Helped by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures scheme, Jane Austen’s House Museum has recently acquired a longcase clock bearing the inscription ‘John Snelling Alton’. As local historian Jane Hurst explains in this article below, although this particular timepiece has no Austen connection, it is known that the family did have at least one item from the Snellings:
“The first clockmaker in the Snelling family was John Snelling, born in the Hampshire village of East Worldham in 1725. He may have been apprenticed to his father Edward and trained to be a blacksmith but, at some point, he turned to clockmaking and some examples of his work do survive labelled ‘John Snelling Worldham’. In the 1750s John and his wife moved to Alton, and by the 1780s he had passed his business to his son, James. John died in 1799, providing the latest date for the Museum’s new clock.
Registered as a watchmaker in the Hampshire Directory for 1784, John’s son James Snelling was to become a master craftsman who could train apprentices. While he would later describe himself as a ‘silversmith’ he clearly continued with watch and clockmaking, including work for the Austen family. Amongst some vouchers for work he did for Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight, is one for clock repairs dated 1807/8. We also know that James had other dealings with the Austen family as, on 15th May 1817, Jane’s sister-in-law (Mary Austen, second wife of James Austen) wrote in her diary: ‘I dined at Capt Austens bought a watch at Snelling.’”
The Museum was already seeking a longcase clock for its displays when, thanks to Jane’s research, we learnt about this fascinating local connection and realised there was only one maker for us! Having enlisted the Hampshire-based dealer Kevin Hurd to help us find a good representation of the Snellings’ work, we eventually settled on this moonphase example. While the clock must date from before Jane and her mother and sister came to Chawton, it looks very much at home alongside Jane’s parents’ furniture from Steventon and quietly animates the Dining Parlour with its quarter-hourly chimes throughout the day.
We are very grateful to Jane for sharing her research. If readers would like further details about the Snelling family, she is happy to be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org