English Watchmaking CompaniesCopyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved.
This page has been separated out from the page about English watchmaking history. Over time it is intended to create separate pages for the individual companies currently listed on this page, and to bring the small number of English companies that are now listed under the general heading of Companies into this section. Until that is done, please excuse the slightly confusing mixture.
English watchmaking began in London but later centres arose in Liverpool and Coventry. In the eighteenth century these were supplied with rough movements for finishing by specialist manufacturers in Prescot in Lancashire. The rough movement included the plates, pillars, fusee, spring barrel and train wheels and other basic components, but they needed to be jewelled, fitted with escapements, engraved, gilded, fitted with dials and hands and put into watch cases before they were ready to be sent to the retailers.
Watchmaking in London became centred in Clerkenwell. At the end of the eighteenth century the annual output of watches from London was almost 200,000 pieces, but this declined steadily throughout the nineteenth century as competition from Switzerland and America took increasing market share.
The Clerkenwell watchmakers continued to use time-served skilled workers and traditional handcraft methods, with movements passing through the hands of twenty or more specialist trades, the working parts being hand fitted to each movement, plates engraved and gilded, etc. It was very rare for all these specialists to be brought together "under on roof", that is in a factory. It was more usual for each craftsman to have his own small workshop, often within or as an extension to his house. The part finished movements were sent from one workshop to another for the various stages to be completed. Craftsmen also rarely worked for only one watch finisher, so work from one had to wait its turn while a job for another was completed.
Although the London watchmakers never adopted modern methods of working and gradually died out, there were sporadic attempts to introduce the American system into British watchmaking.
There were many people and companies involved in watchmaking in London and I won't attempt to list and discuss them all here, but I will add notes from time to time of companies that come to my attention for some reason.
Sir John Bennett
John Bennett was horn in Greenwich in 1814, the son of a watchmaker. He took over the family business when his father died in 1830. Several years later he transferred his trading activities to the City of London, firstly in Cornhill and later in Cheapside.
Although trained as a practical watchmaker, Bennett's business at 65 Cheapside was a high street retailer of watches made by English and Swiss watch manufacturers. In The Daily News of 10 December 1859 it was announced that the adjoining house at 64 Cheapside had been acquired for the jewellery department. In 1892 the shop front at number 65 was remodelled and number 64 vacated, being let to Messrs. Eugene Rimmel Limited, the cosmetics company.
A watch with “Bennett 65 & 64 Cheapside” on the dial has been seen with London Assay Office hallmarks for 1864 to 1865 in the case. The sponsor's mark JN incuse was entered at the London Assay Office on 28 April 1862 by James Neale of Ryley Street, Coventry, showing that the watch was made in Coventry.
The business was sold to J. W. Benson in 1889 and that company continued it until 1941.
John Bennett's strong campaigning in the 1850s for Britain to adopt many of the new techniques being used by the Swiss horological industry was not well received and was one of the things which led to the foundation of the British Horological Institute in 1858. Knighted in 1872, Sir John Bennett died in July, 1897.
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J. W. Benson
J. W. Benson began as a partnership between the brothers Samuel Suckley Benson and James William Benson in 1847. The company became a prestigious London retailer of jewellery, diamonds, silver and gold wares, and watches and clocks.
The Benson brothers purchased the businesses of several established companies in London at Cornhill and Ludgate Hill, from one of which they claimed a date of foundation of 1749. Watches were sold under the name SS & JW Benson.
The partnership was dissolved on 27 January 1855. The notice published in the London Gazette shows that Samuel took charge of winding up the affairs of the partnership, calling in any money owed, paying off debts and liquidating the accounts held by the company. In 1857 the Electoral Register showed that Samuel had retained the shop at 63 Cornhill.
James set up alone as J. W. Benson at 33 Ludgate Hill. He later acquired the adjoining premises at No. 34, and later two houses at the rear, which formed the stock rooms and workshops, where steam power was used and watches manufactured and repaired.
The first James William Benson died on 7 October 1878, aged 52, and his three sons James William junior, Arthur Henry and Alfred took over the running of the business.
The company had retail outlets at various addresses in London, and moved several times on Ludgate Hill. Around 1880 Benson moved the main premises to 62 and 64 Ludgate Hill, with “the steam powered workshop” adjoining at 38 Belle Sauvage Yard. It is said that watches were made there during the nineteenth and twentieth century. This seems unlikely, it might have been an assembly operation where watch movements and parts were assembled, cased and tested. Bensons did not make watch cases but ordered them from watch case makers who stamped them with Bensons’ own sponsor’s mark for hallmarking. The movements, dials, hands and cases would have to be brought together somewhere and the completed watch tested, and Bensons could well have wanted to do this themselves for the watches they were to retail.
Ranges of pocket watches sold by Bensons were named Bank, Ludgate and Field, and often, perhaps always, engraved with Best London Make and By Warrant to HM The Queen. These names were used for different types of watches, e.g. Ludgate was used on old fashioned key wound and set watches as well as stem wound and set “keyless” watches. Benson bought in movements or watches from Nicole, Nielson & Co, especially repeaters, P & A Guye, Kullberg and others. Marine box chronometers were obtained from Usher & Cole, signed J W Benson.
The Field watch was so named after the Hunting Editor of the Field magazine, Arundel, wrote I have used the watch for four months, and I have carried it hunting sometimes five days a week, and never less than three. For most weeks I have had one day, sometimes two, with hounds on foot ; and with this strong test I have found it an accurate timekeeper. I recommend Messrs. Benson's hunting watch as one that can be depended on. Field, 22 March 1893.
J W Benson also imported Swiss watches. To give comfort to customers who might have been reluctant to buy a Swiss watch, these were marked “Inspected by J W Benson.” In common with other British retailers, Bensons did not allow the names of foreign manufacturers to appear on the dials.
The company J. W. Benson and its subsidiary Hunt & Roskell, acquired in 1889, were converted into separate limited liability companies J. W. Benson Ltd. and Hunt & Roskell Ltd. in 1897.
In 1935, a visit to “J. W. Benson's London Watch Factory” observed the manufacture of watch movements. Whether this was definitely the Benson Steam Factory at Belle Sauvage Yard or one of the factories that supplied Benson, such as P & A Guye or Nicole, Nielsen & Co, is not clear.
Manufacture of only one calibre was described,a ¾ plate movement with an English right angled lever escapement. It was said that various grades of movement were manufactured, the differences being in the jewelling and finish, with ruby jewels and diamond endstones in the higher grade movements, so it must be assumed that by 1935 Benson were making only this one calibre. Only high-class Venetian dials and hand-made hands were used in cases of solid construction in either gold or silver.
This watch was by then very old fashioned, with an English style ratchet (pointed) tooth escape wheel, pallet stones inset into the lever and a single roller. It operated at 16,200 vibrations per hour, a low frequency compared to the then almost universal 18,000 vph. It was said that every part of the movement was made so as to be interchangeable and considerable expenditure had been incurred in acquiring the most up-to-date machines. The machines described were mainly presses used to blank out components from sheet, there was no mention of e.g. automatic lathes, which had been operating in American and Swiss factories since the nineteenth century.
Philip Priestley records that J. W. Benson had watch cases made by Benson Brothers of Liverpool, who were not relations. The sponsor's mark used on these cases, J.W.B, was entered at the London Assay Office by J. W. Benson. The Benson Brothers case making business was purchased by the Dennison Watch Case Company in the 1930s.
The factory at Belle Sauvage Yard was destroyed by bombing in 1941, including 12,000 watches in stock at the time and the company's records. Benson did not resume making watches after the war, carrying out only repair work. Sometimes this event is erroneously said to have taken place during World War One.
J. W. Benson continued until 1973 when it appears that the name was sold to Garrard, and then subsequently to Mappin & Webb.
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P & A Guye
P & A Guye was a London company set up to make watches by machinery, said to be the first in England to make watches with parts that were interchangeable throughout.
The company was established as a partnership between the Swiss brothers Philippe Guye (1828-94) and Auguste Guye (1835-93). Philippe remained in Switzerland where he ran Ph. Guye & Cie of Geneva making balance springs. Auguste came to London in 1856 and started a watchmaking business with his younger brother Fritz.
