wtorek, 17 października 2017

John Benjamin Tolkien (1752-1819): a revised summary

This text was revised in October 2017 after new discoveries in the archives of St Salvator church in Gdańsk – R.D.
"Certainly the story - typical of the kind of tale that middle-class families tell about their origins - gave colour to the presence of Tolkiens in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century, making their living as clock and watch manufacturers and piano-makers. And it was as a piano-maker and music-seller that John Benjamin Tolkien, Arthur’s father, had come to Birmingham and set up business some years later."
"These stories had begun during the Leeds years. John, the eldest son, often found difficulty in getting to sleep. When he was lying awake his father would come and sit on his bed and tell him a tale of ‘Carrots’, a boy with red hair who climbed into a cuckoo clock and went off on a series of strange adventures."
H. Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien. A Biography

John Benjamin Tolkien's signature. In 1777 he wrote his name in the German form

John Benjamin Tolkien's grave in London
John Benjamin Tolkien (earlier Johann Benjamin Tolkien) was born in June 1752 in St Salvator Lutheran parish of the famous Polish port town Gdańsk (German form Danzig) and died on 27 January 1819 in Clerkenwell, London. 

He is buried at the Methodist cemetery of Bunhill Fields, near his brother, Dan Godleip Tolkien (earlier Daniel Gottlieb Tolkien), b. in June 1747 (Gdańsk) and d. in May 1813 in Shoreditch, London. The "London Brothers" had also at least one sister, Eleonora Renata Bergmann, née Tolkien (1756-1829) whose son, Daniel Gottlieb Bergmann joined the uncles in England in the 18th century.

Daniel Gottlieb, Johann Benjamin and Eleonora Renata were children of Christian (b. 1706 – d. after 1784) and Anna Euphrosina Tolkien, née Bergholtz (d. after 1784) and their earliest years were spent in Gdańsk between the Lutheran churches of St Salvator and St Catherine (where the Tolkiens were buried: Michael – their uncle, a master-furrier, Euphrosina – their aunt and other Tolkiens from Gdańsk). The Tolkiens roots are in a small town Kreuzburg in East Prussia where we meet J.R.R. Tolkien's ancestors in the 16th-18th centuries (see here)! One of their cousins was Christian Tolkien (1762-1821) who was a member of the Gdańsk middle-class, an antiquarian and a member of the city council. Their uncle (father's brother), Michael Tolkien (spelled also Tolckin and Tolkiehn) lived in the years 1708-1795 and was a master-furrier, an elder of the craft guild of the furriers of Gdańsk, a rich man. Daniel was probably his apprentice before two brothers emigrated to London.

Daniel, Johann and Eleonora were baptized in this font in St Salvator Lutheran church
in the Gdańsk suburb Petershagen (Zaroślak)
Daniel Gottlieb and Johann Benjamin emigrated to the United Kingdom in the years 1766˜–1772 when Gdańsk was blockaded by the Prussians (during the first partition of Poland). Daniel was 20 when he left Gdańsk for Amsterdam, and Johann Benjamin joined him in c. 1772. One of the inspirations for their migration had the religious character. It was connected with the religious revival of the 18th century! Their start was quite successful in London where John and Dan found wifes soon and began their bussinesses. Daniel Gottlieb Tolkien received (bought) the British citizenship in 1794 (see his Act of Naturalization with the name "Dantzig", 'Gdańsk' and with the names of his parents – here).

Baptism of Johann Benjamin, son of Christian Tollkühn (in other documents Tolkien and Tollkien)
and Anna Euphrosina – 11 June 1752, St Salvator church, Petershagen, Gdańsk
The earliest document which tells us about the Tolkien brothers in London comes from 27 April 1777 from St James church, Clerkenwell, London. This is the act of marriage between John Benjamin (24) and his first wife, Mary Tolkien, née Warner (who died in 1780). About the possible Christian denomination ("Countess of Huntingdon's Connection") of John and Mary read here. Mary Tolkien gave birth to two daughters of John Benjamin: Anna Maria Tolkien (1779-1815) and Elisabeth Tolkien (1780-). Mary died probably when giving birth to Elisabeth. (See the document of the marrage). Their children are baptized in the Lutheran Chapel in Savoy!

