Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Clever but Cranky

Just published in Clocks Magazine is my article on William Schoof.

Researching Schoof led me to read about Schleswig-Holstein, for the first time since my days at grammar school - rather a long time ago nowadays!  Schoof was born in Flensburg located in that state, but came to London in 1856.  He then established himself as a watchmaker and built a considerable reputation over a forty year career.  He sought to innovate with a 10 tooth chronometer lever escapement and in promoting his ideas became thought of as somewhat cantankerous by his trade peers.  In the obituary published by The Horological Journal, Schoof was characterised thus:

He was a remarkably clever man but he had imbibed some peculiar views as to the principles underlying the construction of mechanism(s) which were not generally accepted, and though genial and good-hearted, would press his theories somewhat offensively, and in so doing often gave offence.  In fact those who knew him and respected him found it the best plan not to argue with him at all on his favourite subject.

The article also covers Schoof's two brushes with the law - first his inadvertent involvement in a terrorist plot in which a large stash of weapons was discovered on his premises.  Later, Schoof was far from blameless, being accused of false imprisonment.

The May 2022 issue of Clocks Magazine is available here.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Notoriety Lends Interest

Back in 2015 I wrote about the Turpins and their watchmaking.

At that time I had been unable to find any examples of Benjamin Turpin's work.  A movement has now however turned up with Pete at Cogs and Pieces, (an excellent watch dealer in my experience, offering good value for money).

Well worth a look, I feel, especially as the Turpin's story is an interesting one, with plenty of scandal and intrigue.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Good but Poor (?)

Just published, (July 2021 issue) in Clocks magazine, is my feature on Johann Ulrich.

Ulrich  is of interest in genealogical terms since both his father and grandfather were watchmakers - initially in Denmark and then Germany before settling in London - but I have focused in the article on his apparent obsession with obtaining patents.  It would seem that this diverted most of his attention away from the basic conduct of his business, resulting in a lifetime of relative poverty.  On the other hand, his innovative expertise enabled the creation of some unusual and attractive timepieces, such as this chronometer, made while he was in partnership with Joseph Croucher:

The quality of Ulrich's work is indicated by the fact that this chronometer is in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers.

Clocks magazine is available here.

Friday, 15 January 2021

William Nadauld

The January issue of Clocks magazine has just been published.  It includes my article on William Nadauld, a Huguenot watchmaker, active in London in the early part of the nineteenth century.  Examples of his work are not easy to find, but I have recently come across this better image of the lever pocket watch previously in the collection of Stanley H. Burton:

It is described by the auctioneers, Gardiner Houlgate, thus: 

Unusual silver fusee lever regulator, signed W.E Nadauld, White Hart Court, Lombard Street, no. 10126, full plate movement with sunk balance, the silvered dial with subsidiary hour dial over constant seconds, centre blue steel minute hand with Arabic numeral chapter, later case hallmarked London 1898, 58mm 

This appears to be a distinctive, good quality watch.  Makers like Nadauld were struggling to market such products against competition from imported watches which were considerably less expensive.  As is more fully related in my Clocks article, Nadauld spoke about this in 1817 before a Parliamentary Poor Laws Committee meeting:

What has been the state of your trade of late years? - It has been a considerable falling off these late years. 

What number of watches do you sell annually? - From eight hundred to eleven hundred a year. 

How many have you sold during the last year? - In the last year I do not think I have sold two hundred. 

Quite a severe loss of business! 

For more about Clocks magazine, see here.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Edward Ashley


The Census return for 1841 at 9 John Street, Clerkenwell, indicated 3 generations of watchmakers with the same name, Edward Ashley, under the same roof.  The youngest, aged just six, Edward Francis Ashley, is the main subject of this article.  At that time his father was thirty and his grandfather fifty.  Of the latter, not much is known.  He married Mary Manser and established a watchmaking business with her brother, Robert Manser.  In tracing the history of the Ashleys, the earliest two documentary records found are for fire insurance by the Royal Exchange company for Manser and Ashley at 34 Rosamond Street, Clerkenwell, in the years 1817 and 1823.  This address was a long-standing business premises for the partnership through to the 1840s.  A separate Royal Exchange record indicates Ashley’s residence as 31 Cross Street.  Not until 1861 is the partnership seen to have relocated – to 16 Garnault Place, Clerkenwell.1

From the early era, one Ashley watch is known to be extant.  This was featured in Antiquarian Horology, June 1964:

Fig.1. Ashley & Manser Deck Watch, Courtesy AHS

This I take to be the work of ‘Edward I,’ (the grandfather), born circa 1791.  His son, ‘Edward II,’ (the father), born 1811, may have been resident and trading from the Cross Street address mentioned above.