In 1884 it was said that “one large American watch factory can turn out 1,100 watches in a day, whereas Messrs. Guye will take two or three months to produce the same number.” If two or three months was taken as roughly 11 weeks, then Guye's rate of production would be around 100 per week. This would be a large number for a purely manual process, but small for a fully automatic mass production factory, showing that although Guye used machines they were not fully automated and skilled hand finishing was still used.
The address of P & A Guye at 77 Farringdon Road is interesting, because Grace's Guide lists H. Williamson's address in 1922 as 77-81 Farringdon Road. There was obviously some connection between Guye and Williamson.
The advertisement reproduced here from The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith of June 1893 says that H. Williamson, Ltd., 81 Farringdon Road, London are the sole agent for the United Kingdom for P & A Guye's movements in London made cases. Culme shows that two punch marks “HW” in cameo within an oval surround were entered at the London Assay Office in 1888 by Henry Williamson. H. Williamson were having watch cases made for them in London, hallmarked under their own registered sponsor's mark (which was a common practice) and fitting them with movements from P & A Guye.
Guye made an “0” size movement which they said was smaller than any English hand made movement, a size that was very suitable for wristwatches, although none have been seen.
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Nicole, Nielsen & Company
This company was started by Swiss born watchmakers Charles Victor Adolphe Nicole and Jules Philippe Capt in 1839. It initially traded as Nicole & Capt from 80B Dean Street, Soho, London. By 1858 the company had relocated to larger premises at 14 Soho Square, where it remained until it finally closed in 1934. They made movements for E. J. Dent, Charles Frodsham and others. Robert Roskell & Co Ltd of Liverpool was an important customer.
In 1844, Adolphe Nicole was granted patent No 10,348 for keyless work for fusee watches. Also included in the patent were details of chronograph work, including a heart shaped cam that allowed the seconds hand to be returned to zero by a push of a button, the flyback mechanism still used today. Unlike earlier centre seconds chronograph watches, which stopped keeping time when the chronograph function was used, in Nicole's invention the chronograph train was independent of the time train. This was the first really useful chronograph and Nicole is regarded as the inventor of modern chronograph and split seconds chronograph watches. In 1862, Nicole was granted patent No 1,461 for an improved chronograph with a castle ratchet. During a lecture delivered to the Manchester and North of England Horological Society, Charles Guignard said that the first chronographs were exhibited at the London Exhibition of 1862, and again in Paris in 1867. They were made by Henri Piguet and had the were constructed with the chronograph mechanism under the dial. By about 1870 the first minute recorder was added and the chronograph mechanism moved to above the top plate.
Around 1870, Danish born Sophus Emil Nielsen joined Adolphe Nicole as a partner and the name of the company was changed to Nicole, Nielsen & Co.
In 1876 the company under the name Nicole, Nielsen & Co, London was given an award for watches at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. In 1881, Nicole, Nielsen & Co, London, was give a second class award at the Melbourne International Exhibition for pocket watches and chronometers.
In 1890, in a lecture on recent progress in watch and clockmaking, Julien Tripplin remarked that “In the important matter of watchmaking by machinery we have, during the past ten years, vigorously pushed ourselves to the front rank in quality and organisation, for, besides the large factory of Messrs. Rotherham, we have in London those of Messrs. Guye and Company, and Nicole, Nielsen, and Company.”
Nicole, Nielsen & co. were half way between a traditional craft watchmaker and a machine based mass-production factory. They made their own movements, rather than buying them in from a movement maker. Their machines were initially powered by foot or hand in the traditional way, but at the Soho factory an Otto gas engine was installed in the basement and drove line shafting. Parts were made to gauged sizes so that they were interchangeable. The factory differed from a typical mass-production factory where large numbers of identical parts were turned out by automatic machinery. In the Nicole, Nielsen factory, watches were customised for each customer so that they had their own unique design. This meant that different jigs and dies were required for each customer and consequently fewer parts were made in each batch. Adding to the difficulty was that in addition to simple time-only watches, minute recording chronographs, split seconds chronographs and a variety of other complicated watches were produced.
“This firm did not desire any notice of the merits of their tools and machinery given to the world, as they did not wish their watches to be known as machine made, their business being of a select and aristocratic character.”
When Adolphe Nicole retired, the company was run as a partnership by Sophus Emil Nielsen, who had married Adolphe Nicole's daughter Harriet Victoire, and Adolphe Nicole's two other children Charles and Zelia Louise. In July 1885, it was announced that the partnership had been dissolved by mutual consent on 31 December 1884 and that Charles and Zelia had left. The business was continued by Sophus Emil and Harriet Victoire Nielsen.
In 1888 the firm was sold by Sophus Emil and Harriet Victoire Nielson to Robert Benson North. The business was converted into a limited liability company under the title Nicole, Nielsen & Co Ltd. Sophus Emil Nielson died shortly afterwards, after a long illness, in June 1899. In his obituary it was said that “under his guidance the machine system of manufacture was introduced”.
In 1891, at the Kew watch trials, a watch entered by Nicole, Nielsen & Co, London, came 10th of the 27 watches that obtained the highest marks during the year with 82.7 marks. The watch had the serial number 10115 and had a duo-in-uno balance spring, a double roller and a going barrel. It gained 31.8 out of 40 marks (79.5% of the possible total) for daily variation of rate, 36.2 out of 40 marks (90.5%) for change of rate with change of position and 14.7 out of 20 marks (73.5%) for temperature compensation. This was a respectable result because the watch had the complications of a minute and split seconds chronograph, which were more difficult to achieve high accuracy with than a simple time-only watch.
In 1901, Robert Benson North, trading as Nicole, Nielsen & Co, Watch Manufacturer, 14 Soho Square, entered a sponsor's mark of the initials RN in cameo within a rectangular surround at the London Assay Office.
In March 1903, Robert Benson North was granted Patent No 6,737 for “Improvements in Revolving Escapements for Watches and other Portable Timekeepers”. This was a type of slow-moving tourbillion or Karrusel, where the escapement revolves around a fixed train wheel.
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The house of Kullberg became known in the nineteenth century as the producer of the finest English marine chronometers.
Many of Kullberg's chronometers are stamped "J.P" on the bottom plate for the movement maker Joseph Preston & Sons of Prescot, Lancashire, a company that continued into the early 1950s. Their work was of the highest quality and they supplied many of the top London chronometer makers. Although Joseph Preston was far and away their largest supplier, Wycherley rough movements were also used. Kullberg's records survived. Each watch or chronometer made has a separate page detailing the cost of each component and processes involved in its production or finishing. The records are held by the London Metropolitan Archives, purchased at auction by the Clockmaker's Company from the library of David Torrens after his death, and deposited in the Guildhall Library in 1973.
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Dent was a very well known London manufacturer of high quality clocks and watches. Several other companies used the name Dent in order to trade off this reputation, so one has to be careful of watches carrying the name Dent.
Edward John Dent (1790-1853) began making watches in 1814. Dent became one of London's greatest and best known chronometer makers.
Dent and John Roger Arnold, son of the chronometer maker John Arnold, were in business together as Arnold & Dent from 1830-1840 at 84 Strand, London. In September 1840 Dent and Arnold separated and Dent continued in business under his own name Edward Dent until his death, when others continued the firm under various names and at various addresses. Charles Frodsham took over Arnold’s business after Arnold’s death in 1843.
Dent experimented with glass balance springs for marine chronometers to overcome the problem of rust. These worked well and were surprisingly robust; in a chronometer that was accidentally dropped to the floor, which broke the balance staff pivots, the glass balance spring was unharmed. However, the glass springs suffered from an acceleration in rate which continued for several years, so were ultimately not satisfactory.
In 1842 Dent published an explanation of the cause of Middle Temperature Error, after which it was often referred to as “Dent's Error”.
The Dent company built the Great Clock for the Palace of Westminster, which strikes the hours on the bell called Big Ben. Edward John Dent was alive when the company was awarded the contract for the clock, but he did not live to see it completed.
Dent's two stepsons each inherited half of the business on his death. Both died within a few years and the two businesses were continued separately under similar names. The one run by Dent's widow Elizabeth was called Dent & Co., the other run by one of the stepson's widow Marianna Frederica was called M F Dent.
