Born in Yorkshire in 1687, Scafe (also Scaife) moved to London and worked At the Sign of the Clock in King Street, near Guildhall. He was Free of the Clockmakers' Company from 1721 to circa 1764 and in 1749 was Master. Britten quotes the Hon. B Fairfax as writing in 1727 of 'one William Scafe...now the most celebrated workman, perhaps in London and Europe'.
Although Scafe is a highly regarded maker, as Loomes (p.18) points out, for man whose career spanned 50 years remarkably few clocks by him are known. Those which are known are mostly 'quirky' but none are quite as extraordinary (eccentric one might say) as the present example. Even so, some interesting links can be seen between them.
The positioning of the seconds in the arch is rare, not least because placing it there involves re-arranging the going train (see Beeson p.273 and Roberts pp.75-77 for some examples). It appears to have been something of a speciality of Scafe's, as another example is shown by Roberts (p.74) and Robinson (p.271-274) and a Scafe longcase movement/dial with seconds in the arch was sold by PFK auctions (for £13,000) in September 2002.
The present clock has star engraving on the dial and this can be seen on three other known Scafe longcases: the Roberts/Robinson example, a quarter-chiming longcase clock exhibited by Derek Roberts Antiques in October 2000 and the movement/dial sold by PFK auctions. It may also be seen on known Scafe table clocks, including an example exhibited by Derek Roberts Antiques in spring 1990, another sold Christie's London 4 July 1990 (lot 101) and another sold Bonhams London 3 December 2002 (lot 125).
The triangular day of week sector bordered by engraved panels is also distinctive. Interestingly, on the Roberts/Robinson clock the number of the day is engraved and not its name; similarly on this clock only the day's deity and symbol is given. The sector on the PFK auctions clock is very similar but also gives the name of the day. A variant of this 'Scafe sector' can be seen on the Bonhams table clock, where one sector in the arch shows the day of week and deity and another shows the Scafe signature. On the Christie's clock a less elaborate sector shows the signature.
One of the clock's most remarkable features is the design of the chapter ring and the manner in which the time is indicated. This is not seen on other known Scafe clocks. From one o'clock to eleven o'clock the hour hand proceeds at regular speed. From eleven to twelve it moves faster and then again between twelve and one; the hour hand thus moves as far between eleven and one as between one and eleven. Perhaps more extraordinarily, the hour and minute hands cannot be adjusted. To reset the time one must either wait for the correct time and start the clock or remove the escapement. It is unclear why Scafe would do this but there is no doubt that it was intentional.
The history of the dial is equally compelling. Examination of its reverse shows that Scafe used an older dial and adapted it to his purposes, incorporating some elements within his own design. Thus we see a dial previously with a shallow 'bell top' arch now with a more pronounced arch. It is probable that Scafe took some of the dial furnishings from its previous usage also, including the exquisitely engraved terrestrial globe and the beautifully finished foliate mounts. Where the 'original' dial came from cannot be determined but it too would have been a grand affair and shows the kind of workmanship one might expect from a maker such as Delander. Certainly it would not have been the kind of dial to be discarded by any sensible clockmaker and it is not surprising to see it adapted by Scafe to suit his purposes.
Equally unusual is the employment of two pendulums. The principal of antiphase between pendulums was noted by Huygens as early as 1665 but the arrangement on the present clock (one pendulum above the other, shared escapement) implies something else. There has been restoration to the upper section of the movement and the workmanship on the rise-and-fall cage is less sophisticated than elsewhere but there is no doubt that the movement was conceived with two pendulums in mind. What is also certain is that, with the mirror to the backboard and glazed panel to the trunk door, these pendulums were meant to be seen swinging, in opposite directions to one another. The space between their suspension points is such that one can see one bob clearly above the other.
The size of the clock is also noteworthy, standing as it does nearly 11 feet high. The lower 'foot' has been replaced and it is possible that may once have been a little taller even. It is then, both in concept and presence, a grand clock and everything points to a special commission. Who the client was is not known but the dial features in particular point to an individual with a 'hands on' interest in his purchase.
Derek Roberts, British Longcase Clocks, Schiffer 1990, p.74; Tom Robinson, The Longcase Clock, Antique Collectors' Club 1981, pp.271-274; C.F.C. Beeson, 'A Clock by John Hawting, Oxford', Antiquarian Horology, Vol.IV, December 1964, pp.273-274; Brian Loomes, 'The Mystery of William Scaife', Clocks magazine, January 1988, pp.16-18.