Edward II married Elizabeth Briggs in 1834 and their first child, Edward Francis Ashley, (Edward III), was born 11 June 1835.  A further son, William, and daughter, Emily, were born in 1846 and 1843 respectively.

Edward III was apprenticed to his father in 1849, this arrangement being confirmed by the 1851 Census return for 7 Lower Islington Terrace, Edward II being recorded as a ‘watch escapement maker,’ this being, apparently, a specialism common to all three generations, as by the time of the next Census – 1861 – Edward III was also thus described.  He had married Annie Arnott the previous year and they were living with her parents at 20 St John Street, Clerkenwell.

In 1871 the family had grown with Edward and Annie having four children, (and subsequently, a further two), and they had moved to 10 Dunford Road, Holloway.  His father was nearby, at number 4.  Another ten years on and there were now six children, and they were living in a larger residence, further out of town, at 38 Blythwood Road, Crouch End.  Whilst he had called himself simply a ‘watchmaker’ in 1871, he now opted for ‘lever escapement maker.’  The business location remained in the traditional Clerkenwell area, at 2 Green Terrace, with the trading name, Edward Ashley & Son.

The second of Edward’s sons, Frank, is shown on the 1891 Census as an ‘Assistant Watchmaker.’  As an indication of further enhanced affluence, there was by then a servant, and the family domicile was even more ‘out of town,’ in suburban Palmers Green.  For some measure of explanation of the firm’s profitability and the family’s consequent relative wealth, a review of Edward’s horological reputation-building activities is helpful.

Ashley developed a flair for business and marketing to complement an above-average technical ability.  His interest in commercial innovation served him well, as shown by this extract from his obituary:

Fig.2. From The Horological Journal, August 1908

Another marketing channel arose through the exponential expansion of global trading, which during the course of the nineteenth century had greatly increased demand for Marine Chronometers, these timepieces providing the most reliable means of determining a ship’s position and thus supporting accurate navigation across the high seas.  The instrument was however required to be housed securely below decks, whereas for a variety of purposes the accurate establishment on-deck of the current time was often necessary.  Thus portable chronometers known as Deck Watches were manufactured in increasing numbers, often by makers who had previously produced ‘Pocket Chronometers’ to meet a demand based on fashion and one-upmanship.  Whilst a Pocket Chronometer could impress by its look and feel, a Deck Watch version really had to deliver on accuracy.  Accordingly, at both The Royal Observatory, Greenwich and at the King Observatory, Kew, trials were established in the 1880s to objectively test their time keeping reliability.  Edward’s response to these initiatives was enthusiastic and he regularly submitted his Deck Watches to both establishments.  He was rewarded by some extremely good results, the advertisement of which clearly supported the promotion of his sales.  The most notable ratings achieved by Ashley’s watches are summarised below:



First and Fifth






First and Third


Fifth and Sixth





Fifteenth and Sixteenth


First and Sixth

As a confirmation of quality, it is notable that in 1887 at Greenwich, for instance, Ashley’s name appeared in the table of results above those of such illustrious makers as Poole, Brockbank & Atkins and Dent.  Several issues of the British Horological Journal of those times featured this headlines results table:

Fig.3. From The Horological Journal, November 1888

This Greenwich table enables a better appreciation of the quality and extent of Ashley’s competitors:

Fig.4. From The Horological Journal, April 1890

Just to add a little balance, it should be reported that an Ashley watch is not featured in the results table for 1888 – the one timepiece entered - #3622 - broke down after the fifth week of the trial.  However, this watch redeemed itself by being placed first in the 1890 trial at Greenwich. 