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Kendal & Dent
The name Kendal & Dent is often seen on low grade watches, for example key wound and set watches with cylinder escapement movements and no train jewels, inscribed “Makers to the Admiralty, Kendal and Dent London, Swiss made”. This puzzled me until David Penney informed me that the impressive sounding name and byline have nothing to do with any of the great Dent firms, and that the company were London retailers who mostly sold cheap Swiss and English made watches.
The company didn't actually make watches. None of the watches they sold are fakes as such, but many were poor quality and their watches have acquired a poor reputation among watch collectors as a result. However, a small proportion of Kendal & Dent watches are better quality; English made, with jewelled lever escapement movements. If you want a good quality watch that can be serviced and used, avoid the ones with cylinder escapement movements.
Kendal & Dent was established in 1871 at 106 Cheapside, London, EC.
The Dent of Kendal & Dent was not related to the famous Dent family of watchmakers, although it is rumoured that this was not made this clear and the company might have even encouraged the idea.
On 22 March 1883, James Francis Kendal, trading as Kendal & Dent, Watchmakers & Importers, 106 Cheapside EC, entered a sponsor's mark at the London Assay Office, JK in cameo with a rectangular surround with cut corners.
In the Greenwich trials of box chronometers that concluded in March 1889, two chronometers entered by Kendal & Dent were placed at 29 and 39 in the results of the unusually large number of 47 entries. The Admiralty usually purchased as many of the highest rated chronometers as were needed, and this year bought the first 13, and also number 18 by Usher and Cole for some special reason that is not recorded.
On 29th January 1889, James Kendal and M. Laval, London, applied for a patent for "A night-light Timepiece".
In April 1889, a deck watch entered by Kendal & Dent came seventeenth in the deck watch trials at Greenwich and was purchased by the Admiralty. After this, Kendal & Dent advertised as “Watchmakers to the Admiralty”. A second watch entered in the same trials came in twenty fifth place and was not purchased.
In the trial of deck watches at Greenwich, from 25 October 1890 to 14 February 1891, two watches entered by Kendal & Dent were numbers 28 and 29 out of 31 entered. The Horological Journal commented that “The tail end of the deck watch trial is shockingly bad ...” A box chronometer entered by Kendal & Dent in the 1890 chronometer trial was number 29 out of 38. The first fifteen were purchased by the Admiralty.
In the Greenwich chronometer trial of 1891-92, two box chronometers entered by Kendal & Dent were placed at 27 and 44 out of 51. The serial numbers of these instruments, 2/6588 and 2/6587, suggest that they were actually made by Usher & Cole, who had chronometers placed at 24 and 42 with numbers 2/6536 and 2/6537.
In 1905, James Francis Kendal and Fritz Goering, both of 106 Cheapside, London, E.C., Watch and Chronometer Makers, were granted patent No. 6577 for “An Improvement in Watches” which consisted of a circular rim with a hinged flat cover plate adapted to surround and cover the movement to protect the movement from dust and damage and also to support the back of the watch case.
On 18 May 1921, three punches with K&D for Kendal & Dent were entered at the London Assay Office. These were followed by a dozen similar punches entered over the years until 1934. James Francis Kendal died in 1911 aged 67. The K&D sponsor's marks were entered by Florence Emma Coad and Boyd Lakeman Langman, who had presumably taken over the business.
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J. B. Dent
Very little is known about this company, even whether or not John Bryant Dent was a real person. A company trading as John Bryant Dent or J. B. Dent appears to have used the name Dent to associate their business with that of the more famous Dent company. Vaudrey Mercer states that Thomas Buckney of the real Dent & Company complained in a letter to J. B. Dent for referring to themselves as "Dent & Co." in a catalogue. They also used an image of the Westminster Great Clock in some of their adverts although the clock was nothing to do with them.
J. B. Dent appears to have been a retailer of clocks and watches, possibly with shops at Blackfriars Road, London, from circa 1883 and 74 Imperial Buildings Ludgate Circus in circa 1885. Specimens of watches carrying their name and logos include English fusee lever watches and Swiss watches with cylinder escapements.
Although J. B. Dent watches often carry "Watch and Chronometer Makers to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and the British Government, London" engraved on the dome, there is no evidence to support this claim. The name J. B. Dent does not appear in any published results of watch trials at Greenwich or Kew and is not mentioned in any issue of the Horological Journal.
An entry in a 1905 trade directory records "J. B. Dent & Sons, British Empire, London and Provincial Watch Manufactory, 189 Blackfriars Road, London" which seems to be just as much puffery as the engraving on the dome. The notice includes "No connection with any other House in the Trade" so Buckney's letter had an effect.
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S. Smith & Son
S. Smith and Son of Trafalgar Square, London, described themselves as watch and instrument makers.
The business was founded in 1851 by Samuel Smith. By the end of the nineteenth century they were recorded as “watchmakers to the Admiralty,” selling high-class watches with certificates from the Royal Observatory, Kew.
However, Smiths did not actually manufacture any watches themselves at this time. In his book A Long Time in Making; The History of Smiths, Dr James Nye explains
Having set the scene, we can dispel a long-standing myth. The older and younger Samuel Smith did not make watches, but they did add their names to the dials. Few survive with the Newington Causeway address, but thousands still bear the address No. 9 Strand, or Trafalgar Buildings. Of these, large numbers are actually Swiss imports, but badged for Smiths. Many of these are high-quality objects, made by firms such as Heuer or Jeanerret.
Smiths were not unaware of the importance for many customers to wear an 'English Made' product, and although we will encounter an interesting tension in the definition of what is English made or not, it is clear Smiths could also turn to a handful of large scale producers of English watches. These notably included Rotherham's and Williamson's, both of Coventry, each with outlets in Clerkenwell, allowing for easy access to the West End shops of their customers, such as Smiths. J. H. Seager, originally of Williamson's, wrote many years later, 'as a lad it was part of my job to take messages or parcels from my firm in Clerkenwell to Mr Samuel Smith in the Strand'.
All these suppliers, whether English or Swiss, could provide finished watches, showing 'S. Smith & Sons, 9 Strand' on the dial and indeed the firm's name engraved into the decorative and shiny back-plates of the watches. This was standard business practice, and Smiths former neighbours, Frodsham's, along with other famous names such as Dent, and Benson (probably Smiths' main competitor), were all engaged in exactly the same practice-essentially that of retailer, not manufacturer.
In addition to watches made in Coventry, Smiths no doubt purchased watches from high quality London wholesale manufacturers such as P. & A. Guye, Ltd. and Nicole Nielsen & Company.
Towards the end of the second world war, the British government persuaded Smiths to begin manufacture of watches for strategic reasons. High quality jewelled lever pocket and wristwatches were produced in a factory in Cheltenham, and cheaper pin lever watches from a factory in Wales, but the enterprise was never very profitable and withered, eventually being closed down. The modern Smiths Group is descended from the original company.
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In this section I have gathered information about a number of Coventry watchmakers. This is by no means exhaustive, more a collected set of notes and jottings which I add to from time-to-time as I find out more.
Newsome and Yeomans separated in 1878 and Newsome created Newsome & Company at 14/15 The Butts. Newsome was not the first watchmaker in the Butts: The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith of 5 June 1876 records the liquidation on 28 April of William Thomas Band of Butts Street, Coventry, watch manufacturer. In 1881 it was recorded that Messrs. Radges & Co., of Argyle Works, Butts, Coventry, and 53, Hatton-Garden, London, E.C. were making going barrel watches (i.e. without a fusee) on the interchangeable system in all sizes, both full and three-quarter plate, in gold and silver cases. Radges later relocated their London showrooms to Garfield Buildings, 4 Gray's Inn Road, Holborn, W.C. Radges had started as a watch manufacturer in 1865, and since 1876 been at his address in The Butts. After a downturn in trade in the 1890s, Radges was declared bankrupt in April 1894.
Hearsall Lane was the location of Smith and Sons, Watch Balance Manufacturers. Opposite their premises was the typical “top shop” workshop of Philip Cohen's Watch Factory. Close by was the home and premises of Joseph White and the workshop of the Coventry Cooperative Watch Manufacturing Society. This was a cooperative of traditional watchmakers formed in 1876 to pool capital. The cooperative was initially successful, but refused to adopt machine methods and by 1895 were reported to be making only a few watches. They used Wycherley rough movements.
