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Kendall, Larcumlocked

  • Jonathan Betts

Kendall, Larcum (1719–1790), watchmaker, was born on 21 September 1719 at Charlbury in Oxfordshire, the elder of two sons of Moses Kendall, mercer and linen draper, and Anne, née Larcum, of Chipping Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. His parents were both Quakers. On 7 April 1735 Larcum was apprenticed to the watch, clock, and repeating-motion maker John Jefferys for seven years, at which time he was living with his parents in St Clement Danes in Westminster. In 1736 his maternal grandfather, Nicholas Larcum, a salesman of Chipping Wycombe, left property in trust for him, through his mother, and he inherited a reasonable private income.

In 1742, immediately after his apprenticeship had ended, Kendall set up on his own, working almost exclusively for the great watch and clock maker George Graham (1685–1751) as an escapement maker specializing in the horizontal (cylinder) escapement. Kendall was brought up a Quaker, but once his own master he no longer stayed as one of their brethren, though, according to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, he 'never quitted that simplicity of manners for which that sect is so generally admired; and a man more inflexibly upright, either in person, word or deed, perhaps scarcely ever lived'. He was highly respected as a craftsman, too: working under Graham and with his contemporary Thomas Mudge, he was part of the finest watchmaking team of the day. He appears, though, to have remained something of a loner in the trade; he was not a member of the Clockmakers' Company and probably not among the group of talented London watchmakers who met at the Devil tavern during the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

Through Jefferys and Graham, Kendall had connections with John Harrison, the great pioneer and inventor of the marine timekeeper and precision watch. In June 1765, by which time he was established at 6 Furnival's Inn Court, near Holborn Bars, the board of longitude selected him as one of six experts to witness the explanation by Harrison of the construction of his fourth timekeeper (H4), an event which took place between 14 and 22 August that year. During these deliberations the board also decided that a copy of the timekeeper must be made and Harrison recommended Kendall, who may have contributed to the making of the fourth timekeeper itself in the preceding years. Kendall agreed to make the copy 'part for part', but made it clear he had little faith in its design; he would make no guarantees of its good performance. The copy (later known as K1) was completed in 1769 and the following year was inspected by the same group as before, including Harrison's son William, who admitted that it was even better made than his father's original. Kendall was paid the agreed £450, plus an ex gratia payment of £50 for 'the extraordinary trouble in adjusting it for 9 months' and taking it and H4 to pieces. In 1772 K1 was sent for trials with James Cook on his second voyage of discovery to the south seas (1772–5), during which time it performed so well that Cook learned to rely on his 'trusty friend the watch', his 'never failing guide'.

Nevertheless, Harrison's design was too complex and expensive and in 1769 the board commissioned Kendall to create a simplified version. The result, K2 of 1771, which cost £200, was later famous for being on the Bounty when the notorious mutiny took place. The watch was taken to Pitcairn Island, only returning to England in 1840. It employed many of the features of H4, but Kendall omitted the essential remontoir mechanism, thus prejudicing its chances of success, and it never performed well. Further simplified designs by Kendall, including a type of escapement said to be his own invention, resulted in K3 of 1774 (costing £100), which was sent with Cook on his third, ill-fated voyage (1776–9). This watch also failed to perform as well as Harrison's, being fundamentally no better than K2. (These three timekeepers were all preserved at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.)

After this Kendall, following the lead of the great pioneer John Arnold, began making pocket timekeepers with ‘detached’ (pivoted detent) escapements; the collection of the Clockmakers' Company, Guildhall, London, included an example. The quality of his work was second to none, as is shown by the few watches, signed by him, which survive, but he never showed any real ingenuity of his own. He was primarily a watchmaker to the top retail trade, producing first-rate products to the design of those with greater imagination; the majority of his work, which also included some clocks and precision regulators, would appear to have been sold under other retailers' names.

Kendall died at Furnival's Inn Court on 22 November 1790, and was buried in the Quaker burial ground, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, on 28 November. As well as leaving a large sum in trust for his brother Moses and his family, his will, written on 6 November 1790 and proved on 8 December, also leaves his 'implements in trade' and personal effects to Moses, who arranged for them to be sold by auction; the contents of his workshop, and his household furniture and other effects, were sold by Christies on 23 December that year. It is not known whether Kendall ever married. No wife or children are mentioned in his will and the furniture and effects sold strongly suggest the home of a lifelong bachelor.


  • R. T. Gould, The marine chronometer: its history and development (1923)
  • GM, 1st ser., 60 (1790), 1213
  • D. Howse, ‘Captain Cook's marine timekeepers [pt 1]’, Antiquarian Horology and the Proceedings of the Antiquarian Horological Society, 6 (1968–70), 190–205
  • J. Harrison, The principles of Mr Harrison's timekeeper (1767)
  • C. Clutton, ‘Larcum Kendall's pivoted detent escapement’, Antiquarian Horology and the Proceedings of the Antiquarian Horological Society, 3 (1959–62), 172
  • G. L'E. Turner, ‘The auction sale of Larcum Kendall's workshop, 1790’, Antiquarian Horology and the Proceedings of the Antiquarian Horological Society, 5 (1965–8), 269–75
  • M. Quill, John Harrison, the man who found longitude (1966)
  • Mr Christie, A catalogue … the property of Mr Larcum Kendall (23 Dec 1790)
  • Digest registers of births, marriages and burials for England and Wales, c.1650–1837 [1992] [Berkshire and Oxfordshire quarterly meeting; microfilm]
  • K1, Royal Museums Greenwich,, 7 Jan 2015
  • ‘Larcum Kendall’, Oxfordshire blue plaques scheme,, 7 Jan 2015


  • BL, corresp., deeds, and papers, Add. MS 39822; Add. Ch 62374–62384
  • BM, documents relating to the making of ‘K1’
  • BM, family papers and contracts
  • CUL, board of longitude MSS (RGO), letters, and accounts, esp. RGO 14
  • NMM, timekeepers

Wealth at Death

£1200 consolidated bank annuities: will

£243 from sale of effects: Christie, Catalogue

Gentleman's Magazine