chronometer carriage clock by Dent
20338 - c1855 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, 33 Cockspur Street, London
21245 - c1856 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, 33 Cockspur Street, London
21574 - c1856 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, 33 Cockspur Street, London
22006 - c1857 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, 33 Cockspur Street, London
23083 - c1858 - Chronometer Carriage clock by Dent, 33 Cockspur Street, London
23715 - c1860 - Giant Carriage clock by M.F. Dent, 33 Cockspur Street, London
26374 - hallmarked 1870 - Hunter pocket watch signed Dent 33 Cockspur Street, London
32571 - c1898 - Carriage clock by Dent, 33 Cockspur Street, London
57959 - Hallmarked 1911 - Pocket watch signed Dent

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