Friday, 27 November 2015

What the Papers Said, Miscellany 2

An Apprentice's Lesson in Scrappage

This report appeared in The Public Advertiser, 18 January 1786:

The same afternoon, about five o’clock, William Linsley, apprentice to Mr. Gibbard, watch-maker, of Clerkenwell-close, was knocked down in St.John’s-square by a fellow, who, after beating him in a cruel manner, robbed him of a bag, containing a dozen silver watch cases.  The youth pursued the villain into Red-lion-street, where he threw the cases into the area of the house of Mr. Haines, surgeon; at which instant the lad caught hold of him, and with assistance took him before Mr. Blackborow, who committed him for trial.

William Linsley, 1771-1838, was a watchcase maker active in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  His work included two complex, Turkish export market, multi-case sets made circa 1825 for Ralph Gout, who, like Linsley, was based in Bunhill Row near Moorfield.
Ralph Gout #25019
The Linsley watchcases I have seen are nicely made and delicately decorated.  One tends to think that artisans like Linsley were bench-bound, relatively introverted types: it’s good to see, from the article above, (from The Public Advertiser 18 January 1786), that at least one was pretty fearless and very definitely robust!
Have you got the time luv? 
The Times began a report on 16 April 1835 as follows:
Yesterday a dashing nymph of the pave´ named Charlotte Dutton was at Marylebone police-office brought up in custody in front of Mr Rawlinson.  She was charged by Mr Thomas Marchant, pawnbroker, on suspicion of having stolen a very valuable gold repeater, by Barwise.
Charlotte claimed it had been given to her by ‘a gentleman’ who called upon her at her apartments.  Mr Rawlinson asked her if this ‘gentleman’ was present in the police-office.  Affirming, she pointed at the man whom Mr Rawlinson then addressed:
Mr. RAWLINSON: What is your name Sir?
Witness (after some hesitation): Walker – Edward Walker.
Mr. RAWLINSON: Where do you reside?
Witness: At the Bedford Hotel, Covent-garden; but I don’t know why I should be obliged to answer the question.
Mr. RAWLINSON: This watch (producing it) is said to have been yours: now . . .
Witness (hastily): That’s quite correct; it was mine.  Barwise made it for me the beginning of last year and I paid him 95 guineas for it.
MR RAWLINSON: How does she become possessed of it?
Witness: I gave it to her voluntarily.  I know no more; and if you require further information about me or the watch, I can only refer you to Barwise.
Mr. RAWLINSON: I must have a little more from you yet Sir.  Pray how long have you known this female?
Witness (with much indifference): Perhaps a week or two.
Mr. RAWLINSON: I suppose she’s a girl of the town?
Witness (hastily): I don’t know.
Mr. RAWLINSON: What, give a watch worth 95 guineas to a girl whom you know so little about?  Now, tell me, doesn’t she live in a house of ill fame?
Witness (angrily): That’s no affair of mine; I gave her the watch.
Mr. RAWLINSON: What on earth could have induced you to give her so valuable an article?
Witness (with increased warmth): What is that to you, Sir?  It was my own and surely I had a right to do with it as I pleased.  I tell you again I paid Barwise 95 guineas for the article.
Mr. RAWLINSON: Well, Sir, it is my duty before I give it up to any one to make further inquiry respecting a man who can act so indiscreetly as you have done.  You may imagine . . .
Witness, who appeared in a very great passion, here quitted the office without waiting for the termination of the magistrate’s address.
Mr. Marchant mentioned to Mr. Rawlinson that he had ascertained from Mr. Barwise the correctness of the witness’s statement as to his purchase of the watch.  He had also received information that Mr. Walker had latterly come into the possession of considerable property, which he was squandering away in the most thoughtless and inconsiderate manner imaginable.  The executors were greatly grieved at the way in which he was going on, and he (Mr. Marchant) had no objection to give privately their residence (which was near at hand), if the magistrate wished it.
Mr. RAWLINSON having obtained their address, said that he should for the present cause the watch to be impounded in the office, in order that other inquiries might be made.
The prisoner, who said that Mr. Walker had been in the habit of visiting her, and that she had had the watch about three weeks, was then discharged. 

What I believe could be called, ‘a happy ending’, (in which I understand ladies like Ms. Dutton have traditionally specialised). 

Eardley Norton, RIP? 