When the Lancashire Watch Company was founded in 1888, Coventry watchmakers were concerned that the supply of rough movements for finishing from Prescot would cease, so they founded the Coventry Watch Movement Company in the Hillcross area of the city.
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Rotherham & Sons
Rotherham & Sons, based at 26-28 Spon Street, Coventry, England, could trace its origins back to 1747. In the nineteenth century Rotherhams became the largest watch manufacturer in Coventry. In 1880 John Rotherham sent his works manager to America to buy watchmaking machinery machinery from the American Watch Tool Co. and the company began to mass produce watch parts.
There is a separate page about the company at Rotherham & Sons.
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Charles Huton Errington
Charles Huton Errington was born at Matlock, Derbyshire, in July 1853. His father, Miller Errington, a miller by trade, moved the family to Coventry where he worked for Robbins and Powers of City Flour Mills, Coventry, for many years. In the 1920s, Robbins and Powers developed a pre-packed flour which they called Homepride.
Charles Errington went to King Street British School, Coventry, and afterwards was apprenticed to Franks and Ball, watch engravers. The 1871 census records Charles and his older brother William Miller Errington living as lodgers with the Dunn family on Peter Street. Charles is 17 and his occupation is watchmaker's engraver, William is 23 and his occupation is a miller's stone dresser. He would have cut the radial grooves in millstones that scissored the corn. In later censuses and trade directories, William is recorded as a watchmaker in various locations in Staffordshire.
When Charles Errington completed his apprenticeship as an engraver in 1874, he was sworn in as a freeman and admitted to the freedom of the city of Coventry. He then set up as a watch engraver on the upper floor at 2B Holyhead Road. He shared the space with some watch trade workers and, from them, began to learn about the watch industry.
The 1881 census lists Charles H. Errington, living at home with his parents, as a Watch Engraver. Cutmore says Errington is shown in Kelly's directories in 1875 and 1887 as a watch case engraver and in 1892 as a movement maker.
Some time later, Charles Errington moved to a workshop in the Plough Yard, where he developed a trade as a manufacturer of parts of watches with eight employees. He then began to buy rough movements from James Berry, a movement maker in Prescot, to finish.
Charles Errington was granted a number of patents for improvements in watches, which give an idea not only of his technical capabilities but also what areas of movement manufacturing he was involved in at the time.
|1881||1,433||Method of setting hands from the pendant|
|1881||5,636||Centre-seconds stop watch|
|1891||6,617||Device for raising the barrel ratchet click and readily letting down the mainspring|
|1892||10,356||Watch bolt and spring in one piece|
|1892||18,766||An arrangement to prevent the barrel ratchet when removed from damaging the centre wheel|
In 1890 Charles Errington purchased land at the rear of a row of watchmakers' cottages on Holyhead Road, and erected a factory for making watches by machinery. At the time, this was the northern edge of the Coventry watchmaking quarter, which grew up between 1800 and 1840 and extended southwards to the Butts Road. Errington intended to bring the front of his factory right up to Holyhead Road, but he was unable to buy the cottages.
The cottages still stand today on what is now Lower Holyhead Road, next to the ring road. The workshops or “topshops” were on the top floor and the large windows that admitted lots of light onto the work benches are still in place. These are the oldest surviving watchmakers' workshops in Coventry, dating from around 1820. A plaque recording the location of Errington's factory is attached to the cottage on the left of the image.
The 1891 census records Charles Errington living at Northfields Farm, Allesley, with his wife Harriet. His occupation is give as “Watch Movement Maker & Farmer”. In the terminology of the time, a watch movement maker made rough movements, which were passed on to watchmakers who finished them by fitting the escapement, balance and balance spring, engraving, jewelling, gilding etc.
The Horological Journal November 1895 announced that H. Williamson, Limited, of Farringdon Road, London had taken over the watch manufacturing concern of Charles H. Errington, Holyhead Road, Coventry, remarking that “Although his establishment is of considerable extent, Mr. Errington was probably but little known outside of Coventry, except to the factors with whom he did business.”
Charles Errington remained on as general manager of the factory, which retained the name of the Errington Watch Factory, and he continued in that position till 1910. The factory was much expanded, and at one time employed between 700 and 800 hands.
The second image of the Lower Holyhead Road shows, on the left, a double-fronted house that, after 1894, appears to have been used as the manager's house, and possibly the company's office, for the Errington watch factory.
Charles Errington had considerable interests in property, land and buildings. He played an important part in the development of the upper Holyhead Road district. He created Melville Road and Waveley Road, building 28 houses on the left-hand side of the Melville Road and several villas on the Birmingham Road.
Charles Errington disposed of all his properties, including a row of tenements on the Stoney Stanton Road, and retired to Ilfracombe, where he died in October 1926.
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There is a separate page about this company at H. Williamson.
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Alfred Emanuel Fridlander (1840 - 1928) was born in Birmingham and became one of Coventry's most distinguished watchmakers. By 1871 he was living in Coventry and gave his employment as a watchmaker employing 30 men and 6 boys. He is recorded at Holyhead Road Coventry.
The sponsor's mark of the initials AF in a rectangular surround with cut corners was entered at the London Assay Office by Alfred Fridlander. It appears to be one of three similar punches that Fridlander registered between 1872 and 1882. Fridlander's first registration at the London Assay Office was on 13 October 1868 with a similar mark differing only in that there was a pellet between the A and the F, like this: A•F.
Fridlander supplied many London retailers with watches. This included supplying S. Smith and Sons with many watches including their first non-magnetic watches, some of which were exhibited and awarded a gold medal and diploma at the 1892 Crystal Palace Electrical Exhibition. Fridlander also supplied movements for the Royal Geographical Society waterproof watches, often called traveller's or explorer's watches. Many Fridlander watches were tested at the Kew trials and received Class A and Especially Good certificates, often having Kaurrusel revolving escapements and cut bimetallic temperature compensating balances.
Fridlander became a wealthy man having diversified, like many Coventry manufacturers, into the bicycle and motorcycle business, where he became a director of the Triumph Cycle Co, the Auto Machinery Co. and Leigh Mills Co. These companies were set up in Coventry to use the skills the local workforce had gained in watchmaking that became available as watchmaking in the city declined and the workers looked for other employment. Fridlander became a town councillor and Justice of the Peace (J.P.), and he served in that role for 28 years.
Alfred Fridlander: London 1883 / 1884 Hallmarks
British made movement and case
London hallmarks 1883/84 on 18 carat gold. Click image to enlarge.
Fridlander movement. Click image to enlarge.
These are London hallmarks in an 18 carat gold case. The sponsor's mark was entered at the London Assay Office by Alfred Fridlander, a watchmaker of Coventry. It is likely that the movement was finished in Coventry from a rough movement made in Prescot, and that the case was made in Coventry in Fridlander's factory.
Reading from the top the marks are:
- The sponsor's mark "AF" in a square surround – the registered mark of Alfred Fridlander.
- In the centre: a crown above an 18 – the standard mark of 18 carat gold from 1798.
- To the left the date letter "H" – the date letter of the London hallmarking year 1883 to 1884, see the note below about the date letter surround shape.
- To the right the leopard's head, and no other town mark – indicating the London Assay Office.
If you click on the image you should get a bigger view.
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Newsome & Yeomans, Newsome & Co. and Samuel Yeomans
Newsome & Yeomans, Newsome & Co. and Samuel Yeomans are regarded as amongst the leading English watchmaking companies of the late nineteenth century, but there is frustratingly little written about them. Their reputation is based on the high quality of the watches they produced and their results in the watch trials at Kew rather than them making large quantities of watches, although they did make use of machinery and the gauge principle to increase production and reduce manufacturing costs.
Newsome & Yeomans
Newsome & Yeomans of Spon Street, Coventry, advertised in the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith in the 1870s as "Wholesale Watch Manufacturers ... Silver English Lever Watches of every description; also gold lever watches, three-quarter and full plate; Three-quarter Plate Keyless Centre Seconds Stop Watches in Gold and Silver. The Performance of every Watch guaranteed for a number of Years."
On 29 Aug 1874 Samuel Yeomans entered his details and an "SY" cameo punch at the Chester Assay Office as a Watchcase & Watch Manufacturer.