From this period of the trials, this watch is a representative example:

Fig.5. Watch #3012. Courtesy of Martin Rosen

Fig.6. Movement of #3012. Courtesy of Martin Rosen

Ashley’s successes at Greenwich and Kew helped raise his standing in the horological Establishment and in 1885 he was elected to the Council of The Horological Society.2

Edward’s wife, Annie, died early in 1892 and within a month or two he re-married – to Harriett Moore.  These matters, together with the death of his father in 1890, prompted a decision in 1895 to retire, and, three years later, to get away from the bustle of the capital city.  Thus, by the next Census, in 1901, he was living with Harriett and a servant in Mortimer, Hampshire.  There he saw out his days until his death in June 1908.  Eighteen years previously his father had left just £290 - £37,000 in 2019 terms.  His own estate amounted to £8,688 – a contemporary value of a little over £1,000,000: a good indication of his business achievements, underpinned to a considerable extent by his technical expertise and consequently excellent, marketable products, as testified by those results at the Greenwich and Kew trials. 

But what of legacy in terms of the Ashley brand?  On first sight, none, for Edward’s eldest son, Edward Henry, started journeying to the US in 1889, subsequently settled in California, was naturalised in 1895 and prospered as a West Coast farmer until his death in 1930.  As for his brother, Frank, though working with his father in 1891, he was described as a bank clerk in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses.  It is possible, however, that Frank drew on his practical experience of watchmaking, and/or utilised a facilitated access to investment funds, and formed a partnership to capitalise on the Ashley name for horological sales purposes.  This partnership may have been with watchmaker, Edwin Sims, who, in 1939, was recorded as a ‘working watchmaker to the Trade,’ and living in Radnor Road, Harrow.  One ‘Ashley & Sims’ watch is extant:

Fig.7. Movement of #6012. Courtesy of Martin Rosen

The case carries a 1914 hallmark, and, regrettably, this is the last evidence of the Ashley name in connection with watch manufacturing. 


1 Collinsons Directory, 1861: Watch Escapement Manufacturers: Manser and Ashley, 16 Garnault Place

2 As reported in The Horological Journal, January 1886, p65

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Reuben Squire

The town of Bideford lies on the River Torridge near the North Devon coast, between the bigger town of Barnstaple to the north and Hartland Point to the south.  Six miles south of Bideford is the small village of Buckland Brewer and it was here in the 1840s that Robert Squire changed his occupation from that of a Glazier (as was his father, John,) to a Watch and Clock Maker.  Robert and his wife, Harriett, had seven children, the second of whom, Reuben, was born in 1847.  Both Reuben and his elder brother, Leigh, followed Robert into the watchmaking trade. 

Given his rural location and lack of horological heritage and experience, it is likely that Robert’s work was unremarkable and largely amounted to simple finishing of ‘raw’ ├ębauche movements sourced from the wholesale trade manufacturing communities of Prescot and Coventry.  Robert and Leigh traded initially as ‘Squire & Son’ from 12, High Street, Bideford from the 1860s.  Their partnership was dissolved in 1882, but Leigh carried on at the same premises until circa 1902.  This example of their work, based on a Rotherhams ├ębauche and dated 1879, is from the Dennis Bacon-Max Cutmore Collection:

Fig.1. Squire & Son movement #138408.  Courtesy of Leigh Extence.

Probably because the business was not of sufficient scale to gainfully employ father and both sons, Reuben did not remain at home and sought training and experience elsewhere.  The 1871 Census found him in Taunton, a considerably larger town located the other side of Exmoor; at 29 Fore Street, Reuben was employed as assistant to Charles Haddon, Silversmith and Master Watchmaker. 

But however much bigger Taunton was than Bideford, Reuben had ambition which drew him towards London and the possibilities there of building a substantial watchmaking business.  So December 1880 saw him registering the trademark of his newly-found enterprise, The London Watch Company, which he styled, ‘Watch Manufacturer English & Foreign Watches & Clocks.’  Based at 35 Myddleton Square, products were marked thus:

Fig.2. LWC Trademark. Courtesy of Thomas Hodkin/Google Books

The Census of the following year noted that Reuben was, ‘employing 1 man and 1 boy constantly.’  For the next fourteen years Reuben’s horological activities were at their height.  Early in the period he repeatedly sought election to the Council of the British Horological Institute, but without success. 

