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Blog: English Watch Company

Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved.

I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have either changed or added to significantly.

This blog entry is part of my page about British Hallmarks

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The English Watch Company

The first user of machinery in England to produce watches in any significant quantity was most probably Aaron Dennison, although John Wycherley and William Ehrhardt were also among the earliest British users of machinery for watchmaking, starting earlier than Dennison but using machinery to make only unfinished parts of movements, sold as ‘frames’ to watch finishers.

Dennison left the American Watch Company of Waltham in 1861 after financial problems that led to the failure of the first company and disagreements with the subsequent owners. He came to England in late 1863 as an agent selling patented American machinery to the iron trade in Birmingham, England. On a trip to America in 1864 in conjunction with this agency he was approached by A. O. Bigelow to help set up a new watchmaking company in Tremont, USA. Bigelow's idea was to make watch plates and barrels by machine, and import the other parts from Switzerland. This was successful and the company moved to a new factory in Melrose, USA, with the intention of making all the parts of the watches and producing 100 per week. In this the company overreached itself and it failed in 1868. Dennison was asked to find a buyer and after much searching found investors in Birmingham, England.

The Anglo-American Watch Company was formed in October 1871 at 45 Villa Street, Birmingham, with Dennison as manager and also owning rights in the machines. This was well before Rotherhams, the most successful and therefore best known of the English mechanised manufacturers, bought their first machines from the American Watch Tool Company in 1880. Villa Street was in an area outside the city called at the time ‘Aston-juxta-Birmingham’. which later became known as Hockley.

Notice of liquidation
Notice of liquidation

The initial products, uncased movements, were sent to America for sale but there was little demand because of over supply. Cutmore says that the company was wound up "late in 1874" and sold for £5,500 to William Bragge, who "renamed it the English Watch Company". However, Priestley records a special resolution of the Anglo-American Watch Company passed on 11 February 1874 that changed the name to English Watch Company, and another special resolution passed on 9 June 1875 proposed the voluntary winding up and sale of the company. The date of 1874 given by Cutmore seems to be wrong.

The London Gazette report reproduced here shows that The English Watch Company Limited of Villa Street, Aston-juxta-Birmingham, was wound up voluntarily in June 1875. The initial resolution was made on 9 June. This was confirmed at a second Extraordinary General Meeting on 24 June when Liquidators were appointed. It seems likely that Bragge purchased the company, which was already named The English Watch Company Limited, from these liquidators. The notice to creditors posted by the liquidators required all claims to be submitted before 1 August 1875. When the assets were sold to Bragge is not recorded but Cutmore may well be right with his "late" in the year remark, i.e. the sale to Bragge being "late in 1875" rather than 1874.

It seems that Bragge did not buy the limited company itself, but bought only the buildings, machinery and stock-in-trade from the liquidators, creating a new company called "The English Watch Company". This was not a limited company, which would explain Cutmore's remark that he changed the name, the name being changed from The English Watch Company Limited to The English Watch Company, which was also a different legal entity.

An Extraordinary General Meeting of The English Watch Company Limited was held on 20 December 1881 for the purposes of hearing from the liquidators how the winding up had been conducted and assets of the company disposed of. That was the final end of the first "The English Watch Company Limited".

EWCo. trademark

The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith reported in February 1882 that The English Watch Company of Birmingham was to become a limited company, The English Watch Company Limited. The capital of the Limited Company was £50,000 in £10 shares, although it appears that only half the amount was called up in the first applications. The freehold buildings, plant, machinery, stock in trade, goodwill, patents and trademarks had been valued on a going concern basis at £21,000. This was the second "The English Watch Company Limited".

The works at Nos. 41 to 49 Villa Street, Lozells, Birmingham, were said to have been in active operation under the present management for "about six years", which would imply from late 1875 or early 1876. The workshops had been planned for the purpose of watchmaking by steam machinery, the lighting being especially good with windows on both sides of each workshop looking out onto gardens. The watches made were exclusively English levers and "the several parts of the same sizes [of movements] are interchangeable". Large orders were flowing in from the Indian, Colonial and Home markets with the "revival in trade" after the depression of the 1870s.

The English Watch Company continued to use the Melrose machinery for making plates and barrels, but was still dependent on the import of parts from Switzerland. In 1880 it was reported that that 200 men were employed and the machinery was little improved, the escapement and much of the material still came from Switzerland. William Bragge ran the company until about 1883 after which his son Robert took over. In 1885 at the 4th Annual General Meeting the shareholders were told of the death of the 'founder' William Bragge, an enlargement of the workshop costing £950 and a new and more powerful steam engine by which a 50% increase in production could be obtained.

A patent was purchased from Mr Douglas of Stourbridge for his double chronograph and his stock of finished and unfinished movements and materials. The patent was probably No 4,164 of 27 September 1881 which allows the fitting of a centre seconds hand and minute counter to a normal watch, either on the conventional dial at the front or a back dial. The chronograph part was operated by a three-push button. The English Watch Company proposed to produce a combined repeating and chronograph watch known as the 'Chrono-micrometer' and one was exhibited at the 1885 Inventions Exhibition in South Kensington. The watch was a minute repeater with the chronograph showing minutes, seconds and fifths. This was an ambitious project in a different class of watchmaking to those previously made.

In 1886 the company was reported to be very busy and in 1890 Robert Bragge and the company took patent 2,856 for 'Improvements in Chronographic watches'.

The good times didn't last and on 11 February 1895 an Extraordinary General Meeting of The English Watch Company Limited passed a resolution that the company should enter voluntary liquidation. This time it was not resurrected. It is thought that H. Williamson of Coventry bought some of the machinery.

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Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved. This page updated June 2018. W3CMVS.