In December 1875 the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith reported that Newsome & Yeomans had opened a new factory in Coventry. The address is not stated but it must be Spon Street, Coventry, because Newsome and Yeomans adverts continued to give this address until 1878, and Yeomans continued on Spon Street after the partnership had ended.
Newsome and Yeomans Partnership Dissolved February 1878
The main workshop on the first floor, where it was well supplied with daylight, was 120 feet in length and accommodated over fifty workmen. On the ground floor was another workshop about forty five feet in length, along with a heated cloakroom, and a tea room. The report said that "Altogether the factory is certainly one of the most complete, although not the largest, which we have inspected."
The report said that "Their watches are all made by the aid of machinery to gauges, a system having many decided advantages, the chief of which is, that in the event of any wheel or pinion being broken or lost, it may easily be replaced without sending the entire watch. One special branch of their extensive business is the manufacture of the higher class gold ¾ plate, centre seconds, keyless, watches." The remark that spare parts could be sent out is somewhat puzzling because, in common with most English watchmakers, Newsome rarely put their name on the watches they made. The visible name, usually the only name, was almost always that of the retailer. In which case, how a watch repairer would know to contact Newsome to ask for parts is something of a mystery.
Newsome and Yeomans dissolved their partnership on 5 February 1878 and went their separate ways as Newsome & Co. and S. Yeomans, as evidenced by the adjacent adverts reproduced here from June 1878.
Samuel Yeomans remained in Spon Street, Newsome moved to 14, Butts, Coventry.
Newsome & Co.
Newsome, 14 Butts.
Image courtesy of Bygone Spon End, Chapelfields and Nauls Mill.
On 7 February 1878 Jabez Newsome entered his details and a "JN" cameo punch at the Chester Assay Office as a Watchcase & Watch Manufacturer. This was only two days after the dissolution of the partnership of Newsome and Yeomans on 5 February 1878.
The address quoted by Ridgway and Priestley for the 1878 cameo punch mark is 14 & 15, Butts, Coventry, but this is an error. The earliest adverts by Newsome & Co. such as the one reproduced here were for 14 Butts, only later was 15 included.
Newsome and Co. advertised from the address 14 & 15, Butts, Coventry, in the Watchmaker, Jeweller & Silversmith in the 1880s as watch and chronometer makers. This is puzzling as English streets normally have even numbers on one side of the road and odd numbers on the other side. Today number 15 Butts Coventry is occupied by Chicko's Café & Restaurant, flanked by The Mint Restaurant at number 13 and Istanbul Restaurant at number 17. However, information kindly provided by Robert Witts at the Coventry Archives and Culture Coventry is that a 1905 trade directory indicates that postal addresses at that time were numbered consecutively, so 14 and 15 were next to each other, and on the opposite, North, side of the road to the current number 15. A 1905 OS map shows the watch factory between York Street and Thomas Street (which no longer exists), opposite to today's number 15 and where the West side of the multi storey car park of the Ramada Hotel is today. According to the 1905 trade directory, the right side of the Butts (including Newsomes) runs from number 1 to 70, and the left hand side runs from number 71 to about 100. This was before extensive slum clearance and redevelopment took place from the 1930s onwards and the current, more usual, numbering scheme was adopted.
In March 1891 the death of Mr. I. J. T. Newsome was announced. The business was carried on as usual by the surviving partners, I. K. and S. T. Newsome, presumably sons. The first must be Jabez Kerby Newsome of 14 and 15 The Butts, Watch Manufacturer, who in 1896 was granted a patent for "Improvements in the Means and Method of Securing Bows to Keyless Watches." The letter "J" is a relatively recent addition to the alphabet and was often rendered as an "I" at the time. The second was Samuel Theo Newsome (1868-1930) died on 4 January 1930 aged 61.
By 1894 Newsome and Co. had a London office at 94 Hatton Garden, EC, and were advertising as Wholesale Watch Manufacturers. All kinds of English Lever Watches in Stock. Sole Makers of Patent Safety Wheel for Going Barrels. Keyless Work a Spécialité with or without the Kew Certificate in “A,” “B,” or “C” class... Illustrated catalogue on application.
The “Keyless Work a Spécialité ...” is particularly nice sophistication, as is the statement “Appro parcels sent out at 1 Minute's Notice”; these are parcels of goods sent out for approval and subsequent payment or return. How the orders for such rapid parcels were communicated is not clear, since no telegraph or telephone details are given.
The firm's London agent was listed in 1897 as J. M. Joseph. The London office subsequently moved to 70 Hatton Garden, and Joseph was succeeded by Charles Louis Ebeling.
Patents used in Newsome watches
On 3 March 1886, Albert John Morcom of St. Austell, Cornwall, was granted British patent 3005 for a “Safety Mechanism for preventing damage to the movements of Watches and Clocks on the breaking of the mainspring” to guard against damage caused by breakage of the mainspring in movements with goings barrels. This invention was taken up by Newsome & Co, who called it the “patent safety wheel” and advertised that they were the sole manufacturers.
The safety mechanism consists of two separate wheels on one axis, placed between the barrel wheel and the centre pinion. Between the two wheels of the safety wheel are a click and ratchet. The barrel wheel teeth are cut on the middle of the barrel, which has the additional benefit of distributing friction equally on both ends of the barrel arbor. The upper wheel of the safety mechanism engages with the barrel wheel and the lower wheel engages with the centre pinion, as the barrel would normally. When the mainspring is driving the train of wheels, the click and ratchet enables the upper wheel to drive the lower wheel. Should the action of the barrel be reversed, as it is when the mainspring breaks, the top wheel reverses on the ratchet, preventing any further damage from taking place.
In 1890 a new type of chronograph was manufactured by Newsome and Co. for registering one-sixtieth part of a second. The inventor was Mr. Robert Turner of 53 Princess Street, Bury, who was granted a patent for this invention in 1889. The escape-wheel arbor of an ordinary chronograph train of 18,000 vph was fitted with an additional wheel of forty eight teeth, which engage with a pinion of eight leaves that carried a hand on a small auxiliary dial divided into 60ths seconds. The result being that the small hand makes a complete revolution each second. The rest of the train was as normal and there was also a centre-seconds hand on the large dial.
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I. J. T. N: Isaac Jabez Theo Newsome, Newsome & Company.
IJTN: Newsome and Company, London 1886 / 1887 Hallmarks
IJTN: Newsome and Company, Chester 1888 / 1889 Hallmarks.
The two sets of hallmarks shown here both have the same sponsor's mark, the initials I.J.T.N in cameo within a rectangular surround.
Punches with this mark were first entered at the Chester Assay Office on 7 November 1884, and at the London Assay Office on 21 November 1884 and 22 April 1886 by Isaac Jabez Theo Newsome with the address 14/15 The Butts, Coventry, giving his occupation as watchmaker and watchcase maker.
Another punch with the came initials in cameo but with a diamond shaped surround was also entered at the Chester Assay Office on 7 November 1884.
Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:
- The lion passant or walking lion, the standard mark for sterling silver.
- The town marks of (1) the Chester Assay Office, an upright sword between three wheat sheaves, and (2) the leopard's head of the London Assay Office.
- The Chester hallmark has assayer's mark or date letter "E" for the year 1888 to 1889. The London hallmarks has the date letter "L" for the year 1886 to 1887. Remember that hallmark date letters span two calendar years, for brevity only the first year is shown in most references.
- The sponsor's mark I.J.T.N in cameo within a rectangular surround. NB: Philip Priestley has the London punch as being entered by Newsome & Yeomans but this is incorrect. All the I.J.T.N punches were entered by Newsome after Newsome and Yeomans had parted company in 1878.
Notice how the three assay office hallmarks are arranged in a regular triangle formation, whereas the sponsor's mark can be at a random angle. This is because the sponsor's mark was struck with a single punch before the case was sent to the assay office, but the three assay office marks were made by a "press punch". This is one punch that carries all three marks which was applied to the case and driven home by a fly press. This method of marking was used to speed up the process of marking the large numbers of gold and silver watch cases submitted for hallmarking. If the assay office hallmarks are not punched in a regular triangle pattern, this can indicate a fake hallmark in a watch case.
