Thomas Lister (1745 to 26th December 1814)

 

Every Saturday for many years I used to visit the local library and leaf through that glossy enclave Countrylife magazine. In the reference room I used to see the same four people every week. Recently I visited again and two of them were still there. One often claimed Countrylife before me and there was a head-nod and no words and, when done, he would pass it to me. I’ve never spoken to any of them over the years.

 

I used to devour the pages of the handsome countryside mansions and £9-million-five-storey homes in tucked away in quiet streets in Kensington and then go onto the Posh Totty page. There’d usually be photograph of a posh lass and an accompanying line like, “Miss Petula Pashley of Wilmington Hall and daughter of Major James Bradshaw-Smythe is to the marry Percival Donaldson of Gover Hall, Somerset.” Even now I often wonder how many of these betrothed couples are still together, how many children they’d produced and what became of them.

 

The second half of the glossy magazine (that seem to waft off its own distinctive smell) was given over to adverts for polo sets, billiard tables, French polishers, mole catchers, live-in nannies, sit-on lawnmowers, etc. PA Oxleys’s often featured a full page advertising expensive antique clocks and barometers (they’re still going strong http://www.british-antiqueclocks.com)

 

One name reoccurred often - Thomas Lister, a master clockmaker. One night in bed I was reading a book about churches and was quietly glad to read this cherished craftsman was buried close to the church wall in Luddenden, West Yorkshire – not far from home. This church was already on my To Visit list as there are two soldiers buried there in the same grave.

 

One Sunday evening I found myself driving through narrow country lanes to see if I could find Thomas at St Mary’s Church. Nobody was there – none living anyway - and I had the place to myself. The handsome church hid a quaint quiet cemetery on a few levels with a stream trickling through it.

 

In 1730 Thomas Lister Senior was brought by his widowed mum to be apprenticed to John Stancliffe a clockmaker. He would be taught how to build clocks and given enough “meat, drink, lodging and washing” and two weeks per year off to learn how to write. He went on to be a competent craftsman until his death at 61. His son - also Thomas - was brought into the business and was such a prodigious craftsman that he made a considerable name for himself across Yorkshire and then Britain. Books say he was so talented he was often called down to London to fix the refractory clock at St Paul’s Cathedral. With a skill above average he made orreries too (no…I had no idea what they are either – they’re a mechanical model of the solar system that predicts the positions and paths of planets and moons.)

 

I went behind the church into the cemetery before darkness fell and found the two Ward brothers from the First World War who are buried in the same grave (26 and 29 years old.) I took some decent photos of it as I’m a member of a website where geeks like me can answer requests for pictures of specific headstones (recipients of these photos are so grateful, especially if they live abroad.)

 

Later a man and his daughter appeared in the cemetery and were playing Pooh Sticks on a bridge over the stream. I went a little chat with them and they were local but didn’t know of anyone famous buried nearby. The young girl won a game of Pooh Sticks and I said, “You won – you win 50 pence.” Her dad immediately said, “No – no, don’t even think about it Sophie.”

 

I strolled around the perimeter of the church itself. It was locked but soon I found the author of the book was accurate when he said Thomas was buried “close to the church wall” - it was a few feet away. As the grave was the table-top type I stood on it but not at the end where the head would be. A few Listers are buried here and Thomas, his wife and child (who died aged 9 months) are mentioned at the bottom of the carvings. I wondered how passers-by had ignored this grave not knowing the man who made ticking clocks for 49 years still has some of masterpieces ticking away today.

 

 

Pointing the kind of clocks Thomas made…

 

Passing the grave of the Ward brothers who died in the First World War…

 

Looking at the table-top graves as Thomas is buried in one of them…

 

Buried close to the church wall as mentioned in the book…

 

 

Here he is…