CAPITAL WATCHES, MUSICAL CLOCKS, &c, By Mr. SERGEANT.  On the Premises, No. 49, St. John’s-street, Clerkenwell, on Wednesday, March 6, and following Days, at Eleven o’Clock, by Order of the Executors, THE valuable STOCK in TRADE of that well-known eminent Artist Mr. E. NORTON, Musical Clock and Watch-maker, deceased; comprising a great variety of excellent Gold Chronometer Horizontal Watches, curious Time-pieces and Regulators, of immense value, Musical and Chime Clocks, a profusion of unfinished Work, by the most skilful workmen, Models, Movements, Patterns, &c – To be viewed on Monday, the 4th of March, and to the Sales, where Catalogues may be had, and of Mr. Sergeant, No. 86 Cannon-street. 

The notice above is from The Times, 22 February 1793. 

Eardley Norton is best known for the four dial astronomical clock he made for George III.  It is a very elegant object, as can be seen here: 

Norton’s premises were at 49 St John Street, Clerkenwell.  Britten’s gives his active dates as 1760-94. 

Although he made many fine clocks, Norton was also acclaimed for the quality of his watches, several of which featured cylinder escapements.  Accordingly, his name was one of those applied by Swiss makers to the dials of their (mediocre) pocket watches destined for the English market in the nineteenth century, for example:  At least this sort of fakery allowed some of our great watchmakers to enjoy life after death . . . of a sort. 

Just a piece of nonsense from The Public Advertiser, 25 October 1786: 

HERE lies, in a horizontal position,
The outside case of
Peter Pendulum, Watch-maker,
Whose abilities in that line were an honour
To his profession
Integrity was the main spring
And prudence the regulator
Of all the actions of his life,
Humane, generous and liberal,
His hand never stopped
‘Til he had relieved distress.
So nicely regulated were all his motions
That he never went wrong
Except when set a going
By people
Who did not know
His key
Even then, he was easily
Set right again
He had the art of disposing his time
So well,
That his hours glided away
In one continued round
Of pleasure and delight,
‘Til an unlucky minute put a period to
His existence.
He departed this life
Wound up
In hopes of being taken in hand
By his Maker,
And of being thoroughly cleaned, repaired,
And set a-going
In the world to come. 

A Man of Contradictions

In my post about John Walker (25 November 2015) I mentioned Milner & Son’s ‘thief-proof’ safes.  Now, from the watchmaker’s side of the fence I’d like to introduce you to the ‘Unstealable Watch’!  This was the ‘invention’ of Sir John Bennett, a Victorian maker/retailer with a very twenty-first century approach to marketing.  Bennett’s advertisement in The Times, 24 May 1858 reads:

Bennetts Unstealable Watches- In consequence of the number of valuable WATCHES stolen from the person by snapping off the pendant ring J BENNETT of 65 Cheapside, is prepared to apply to any watch purchased at his establishment an ingeniously contrived revolving pendant bow, by which this mode-of-theft will be rendered impossible.  Eight day Watches – J Bennett has recently completed a selection of gold watches of superior quality, at 25 guineas each which require winding up but once a week.  Bennett’s model watches, in gold, from 12 guineas; in silver, 5 guineas; Bennett’s workman’s watch 3 guineas.  Bennett’s presentation watches 1st class, in gold, 40 guineas; in silver 20 guineas;  2d class, gold, 30 guineas; silver, 15 guineas; 3d class, gold 20 guineas; silver 10 guineas.  Every watch skilfully examined, timed and its performance guaranteed.  Watches sent free and safe by post.  Post-Office orders to John Bennett, watch manufactory, 65 Cheapside. 

In the above you’ll note a super-confident attitude towards unconditional claim-making, (never mind watch-making), and a touching, (and definitely un-twenty-first century), belief in the reliability and integrity of the postal service. 

John Bennett was born in 1814.  His parents, John and Elizabeth were watchmakers, living and working in Greenwich.  John Jnr carried on after their deaths, moving to the City in 1846 with premises at 65 Cheapside.  He eventually expanded these by taking over no. 64 and also had a presence at 62 Cornhill.  The business was successful and Bennett further elevated his status by becoming a councillor in the 1860s and a sheriff in 1871.  He was knighted in 1872.
Bennett’s Cheapside premises (1920s) 

