Based on the evidence of the present clock Ambrose Hawkins deserves to rank as one of England's top provincial clockmakers, alongside such names as Stumbles of Totnes, Cockey of Warminster and Gandy of Cockermouth.
The first record of his name is in the register of St. Cuthbert's Parish Church Wells, wherein he and his wife Ann are listed as the parents of one Elizabeth Hawkins who was baptised there in August 1690. By 1695 Hawkins had moved to Exeter and the Parish records at St. Martin's Church, Exeter show the baptism of three further sons.
Hawkins was never made a Freeman of Exeter but he was granted the right to set up shop in the Cathedral precincts by Bishop Sir Johnathan Trelawny;
.....I doe hereby Grant and Give Liberty and Priviledge to Ambrose hawkens to Open and Keepe Shopp in ye Churchyard of our Cathedrall Church of St. Peters Exon, Wherein to Worke and make Clocks, Watches and Jacks.............First day of May, 1696.
Later that year an agreement was drawn up for Hawkins to mend and care for the Cathedral clock for the sumn of £17.
The present clock is a quite remarkable feat of clockmaking, even for a first rate London maker of the period. Grand sonnerie clocks were rare at this time and month-going examples are almost unheard of. The dial is a wonderfully clever concept because it enhances the skeletonized chapter ring - which in itself is difficult to make. The engraving is typical of the period and the vignettes are an unpretentious depiction of country pursuits including fishing, boating, shooting, walking & gardening.
The movement has triple divided front plates, was a speciality often used by Joseph Knibb on some of his grande sonnerie and double-six hour striking clocks. Split front plates caused considerably more work for the clockmaker and were a great deal more difficult to make than a one-piece plate of brass; they were also rarely made as late as 1695/1700. Their advantage was that each of the three trains could be worked on individually, whereas with the full front plate all of the trains have to be dismantled at the same time.