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Bahne Bonniksen (1859-1935) served an apprenticeship with a watchmaker in Copenhagen and spent two years working there before moving to England in 1882. In Denmark his master had shown him a Jürgensen watch which inspired his interest in precision timekeeping. He initially worked in London, attracted by its horological reputation, for the company of R.G. Webster.
In 1887, Bonniksen took a job as a lecturer at the Coventry Technical Instituteon Earl Street. He also started work part time as a watch springer and timer, and eventually gave up teaching to become a full-time as a watchmaker.
In 1892 Bonniksen invented a simpler form of tourbillon which he called a “Karrusel”. The principle of the Karrusel is that a rotating cage, called the Karrusel, is driven off the pinion of the third wheel. The Karrusel is pivoted on the pillar plate coaxial with the fourth wheel. The fourth wheel sits inside the Karrusel with its pinion projecting below the Karrusel to engage with the third wheel as normal. The balance and balance spring, lever and escape wheel are mounted on the Karrusel carriage, together with two cocks, one of which bears the upper pivot of the fourth wheel and the lower pivot of the balance staff, the other bears the top pivot of the balance staff. The lower pivots of the lever and escape wheel are formed in the Karrusel, with a separate cock for their upper pivots. The right angle English lever is the ideal layout for the design.
Bonniksen's house at 16 Norfolk Street in Coventry still exists and bears a blue plaque commissioned by the Coventry Watch Museum Project with the words “Residence and Workshop of Bahne Bonniksen Watch manufacturer and inventor of the Karussel Movement for watches and chronometers 1894”. Number 16 is a single fronted terraced house which does not look large enough to contain both a home and a substantial workshop, but Bonniksen said that all Karrusel movements were made there.
Bonniksen is almost certainly referring to the production of rough movements consisting of the main plates and train wheels, including the Karrusel carriage. Components would have been sourced from separate specialist suppliers and assembled into rough movements. Some of these were no doubt finished on the premises, but Bonniksen also supplied supplied other watchmakers with rough movements for finishing.
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J. Player & Son
The company was founded by Joseph Player, who was joined in business by his son Joseph William Player.
In the later years of the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth century, watches manufactured by the company J. Player and Son achieved many passes at the Kew watch trials and the company was recognised as being among the leading makers of fine English watches at that period.
J. W. Player was apprenticed to his father and afterwards attended the watch finishing and escapement making classes at the British Horological Institute under Henry Bickley (himself a Coventry man) and Charles Curzon. In 1894 he married Mademoiselle Laure Jacob of Le Locle, who was a very accomplished watch adjuster.
In the early 1900s, J. W. Player became an instructor of horological classes at the Coventry Technical Institute, Earl Street. From 1922, for many years he contributed a practical column to the British Horological Institute's Horological Journal. He edited the 1938 and 1955 editions of Britten's Handbook, Dictionary and Guide, the latter edition in his 90th year
A famous watch completed by Player & Son in 1909 was the most complicated watch ever finished in England. It was an English lever one-minute tourbillon with repeater, perpetual calendar, equation of time, sunrise and sunset, tides, phases and age of the moon, sidereal time and GMT, and other astronomical indications. The cost of manufacture was in the neighbourhood of £1,000, which was a great amount of money at the time and the investment is said to have contributed to the closure of the company in 1910. The current location of this watch is unknown, no doubt in a safe somewhere.
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Coventry Cooperative Watch Manufacturing Society
The Coventry Cooperative Watch Manufacturing Society was a group of previously independent traditional Coventry hand-craft watch finishers who banded together in 1876 to gain the benefits of the combined resources and purchasing power of a larger entity. The registered office of the Society was 45, Bishop Street, Coventry. At the third half-yearly meeting, the Society was able to pay its first dividend of 2½ per cent on subscribed capital.
The cooperative members finished rough movements obtained from Prescot, principally if not exclusively from the Prescot firm of John Wycherley. It is thought that all of these were going barrel movements, that is without fusees.
The venture was fairly successful for about 10 years and then went into decline because the members refused to, or couldn't, modernise and continued in the old fashioned way finishing rough movements made by others.
Trademark: The letters CCWMS on a Maltese cross. The letters CCWM are on the arms of the cross, the letter S is entwined about the cross.
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Coventry Watch Movement Company
When the Lancashire Watch Company was founded in 1888, Coventry watchmakers were concerned that the supply from Prescot of rough movements for finishing would cease, so in 1889 they founded the Coventry Watch Movement Company, sometimes referred to as the Coventry Watch Movement Manufacturing Company, in the Hillcross area of the city.
Samuel Yeomans was its first chairman. C H Errington attended an early meeting. The first ordinary meeting was held in May 1889. Shareholders present were Samuel Yeomans (chairman of directors), I. J. T. Newsome, Charles Read, Rowland Hill, T. Kinder, J. Hawley, jun., J. Hewitt, R. Waddington (retiring directors), Masser (solicitor), E. F. Peirson (secretary), E. Adkins, T. J. Mercer, E. Denny, C. Shufflebotham, R. J. Pike, T. Gardner, W. Flowers and A. H. Marston.
Charles Scarisbrick, a watch movement manufacturer of Prescot, was recruited as manager. In 1881 Scarisbrick had been listed as a watch movement manufacturer at West Street, Prescot, employing five men and four boys. The first batch of Coventry movements was completed in April 1889. Scarisbrick reported that considerable orders were in hand.
The association of Scarisbrick with the company didn't last long. In November 1891 it was reported that “Mr W Jeffs of Fleet Street, Coventry, has formed a partnership with Mr. Charles Scarisbrick, late manager of the Coventry Watch Manufacturing Company. The firm will take up movement manufacturing in Meadow Street, Coventry.”
The company was initially under capitalised and struggled for some years. When additional capital was introduced and automatic machinery purchased it found that the demands from Coventry watchmakers were too small to keep the machinery fully occupied so it diversified into the manufacture of bicycles, and parts for the motor and aviation industries. In 1912 the reference to watches was dropped from the name and it became the Coventry Movement Company Limited.
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S. Alexander & Son
One of the older watchmaking companies in Coventry was S. Alexander & Son, Wholesale Watch Manufacturers at 61 Allesley Old Road. The company was founded in 1860 and celebrated its centenary in 1960.
In advertisements, the company said it was Makers to the Admiralty, Contractors to the War Office and the Royal Aircraft Factory. High class hand-made gold presentation watches were a speciality.
In May 1937 it was announced that a limited company, S. Alexander & Son (Coventry), Ltd, with Capital of £1,000, had been formed to acquire the business of a watchmaker and jeweller carried on by Samuel Alexander as " S. Alexander & Son," at 61, Allesley Old Road, Coventry. The directors are: Samuel Alexander and Valentine S. Alexander. Registered office: 61, Allesley Old Road Coventry.
Watches supplied to the Admiralty had to marked with their maker's name, so some deck watches manufactured by the company are known. However, the company appears to have never entered a sponsor's mark at an assay office or signed the movements of watches they made.
Virtually nothing else seems to have been recorded about this company.
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In the first part of the eighteenth century, watches were made in and around Prescot by individual watchmakers as they were in many towns and cities around the UK. By the end of the eighteenth century the practice of individuals making entire watches had been replaced by the system of “division of labour”, where individual workmen specialised in the making of a single part or a small number of parts, and watches were the end result of the work of many of these specialists.
Prescot in South West Lancashire near to Liverpool became a centre of manufacture for horological tools, and collections of parts that constituted rough movements that were sent to Clerkenwell in London to be “finished”. Rough movements were also sent from Prescot to Liverpool and to Coventry to be finished.
In 1866 John Wycherley set up a factory in Warrington Road, Prescot, with three floors and steam power, to produce rough movements by machinery. Wycherley stated that all the plates of a specific type of movement would be the same size and that the parts were interchangeable. Wycherley also introduced a system of defined movement sizes, so that cases and dials could be ordered without having to send the movement for them to be made to fit.
In September 1867, Wycherley attended at a meeting of the British Horological Institute Council held at the Institute's headquarters in Red Lion Square, London, where he explained the accuracy to which the frames, wheels and pinions were made so that they were interchangeable. A letter from Rotherham and Sons was produced in which that company described how seven frames and one set of materials had been received from Wycherley, six of the frames marked but not drilled for the pivot holes. Rotherhams had found that when the holes were drilled where indicated and the one set of materials tried in each, the heights and depths were found to be correct. Moreover, the top plates were interchangeable between all the pillar plates.
