Thursday, 18 June 2020

James Pyott, Unassuming Chronometer Maker


James Davidson Pyott was born on 10 August 1825.  His eighteen year old father, also James, was a watchmaker, born in Dundee.  The 1841 Census found them at Ramsgate Street in Stockton-on-Tees, and it appears that son was apprenticed to father, perhaps informally.  Ten years later the family had relocated to London, living in Long Acre, near Covent Garden.

An advertisement in the Clerkenwell News, 6 February 1858, is intriguing in that it may have been placed by either man.  Young James’s life and work is the much more completely documented, but he was never associated with this address, so it is perhaps likely that this was his father’s pitch for work:

 Fig.1. © The British Library Board

On the other hand, Pyott Jr gave his occupation as the seemingly matching, “Watchmaker Compensation balance maker,” for the 1861 Census return, domiciled by then at 2 Cumming Street, Pentonville with his wife of two years, Alice, and their infant daughter, Emma.  At the same date Pyott’s business was listed in Collinson’s Directory with premises at 49 Spencer Street.  Through the 1860s Pyott consolidated a good reputation in watchmaking trade circles, becoming a member of the British Horological Institute and, from 1868 to 1876, responsible for auditing the Institute’s accounts.

The 1871 Census recorded the Pyott family at 9 Pentonville Road – by now James and Alice had three daughters and one son, Arthur.  As to the business, from the following year Pyott’s trading address was 7 Jamaica Terrace, West India Dock Road.  As seen in the advertisement reproduced below, James took the premises over from Thomas Barclay:

Fig.2. Advertisement in the Shipping & Mercantile Gazette,
 frequently inserted, Autumn 1872/January 1873. © The British Library Board

Shown below is a 1870s example of Pyott’s work, chronometer #389:

Fig.3. Courtesy Ariescavern

Through the 1870s and to the turn of the century, Pyott was listed in directories in this road, usually at number 74, as seen on this trade label:

Fig.4. © Royal Museums Greenwich

Pyott first submitted a chronometer to the annual Greenwich Trials in 1875, placing 34th (of 49) with movement #395.  Three years later he achieved the high distinction of coming First with #478.  Conversely, in 1894 and 1902, a Pyott chronometer was rated Last.  He entered instruments for the Trials most years between 1875 and 1904, with results summarised in the table below:

Year
Movement Number
Position/Chronometers on Trial
1875
395
34/49
1876
398
19/47
1877
458
7/35
1878
478
1/29
1880
474
30/44
1881
474
21/43
1882
488
25/46
1884
818
22/34
1885
818
23/45
1886
878
887
13/37
26/37
1887
887
878
16/52
45/52
1888
886
902
12/28
21/28
1889
886
902
36/47
44/47
1890
860
916
26/38
34/38
1891
860
914
916
862
22/51
29/51
36/51
37/51
1892
999
862
28/48
38/48
1894
960
60/60
1895
960
56/63
1896
962
958
936
44/66
53/66
61/66
1897
936
960
39/78
48/78
1901
998
964
9/51
35/51
1902
1206
964
25/31
31/31
1903
1206
17/40
1904
999
984
15/43
42/43


Whilst most makers sought to capitalise commercially by referring to Trials results and the Maker to the Admiralty boast, Pyott apparently did not, since he mainly made movements for other ‘makers’ and retailers, his name/signature very rarely appearing on dials/movement plates.  Tony Mercer referred to this in letters submitted to the Antiquarian Horology Journal:

Another group were the dedicated craftsmen/makers who seldom, if ever, put their own name on the dial but made for other, more commercially minded makers, such names as Lawson, J. Smith, E. Sills, Pyott, Hammersely and Cogden are but a few.Antiquarian Horology, volume 18, no.2, p95

(Concerning a thousand chronometers sold by Kelvin Bottomley & Baird, (and related firms)) . . .they were made by Kullberg, Poole, Pyott, Mercer, Johannson, Usher & Cole, Dodd and Gardener.Antiquarian Horology, volume 9, no.6, p100

In the 1880-90s Pyott’s business acumen was however evident in his decision to widen his ‘stock-in-trade’ beyond timepieces, embracing the market for marine-related instruments – Sotheby’s, in 2002, for instance, selling a sextant attributed to him.  And the barometer, shown below, bears his West India Dock Road address:

Fig.5. Courtesy Mallams

Pyott became interested in local government and was nominated to stand for election in the South Ward of Limehouse in 1897.  Financially secure, he was able to begin his retirement in the affluent milieu of Mayfair, living with Emma and Arthur in Balderton Street.  He might perhaps had hoped that Arthur would carry on the watchmaking business, but his son is recorded in the 1901 Census as an actor, and his wife, Nellie, an actress.

James Pyott died a little short of his ninetieth birthday, in April, 1915.  He was by then at Keith Lodge, Allknutts Estate, Epping.  Cause of death was given as senile dementia.


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