1884 proved to be an especially significant year for Reuben.  In September of that year he applied for two British Patents:

Fig.3. Patent Applications, listed in The Horological Journal, August 1885

The November 1884 issue of The Horological Journal featured a letter from Reuben extolling the virtues of his innovations in obviating the complications for the watchmaker in the replacement of a mainspring.  He wrote in conclusion with considerable confidence: 

The cost of production is perfectly nil in the hands of a movement maker, and probably would not alter the price of a watch, so it is for the watchmakers themselves to say how soon they will have it in their future purchases, and how long they will suffer the inconvenience of existing barrels. 

So he must have found it dispiriting to see in the following month’s issue two critical letters:

Fig.4. Letters in The Horological Journal, December 1884

Undeterred, and while the patents application process took its course, Reuben prepared exhibits for the International Inventions Exhibition, held in South Kensington, May to October, 1885.  His presentation was reported in the June 1885 issue of The Horological Journal thus: 

R Squire has a little case with his specialities, including a watertight watch immersed in a glass globe full of water, and movements showing his removable barrel, and adjustable, or, as he terms it, isochronal balance spring stud, which may be shifted in any direction to accommodate the outer end of the balance spring, so that the latter is not forced or strained. 

Squire’s advertisement referring to the Exhibition and his receipt of its medal, provided a head-on challenge to his competitor, Bensons, and its ‘Ludgate’ model, about which the Journal’s Exhibition report said: 

J W Benson makes a speciality of his Ludgate watch, with dust-tight band enclosing the movement. 

This is the Squire’s advertisement:

Fig. 5. Squire Advertisement, 1885

Despite the advertisement’s copy claiming Squire’s competitiveness with the Benson product, it is instructive to note that the Ludgate firm secured the Exhibition’s gold medal, ‘for improvements in machine made watches,’ whereas Squire’s was the lesser, bronze, award, and was noted with the somewhat disparaging citation, ‘for improvements in cheap watches.’ 

In February 1885 Squire’s response to the Heden and ‘Jobber’ criticisms appeared in The Horological Journal:

But it was not long before Reuben was once again under attack in print, this time from Joseph Player of Coventry: 

Fig.7. The Horological Journal, November 1885

For the next few years Reuben persisted with his efforts to expand his business, trading with The London Watch Company name.  But, despite what such a name implied, his enterprise could not achieve the growth, increased scale and consequent costs-containment of mass production which would have allowed his products to be price-competitive with those of the bigger British firms, let alone with the ubiquitous timepieces of Swiss and American origin.  By September 1895, the business was no longer viable, and an extraordinary meeting resolved that it should be wound-up, leading to the publication of this notice:

Fig.8. The Gazette, 25 October 1895

Reuben himself was not in straightened circumstances and enjoyed a lengthy period of retirement, moving back to Devon.  Remaining of active mind, he found the time to pursue his interest in innovation, one result of which was the securing in 1909 of a patent for shoe heel savers!  He lived in his home village of Buckland Brewer until around 1914, when he relocated to Westcroft Terrace in Bideford, where he died in March 1934. He left £2,456 16s. – in the region of £800,000 in present-day wealth terms.

Friday, 3 July 2020

What Price Heritage?

Though a lover of Porsche cars since the Sixties, I've never been seriously tempted by a Porsche Design watch - the objects themselves always seeming to me just a bit characterless.

But that's not so with the recently-announced limited edition (of 992 pieces) 992 Targa Chronograph. There is much to like, particularly the caseback cover channeling of the re-interpretation of the Fuchs wheels which were such an attractive feature of the 911 and 914 in the Sixties/Seventies. You can have one of the watches if you're ready to hand over £10,650, and, oh yes, provided you're also a taker for the new Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition itself, which is a mere £136K!

Both look just fine to me, so enough of this blogging - some serious money-making activity is suddenly a priority!