Bennett’s ambitions in public life/politics were to an extent frustrated by the Establishment’s relatively negative reaction to his flamboyant style and manner.  As a response, he re-doubled his efforts in terms of commerciality, investing much energy and innovative thinking.  His advertising in newspapers/magazines was prolific and with high impact from the liberal use of illustration, (see below, left).  Having achieved Royal approval, he reiterated it to the public at every opportunity, both in print and, for example, with bold engraving on his products, see below, right). 
Note that the watch shown above proclaiming Royal patronage has a Swiss movement.  Ironic this as Sir John was one of the first high profile figures to stimulate public debate about the precarious position of the English watchmaking trade.  Complacent from a long period of technical and commercial superiority, the Trade had become uncompetitive in terms of product aesthetics, price, consequent loss of volume and erosion of profit margins.  The immediate threat was from the Swiss manufacturers.  One of the factors supporting the Swiss business model was the use of female workers, (their pay being less than that provided to men).  I am writing this in an England where last week a female lawyer caused a media frenzy over her withering riposte to a man’s compliments on the business networking website, LinkedIn, about her sexually attractive appearance.  I imagine Sir John might have experienced some of the same opprobrium if ‘Women’s Lib’ had already had a hold in the 1850s, when he advocated the employment of female watchmakers, (and, by implication, their adverse pay differential vis-√†-vis their male counterparts). 

But Sir John would no doubt have shrugged that off.  Among his characteristics were: persistence, a thick skin and plenty of cunning.  Consider this extract from Raymond Lamont Brown’s book, John Brown: Queen Victoria’s Highland Servant:

Over the years many tradesmen sought to curry favour with John Brown in the hope that this would bring them to a useful connection with the Queen.  One assiduous practitioner of such flattery was Sir John Bennett, watchmaker and jeweller in London’s Cheapside from 1846 to 1889.  After showing cases of jewellery to the Queen on one occasion, although she bought nothing, Bennett was advised by an equerry that he should share his lunch, which the Queen had authorised in the Steward’s Room at Windsor Castle, with John Brown and also do a little marketing.  So Bennett invited Brown and during the meal he obsequiously expressed his love for Deeside and all things Scottish.  For his part John Brown supplied wine from the Queen’s cellars to accompany the meal and a convivial afternoon resulted.  Thereafter courtiers noted that the Queen became a good customer of Bennett’s. 

Sir John Bennett, the man who strove to defend English watchmaking yet turned profit by retailing Swiss made products was also the loving husband/father who had no less than seven children by his long term mistress.  One result of this was a revision to his will, which should have benefitted his wife and three children, but which then had to embrace his second ‘family’.  The estate was subject to an adjustment from £463 19s. 6d down to £88 9s. 6d. 

But let’s not allow these little matters of unpleasantness to detract from Bennett’s industry, commerciality and pursuit of quality.  As to quality, one of his watches is included in the prestigious collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, catalogued as follows: 

499  Sir John Bennett  England  HM 1884

Gold case.  Stamped A. & 42972.  Enamel dial.  Subsidiary seconds dial.  Three-quarter plate.  Keyless wind.  Signed ‘Sir John Bennett 65 & 64 Cheapside.  London.  42972.  Diameter 48mm.  Collinson Collection. 

And here is one of his elegant pocket chronometers, #14097:
Courtesy of Jones and Horan 
52mm, 18K original HC bearing London hallmarks for 1859, maker's mark JG in oval cartouche (various possibilities), signed gold cuvette additionally marked "64 & 65 Cheapside, Maker to the Royal Observatory" with English Royal Crest above, KWKS, signed WED also marked "Chronometer," spring detent escapement with helical HS, 12-14J, gilt movement. 

Sir John died in 1897.  The business continued as a limited liability company until the 1930s.  Henry Ford bought the building itself and its external clock with its Gog and Magog figures.  It was rebuilt at Dearborn, Michigan within the Henry Ford Organisation’s Greenfield Village site.  For much more on this -

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

John Walker

This header to the current John Walker website aptly celebrates a trading heritage which stretches back over 185 years – not bad going!  

Britten’s entry is: 1836-d.1880; 40 Princes St, Leicester Sq 1836-47(dir); No 35 in 1838 (dir); No 48 in 1840 (Bri); 1849-67 (dir); afterwards 68 Cornhill (Bri); 1861-75 (dir); & 230 Regent St 1864-75 (dir); 76 Strand 1871-5 (dir); chronom. maker; inventor & manfr the crystal case watch, prize medals 1862, 1867; & railways guard’s watch 1875, advts (dir) 

Around 1906 the Firm was located at 1 South Molton Street and moved to 64 South Molton Street in 1981 – this being the current location of what is now a service/repair-based business. 