German Lutheran Church in Savoy, London. The first church of the Tolkiens in England!
(now not existing)
First wife of John died in 1779. On 22 April 1781 John Benjamin (28) got married for the second time. The act of the marrage comes from St Sepulchre church in Holborn, London. His wife was Mary Tolkien, née Wall (1746-1837), seven years older lady from London. John and Mary had three children: Benjamin Tolkien (1782-1787), George Tolkien (1784-1840; this is J.R.R. Tolkien's great-grandfather!) and John Benjamin Tolkien (1788-1859).

On 7 April 1782 John Benjamin (29) is a witness during his brother's wedding with Ann Austin.

Original signatures of Daniel and John
We don't know what was John Benjamin's profession before 1790s. Maybe he was an apprentice to a watch and clockmaker in London. In 1792 in the age of 39 John Benjamin Tolkien became a co-owner of the clock and watchmaker firm which is known as Gravell & Tolkien. Its address was 49 St John Street, London. It belonged earlier to the famous Eardley Norton (who was born 1728 and died 1792; he was a London clockmaker between 1760 and 1792. He became a freeman of the Clockmaker Company in 1770**). One of the earliest clocks made by Gravell & Tolkien can be seen in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia (see here)!

Gravell & Tolkien clock in The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia
Gravell and Tolkien took over Eardley Norton's business in 1792 maintaining the firms reputation. In the early 1790s some of the clocks were signed "GRAVELL & TOLKIEN AND EARDLEY NORTON", or “EARDLEY NORTON" on the dial and "GRAVELL & TOLKIEN" on the movement. It appears Gravell and Tolkien continued to use Eardley’s stock of cases and dials when they took over his business after his death in 1792/94. Soon they started to use "Gravell & Tolkien, Successors to Eardley Norton". They continued working from the same premises in 49 St John, London until 1820, followed by William Gravell & Son (1820-50), and Robert Rolfe (from 1850). 

By a Special Command Of
THIS CLOCK was designed and
commenced by
49, St. John Street, London;
and finished by his successors:
in 1792.
In 1799 John Benjamin's son, George Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien's great-grandfather) is an apprentice to John's brother, Daniel, the City citizen and a furrier. He resides in "Furrier Trade" on White Lyon Street, London ("Master Daniel Tolkien of Cheapside, London Skinner and Furrier").

George Tolkien, John Benjamin's son, was an apprentice to Daniel Tolkien, a London furrier
In 1808 John Benjamin (55) has his new business: "Tolkien & Dancer" Watch-movement & Tool-manufacturer at 145 St. John's Street:

May 1813 is hard for John Benjamin Tolkien (60). His brother Daniel Tolkien dies on 23 May (he is buried on the Methodist cemetery by the Wesley Chapel by City Road, London – about 100 meters to John Benjamin Tolkien's grave). We also read in the newspaper The News (from 9 May 1813) that in the same month John Benjamin Tolkien, "china and glass-seller from St Paul's church-yard, London") bankrupted:

So we can see that after John Benjamin finished his cooperation with Gravell (the clock and watchmaker) and Dancer, he was a china and glass-seller in the City or in Covent Garden (where there is another St Paul's church). It is interesting that in the same time his possible younger brother living still in Gdańsk, Christian Tolkien, was in the same time an antiquarian (having his antiquary on Tagnetergaße and Klein Schirrmachergße – read about this here and here).

In 1815 (he is 62) his oldest daughter dies, Anna Maria Tolkien.