In the discussion that followed Wycherley's presentation there were several amusing incidents. One watchmaker said the length of the pinion head was an important matter but another contended that there was no advantage in any given length for pinion heads. Mr. Wycherley said, if he listened to every one he would have to give up his trade altogether. There would of course be differences of opinion, and he could not hope to meet the views of all. What he wanted is to know the right length for pinion-heads. In another incident, he was asked if he could not send the movements with the wheels run in. Mr. Wycherley thought “he might as well make the watches altogether.” From today's perspective, some of these arguments seem trivial, but at the dawn of mass production of interchangeable parts, long established craft methods had to be changed.
Wycherley seems to have been a very successful movement maker, but was a long way from producing complete watches. At first his business made just plates, train wheels and pinions, little more than a collection of raw materials machined into their initial form that required a lot more work to become a watch. The plates were not even drilled for the train pivots. The watch finisher arranged to have the wheels "planted", which means drilling holes in the plates for the pivots. The rough movement was then sent to the jeweller, escapement maker, engraver, gilder, dial maker, and many other specialists before it was finally cased and the watch was finished.
Rough movements made in Wycherley's factory were stamped "JW" on the dial plate, one is shown here. The number 7673 on the watch movement is Wycherley's serial number for the movement. The 12 followed by an 0 over a 3 gives the size or "calliper" of the movement, the size being the diameter of the bottom (dial) plate measured by a pair of callipers. This calliper size is called the Lancashire gauge for determining watch sizes. A diameter of 1" plus 5/30 inches for the mounting flange was taken as the base size and called zero (0) size. Each 1/30 inch increased in diameter increments the size one number. The 12 on this movement indicates that it is 1 and 17/30 inches diameter. The 0 over 3 indicates the pillar height, the distance separating the two plates of the movement. Standard pillar height was taken 1/8" indicated as 0/0, with increments indicated above the line and decrements below in 1/144". For more about this see watch sizes.
Details of Wycherley's 1867 Patent
In 1882 Wycherley sold his business to Thomas P. Hewitt and it was renamed Wycherley, Hewitt & Co. Hewitt was later instrumental in founding the Lancashire Watch Company.
NB: Sometimes the name is spelt without the final “e” as Wycherly. There are many mentions of John Wycherley / Wycherly in the Horological Journal in the nineteenth century. I counted 182 spelt Wycherley and 65 spelt Wycherly. I found three earlier instances, but the latter spelling seems to have become common from 1886 in the name of Wycherley, Hewitt & Company, which was more often (~61 times) printed in the HJ as Wycherly, Hewitt & Co. than the correct Wycherley, Hewitt & Co. (only 24 times).
The Lancashire Watch Company
At the end of the nineteenth century an attempt was made to produce finished watches in Prescot by machine mass production in a factory. A company called the Lancashire Watch Company was formed in 1889, bringing together and into one factory a number of separate businesses.
The core businesses were Wycherley and Hewitt & Co., both owned at the time by Thomas P. Hewitt. Other businesses that were persuaded to go in with the venture were Isaac Hunt & Co., E. Beesley & Sons, H. Dagnall & Son, and Wood & Morton of Prescot ; J. Watkinson and Ralph Greenall of St. Helen's and J. Basnett of Coventry. A number of machines were purchased in America.
The Lancashire Watch Company started producing watches around 1890. The company was initially successful. One of its largest customers was J. G. Graves, the Sheffield pioneer of mail-order selling, who is estimated at one period to have taken 70% of the factory's output. Another large customer was H. Samuel.
Steel mainsprings are prone to break and in a going barrel watch this can result in serious damage to the wheel train and jewels. One method of preventing damage was to fix the centre pinion to the centre arbor with a left hand thread. When the watch was working normally this thread was held tight, but if the mainspring broke the sudden reversal of force would cause the thread to unscrew. This was known as a ‘safety pinion’ in American watches and a ‘reversing pinion’ in Lancashire Watch Company movements, which are stamped with this on the top plate, presumably to impress customers or to warn watch repairers that the centre pinion was loose on the arbor.
An alternative safety device, which also reverses the direction of winding, was a small wheel on a hinged arm between the barrel and centre pinion. Normally this wheel was held in place between the barrel and pinion by the force of the mainspring, but if the mainspring broke and the force reversed the small wheel would jump out of mesh. Hewitt was granted British patent No. 21,412 for this invention in 1895. Lancashire Watch Company movements with this feature are marked ‘Patent Trip Action’.
The Lancashire Watch company never quite achieved success. It suffered from making too many models of very similar watches, and poor marketing. Stocks of unsold watches and debts mounted. The company ran out of capital and failed in 1910. Closure of the factory was announced in January 1911, and an auction was held in March to liquidate the remaining stock and the tools, machinery and factory fittings. During World War One the factory building on Albany Road in Prescot was used as a barracks for the Lancashire ‘Pals’ regiment, accommodating hundreds of soldiers from Prescot and the surrounding area. The 1st City Battalion K.L.R (King's Liverpool Regiment) was the first of all the Pals Battalions, raised by Lord Derby at the old watch factory on the 29th of August 1914. The Grade-II listed building, built in 1889, has now been converted into apartments.
The watch illustrated here encapsulates many of the problems that beset the Lancashire Watch Company. It has an English lever movement that is key wound from the back, and the time is set from the front by opening the bezel and applying a key to a square boss on the minute hand. The case has Chester Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver, the date letter "Q" is for 1899 to 1900. The sponsor's mark is TPH in cameo within a rectangular surround, which was entered at the Chester Assay Office in May 1899 by Thomas Peter Hewitt of the Lancashire Watch Company, Prescot.
The dial has “English Watch Co. Birmingham” on it, referring to a company of that name operating in Birmingham at the time, described at English Watch Co.. John Platt has written a very comprehensive history of the Lancashire Watch Company. In there I found on page 288 two LWC watches with 'English Watch Co.' and 'Famous Premier' on their dials that are virtually identical, with silver cases hallmarked 1899 and 1900 with the same TPH sponsor's mark. This watch was made and cased by the Lancashire Watch Company in Prescot and sold to the English Watch Co., who then presumably sold it on to a jeweller for retail.
The problems for the company that this watch sums up are (1) old fashioned products and (2) lack of marketing. A watch that was key wound and set, and not even set from the back but by opening the bezel and applying the key to the minute hand, was looking very old fashioned by 1900, when stem wound and set watches were pouring into the country from Switzerland and America.
The mail order company J. G. Graves took up to 70% of the output of the factory. Graves was very successful in selling by mail order, part of which success came from holding prices down. He advertised an English lever watch in a silver case at 50 shillings, which could be paid for in five instalments of 10 shillings. This was much cheaper than such watches were usually sold. Taking such a large proportion of the output of the Prescot factory meant that Graves could drive them down on price.
The fact that the Lancashire Watch Company also sold completed watches to other manufacturers, such as the English Watch Company in Birmingham as shown by the watch illustrated here, shows that they had a lack of marketing and sales channels. Simply creating a factory that could mass produce watches was not a recipe for success, the products needed to be sold to retailers, which required a marketing and sales operation that the Lancashire Watch Company did not possess. Hans Wilsdorf of Rolex showed only a few years later how a successful watch business could be created. He ordered watches from existing companies and created a demand for them by advertising.
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Liverpool was an important centre of watch finishing with a large export trade to the Americas.
Well known Liverpool watch manufacturers included Litherland in various combinations, Roskell and Thomas Russell.
Peter Litherland was born in 1756 in Warrington, a town just inside North Cheshire on the banks of the River Mersey, 20 miles east of Liverpool. He became a watchmaker and in 1791 was granted a patent for the rack lever escapement. This is similar to the detached lever escapement except that the lever is connected by a curved toothed rack to a pinion on the balance staff.
Thomas Russell had a partner Henry Stuart at 170 Park Lane, Liverpool, where they were listed as watch and clock manufacturers, but this partnership was dissolved on 28 January 1844. Thomas Russell went on to become a very well known Liverpool watch (manufacturer importer wholesaler retailer ????) at 12 Church Street. The business of Henry Stuart continued under various names and appears to have ceased trading in circa 1882.