After the founding John’s death, the business became a limited liability company.  John’s son, Frederick, sold the business to Stephen Martin – whose descendant, also Steve, is the current proprietor. 

The firm’s watch products ranged over a wide spectrum of quality from mundane timepieces to chronometers/repeaters.  The association with the railways included, as well as the supply of guards’ watches, maintenance of a huge number of station-mounted, Walker-signed clocks – so the name had a good chance of being subliminally burnt into the nation's horological consciousness. 

This is the text of an advertisement from The Times, 1878:

WALKER’S CRYSTAL CASE WATCHES.- Prize Medals-London 1862; Paris 1867.-John Walker, Watch and Clock Manufacturer, 77 Cornhill; 230 Regent-street; and 76 Strand.  Gold keyless half chronometers, from £31 10s; gold lever watches, from £12 12s; ladies’ gold watches, from £6 6s; silver lever watches, from £5 5s; silver watches for youths, from £3 3s.  Price list free. 

Walker’s business had also come to be ‘advertised’ in the editorial of the paper with its coverage of his civil action against the firm of Milner & Son in February 1866.  Milner manufactured safes that were supposed to be thief-proof.  Walker sued them because a year earlier the Milner safe at his Cornhill premises was easily cracked and £6,000 worth of stock stolen, (including 465 watches).  Walker’s displeasure was heightened by Police assertions that the shop’s security practices were inadequate, that he, personally, was negligent.  I would imagine that he became apoplectic when his action failed on the grounds that the short space of time taken to break into the safe was not the central cause of his loss.  (The ringleaders of the thieves themselves had already been sentenced to twenty years' penal servitude). 

This is an example of the ready availability of John Walker movements on eBay nowadays:
Here are some sample London movement numbers: 


Movement #







68 Cornhill/230 Regent St



68 Cornhill/230 Regent St






230 Regent St



77 Cornhill/230 Regent St



127 Fenchurch St/230 Regent St



63 Bond St/127 Fenchurch St

These two are Coventry-sourced: 

Movement #
127 Fenchurch St
127 Fenchurch St/230 Regent St


Alexander Hare

Photograph courtesy of Fellows
I was outbid recently on this Alexander Hare watch, #218.  Circa 1770, it has the classic later eighteenth century look and is in a shell case.  It seemed a good opportunity to acquire a watch by this superior maker at a reasonable price, since the dial was described as being in poor condition.  It made £520. 

The Britten's entry for Hare is:
1770-1821; CChon. f. 1781; 17 Greville st, Hatton Gdn (Bri); 17 Greville st 1791-1821 9dir); watch maker; finely enamelled watch 1782 (Bri); verge metal watch (Guildh. mus.) (Bri)
The watch with the Guildhall Museum reference is #439, described: c1790; Gilt-metal pair case. White enamel dial.  Beetle hands. Endstone. Worm set-up. Diams 49 and 42mm.
There is another very nice Hare in the Archive of David Penney's Antique Watch Store -  Movement #186, this watch is dated 1769.
The style of this Hare watchpaper is notably 'modern' with its grid format, whereas watchmakers generally in this period favoured ornate, figurative designs for their Papers and Trade Cards.

 © Trustees of the British Museum

Confirmation that Hare was held in very high regard in his lifetime is seen in an article by Jonathan Betts in Antiquarian Horology, Vol. 30, Issue 1, March 2007.  The article is about John Hyacinth De Magellan, a Portuguese technology entrepreneur.  Hare, alongside Benjamin Vulliamy and Alexander Cumming, was commissioned by De Magellan to produce innovative/high quality watches.  The article includes details of one of Hare's products for De Magellan, #561, circa 1783 - cylinder escapement and unusual main dial, primarily for Minutes, with two subsidiary dials for, 1) Seconds and, 2) Hours.

References to Hare are not easy to find.  Of an unexpected kind is this advertisement copy: "Mr. de Verdion, at Mr. Hare's, no. 17. Greville Street, Hatton Garden, teaches German, French, and English, In the most Expeditious Manner, And Upon the most Reasonable Terms. He also Translates into either of these Languages".

That Alexander Hare and his business remained prosperous towards the end of his life is perhaps evidenced by his having the means to bring a legal action in December 1821 against a neighbour whose building extension work was robbing the rear of Hare's premises of light and air; (there's nothing new under the sun).  (Reported in The Times, 6th December 1821).