On 27 January 1819 John Benjamin Tolkien dies in the age of 66. He and his wife are probably the Methodists and could know personally John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (Daniel Gottlieb and Johann Benjamin's names are proofs of the Pietist Lutheranism of the 18th century – in England it was quite natural that the Pietists became Methodists). John Benjamin Tolkien and his wife Mary are buried in the same grave with William Shrubsole, an English musician and composer of the hymn-tune "Miles Lane" (Tolkien Gateway). It was set to the hymn by Edward Perronet, All hail! the power of Jesus' Name. Shrubsole knew Perronet at Canterbury, and Perronet left him property. The first notes of "Miles Lane" were cut on Shrubsole's tombstone.

I want to thank Oronzo Cilli from Italy and Professor Adam Szarszewski for their help in writing this text.

* Eardley Norton was one of the most famous and talented clockmakers of the second half of the 18th Century and was based at 49 St John St, Clerkenwell, London. He was born in Lincolnshire in 1728 and apprenticed to Robert Dawson, a clockmaker in Alford (Lincolnshire) on 17 September 1743 for the usual period of 7 years. Eardley's mothers name was Elizabeth and she was a widow at the time. He was accepted into the Clockmakers Company in 1762 and is noted as a maker from 1771 to 1794. In 1771 he patented (Pat. No. 987) 'a clock which strikes the hours and parts upon a principle entirely new; and a watch which repeats the hours and parts, so concisely contrived as of being conveniently contained not only in a watch but also in its appendage...' (see Britten's Old Clocks and Watches and Their makers, London, 1956, p.446).

He was appointed Royal Clockmaker to King George III and made an Astronomical Clock for him with four dials that is considered his finest work, which he made to stand in the library of Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace, London). He was paid at the time 1,042 pounds sterling, quite a considerable sum at the time, and it is now a part of the Royal Collection. (see Cedric Jagger Royal Clocks, London, 1983, Figs.151-152).

Some of his more notable works have been noted at the National Museum of Stockholm (small cartel clock), Cassel Landes Museum, France (clock), Palace Museum, Peking (elaborate automator clock with organ), Virginia Museum, USA (bracket clock) and the Ibert Collection, British Museum (marine chronometer) and an elaborate automaton clock with organ in the Palace Museum, Pekin. In addition three watches made by him are part of the collection of “The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers” (“The Guildhall Collection”) and housed in the City of London. He also made a fine musical clock for Empress Catherine of Russia (Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers, Spon, Seventh Edition 1956, p.446).

A musical clock by him adorns the front dust jacket of Richard C R Barder's The Georgian Bracket Clock 1714-1830, Antique Collectors' Club, 1993.

He is believed to have built up a thriving export business, particularly for his watches. Whilst these may have not been made to the highest quality those made for the domestic market were of top London Manufacture. These were sometimes signed “Yeldrae Notron” (Eardley Norton backwards) possibly to avoid taxes.

He usually numbered his clocks either on the dial or on the backplate. The highest number recorded is 3792. No. 3766 is signed "Gravell & Tolkien, Successors to Eardley Norton" on the backplate.
On 30 May 1760 Eardley Norton, in St John Street London, took James Harrison as an apprentice for 7 years.

In 1772 Sarah Norton, the daughter Eardley Norton, has married clockmaker Samuel Green, at St Andrew in Holborn. About this time Samuel has established himself as an organ builder in Red Lion Street, Holborn.

Gravell and Tolkien took over his business in 1792 maintaining the firms reputation. In the early 1790’s some of the clocks were signed "GRAVELL & TOLKIEN AND EARDLEY NORTON", or “EARDLEY NORTON" on the dial and "GRAVELL & TOLKIEN" on the movement. It appears Gravell and Tolkien continued to use Eardley’s stock of cases and dials when they took over his business after his death in 1792/94. Soon they started to use "Gravell & Tolkien, Successors to Eardley Norton". They continued working from the same premises in St Johns St London until 1820, followed by William Gravell & Son (1820-50), and Robert Rolfe (from 1850). [source]

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