Monday, 23 November 2015

It's Alright for Some

In April 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte was availing himself of two watches and a carriage-type clock from the workshop of Abraham-Louis Breguet.  One of the watches not only had repeating and calendar functions, but also an automatic winding movement – known as a perp√©tuelle at the time.  Although timekeeping accuracy was especially important to such an ambitious military commander, Boney was clearly indulging himself with these highly desirable goodies: money, presumably, was no object. 

That same month, in England, The Duties on Clocks & Watches Act, 1797, was repealed.  Although in force for such a short time, the Act had inflicted great hardship on the watchmaking trade and its repeal came too late for many craftsmen who had lost their livelihoods as a consequence of this ill-advised statute. 

The Duty was levied, (on all property, private or otherwise), as follows: 

Five shillings per clock

Two shillings and sixpence per base metal/silver pocket watch

Ten shillings per gold-cased pocket watch 


William Pitt was faced with an urgent need to raise tax revenues in the seventeen nineties to fund army and navy expenditures necessary to resist Napoleon’s military aggression. 

There had been no consultation about the introduction of the tax on clocks and watches and no apparent anticipation of its effect on the watchmaking trade: it was disastrous – as can be understood from the following report in The Times, 2 April 1798: 

The CASE of the DISTRESSED WATCH and CLOCK-MAKERS.  It is a melancholy fact, now established by authentic proof, that at least one-half of the whole Watch and Clock Trade for home consumption has failed for some months past.   The weekly allowance given to most of the poor families in Clerkenwell has been reduced much below that which the same class of persons used heretofore to receive, and also much below the allowance which is now customarily given in other parishes.  The poor, nevertheless, are unable to migrate to the parts of the town where the rates would be more adequate to their relief, the poor laws not permitting any one to burden a new parish until after he shall have rented in it a house for £10 a year.  Such indeed is the extent of the calamity of this parish in particular, that many persons in it, who once lived in credit, are now every day in the utmost peril of starving, the funds which have been raised in money being all expended, and many of the poor inhabitants not having among themselves the means of purchasing, even at the low price demanded, the soup which is made for them.   When notice was given that £100, granted by a Society for the redemption of pawns, was to be distributed, the applicants who appeared within four days after the notice, were found to bring with them no less than £1500 worth of pawnbrokers’ duplicates for articles pawned since July last, so that the redemption of only about one-fifteenth part of that sum was effected; and it is believed there are duplicates to as great an amount not yet brought in.  The number of Work-people out of employ who were visited at their houses by the Committee who distributed that fund, were: Workmen – 1102; Wives or Mothers – 885; Children – 1945; Apprentices – 301; Total - 4233 

Notice that the reduction in trade was apparently as much as 50% - a real collapse.

Twenty years later - perhaps in atonement - the legislature was intent on relieving the human hardship, although, ironically, this was apparently once again an initiative not founded on consultation; a point very evident in the notice below, published in The Times on 5 June 1818: 

(Advertisement) – COMPANY OF CLOCKMAKERS OF THE CITY OF LONDON. – The Bill lately brought into Parliament, entitled “A Bill for the more effectual prevention of frauds and abuses in the manufacture, exportation, and importation of sundry wares, and for the relief of distressed workmen brought up to practise the manufacture of clocks and watches,” which was read a first time, and its further consideration subsequently deferred to the next session, did not originate with the Company of Clockmakers, neither was the company consulted upon the subject.
Perhaps, that early in the new century there was hope that the English trade would return to sustained growth and increasing profitability.  Unfortunately, that was not to prove the case.  The Victorian era would not see English makers capitalising on the reputation for exquisite quality established during the later Georgian period.  Instead, first the Swiss, and then the Americans would ‘steal’ the British market while the indigenous makers either refused to recognise the need for change or failed to properly implement revised productivity-enhancing working practices, see, principally, The English Watchmaking Company (1843). 

Breguet is renowned for both his innovations and the quality of his workmanship.  The Breguet website,, is well worth a visit, the History/Timeline pages in particular. 

At within a good summary of the master watchmaker’s career and the development of his business, no less than 19 significant Breguet inventions are listed.  That a Frenchman became the prime watchmaking innovator rather than an Englishman was as much indicative of the London trade’s nineteenth century decline as the dwindling numbers of home-produced timepieces being sold in Great Britain.