Ralph Samuel: Watch Case Maker
Ralph Samuel (1815-1860) was a very successful Liverpool watch case maker, at one time the largest watch case manufacturer in Britain and possibly the world.
Ralph Samuel was first recorded at the London Assay Office when a sponsor's mark RS in cameo within an oval surround was entered on 16 January 1843 with three punches, the address given as 54 Wood Street, Liverpool. Five similar punches were registered under the same name on 7 April 1843, the address given as 55 Wood Street, Liverpool. However, Samuel remained at 54 Wood Street for many years, at least until 1855, so the number 55 is probably an error.
A further six punches of the same description were registered on 23 August 1843 under the address of Compton Street, Clerkenwell, London. Samuel occasionally sent cases to London to be hallmarked when the customer preferred a London hallmark and Compton Street was probably the address of his London agent.
Culme says that in 1845, Ralph Saul Samuel was listed as a partner in Jacob Lewis Samuel & Co, watch case and dial makers and rose engine turners of 54 Wood Street, Liverpool. Priestley lists two sponsor's marks with the initials JLS; the first, JLS in cameo within a rectangular surround dated circa 1835, is attributed to Joseph Lewis Samuel, the second, JLS&Co in cameo within an oval surround dated 1836 or 1837, is unattributed.
By 1853 Ralph Samuel is listed at 54 Wood Street, Liverpool, suggesting that he had taken over or succeeded to the business. Samuel remained at 54 Wood Street until 1855 or 1856, after which his address was 72 Wood Street, Liverpool. Whether the business moved or the street was renumbered is not known, but the latter seems a strong possibility.
In 1856, Ralph Samuel gave evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons that was investigating the hallmarking of gold and silver wares. He had been in the trade of manufacturing gold and silver watch cases for about 25 years and his business manufactured an average of 600 gold watch cases a month and 800 silver. Samuel said that his business made more cases than the rest of the Liverpool manufacturers and was probably the largest watch case manufacturer in the world, making up to 200 gold and 400 silver watch cases in a week. At the time there were 100 men and boys employed, although it had been considerably more at one time and was likely to increase again in the future.
Liverpool never had an assay office, so most gold and silver watch cases made in Liverpool were sent to the Chester Assay Office for assay and hallmarking. Ralph Samuel said that it cost 9d (nine old English pence) each way to send watch cases to Chester by the railway. When asked if he insured the goods, he said that he didn't; he had on occasion sent parcels of watch cases worth £800 or £900 and they were delivered to the assay office by the railway porter.
If an item was found by the assay office to be substandard, for example, if it failed the assay test or was deemed to have more solder than was necessary, then it was ‘battered’ and returned without hallmarks. The manufacturer got back the raw material so that it could be melted and reused, but the cost of the ‘fashion’, the workmanship that had gone into making the piece was lost. At the Select Committee hearing on 10 April 1856, Ralph Samuel was asked if he had ever had his work broken in this way. He replied ‘Yes ; very frequently ; within the last fortnight, I think I had a parcel broken.’
Ralph Samuel died in February 1860 and his widow Mary took over the running of the business. The 1861 Census describes Mary's occupation as “Gold case maker employing 40 men and 20 boys.”
Culme records a sponsor's mark AGR in cameo within a rectangular surround as being entered on 17 February 1859 by Arthur Guiness Rogers Trading as Samuel & Rogers at 72 Wood Street, Liverpool. Presumably, Ralph Samuel was too infirm or ill by then to run the business.
A sponsor's mark S&R in cameo within a rectangular surround was entered at the Chester Assay Office On 18 Feb 1864 by Mary Samuel & Arthur Rogers Trading as Samuel & Rogers, Watchcase Manufacturers, 72 Wood Street, Liverpool.
On 2 April 1881, Arthur Rogers trading as Samuel & Rogers,72 Wood Street, Liverpool, entered a sponsor's mark AR in cameo within a rectancular surround at the Chester Assay Office.
The business at 72 Wood Street, Liverpool, eventually became Benson Brothers, watch case manufacturers. The Benson Brothers case making business was purchased by the Dennison Watch Case Company in the 1930s.
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Birmingham was a large industrial city in the West Midlands with an extensive jewellery manufacturing industry. Rather strangely for such an important centre of manufacturing it had very little in the way of watch makers.
One significant company was the Dennison Watch Case Company, which has its own page that you can access via the link. Two Birmingham based watch manufacturer were the companies of William Ehrhardt and the English Watch Co., which are described below.
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William Ehrhardt (1831-1897) was born in Germany and served an apprenticeship as a watchmaker there. He came to England in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition. He worked for a time with Upjohn & Bright watchmakers in London before settling in Birmingham.
In 1856 Ehrhardt set up a company at 30 Paradise Street, Birmingham. It seems his intention was to make watches by machinery. This was before John Wycherley set up his factory in 1866 in Prescot, Lancashire, and before Aaron Dennison formed the Anglo-American Watch Company in 1871 in Birmingham, so Ehrhardt was one of the pioneers of watchmaking by machinery in England.
Ehrhardt was not in England at the time of Ingold's doomed venture in the 1840s, but perhaps he was influenced by the reason for its failure, which was principally due to opposition from established English watchmakers. Ehrhardt chose Birmingham because it was away from the traditional centres of English watch manufacturing where watches were made by hand using craft skills and factory methods would be opposed, as Ingold had been. Ehrhardt wanted machine operators for his factory, not traditional watchmakers.
From 1856 to 1863 Ehrhardt's company operated from addresses in Paradise Street and Augusta Street in Birmingham. In 1864 the factory was moved to Great Hampton Street, and an advert with this address in 1872 says that the company had ... constructed machinery to make his patent keyless movement on the interchangeable system.
William Ehrhardt entered a sponsor's mark at the Birmingham Assay Office on 14 November 1867. This meant that he could send in watch cases to be assayed and hallmarked. It was usual for watch cases to be made by specialist watch case makers, of which there were many in the watchmaking areas of London, Coventry and Liverpool. However, Birmingham did not have such a conglomeration of independent specialists supporting watch movement finishers, which suggests that Ehrhardt's company made watch cases as well as movements, and probably dials and hands as well, so that unlike most English watch manufacturers, all the parts of a watch could be made and finished in the Ehrhardt factory.
In 1873 Ehrhardt was naturalised as a British citizen. In 1874 he built a new factory called “Time Works” in Barr Street to increase production. It is thought that by this time Ehrhardt's company had produced 200,000 watches.
Ehrhardt was granted a patent, No. 6406 dated 1894, for improvements in the hand setting mechanism of keyless watches. The invention was a mechanism that allowed the keyless mechanism to be put into hand set mode by pulling the crown outwards away from the case. This is the way that watches are set today so it seems very familiar, but there were hundreds if not thousands of different mechanisms patented in the nineteenth century to effect this before the sliding pinion design invented by Adrien Philippe in 1845 was eventually adopted pretty well universally.
When William Ehrhardt died in 1897 his sons William and Gustav Victor carried on the business. In the obituary notice it was said that 500 watches were made per week with 400 personnel. In 1898 the business was incorporated as William Ehrhardt Limited with 250 employees.
Production peaked around 1900 when 250 persons were employed, including many girls who attended the machines, and 600 to 700 watches were made per week. The lower number of employees but greater number of watches made per week imply that Ehrhardt's sons had increased the productivity of the workforce by increased use of specialised machinery.
From around 1920 the company used the name “British Watch Company Ltd.” on some of its watches, most likely hoping to gain patriotic support in the face of growing imports, a sign of the pressure on the few remaining English watch manufacturers.
The company William Ehrhardt Ltd. was liquidated in 1923, by which date it was one of the very last English watch manufacturers. From 1923 until 1927 the Barr Street address was being used in adverts promoting a new company “G. V. Ehrhardt & Hereward Ltd.” as watch cleaners and repairers, but with no mention of watch manufacture.
Sponsor's Marks and Trademarks
W.E Cameo Sponsor's Mark
W.E Incuse Sponsor's Mark
The company used the two trademarks shown in the image above. The winged arrow trademark was registered on on 4 February 1878 and sometimes varies from the shape shown here with simpler and less detailed wings. The fir tree trademark was registered on 4 August 1911 and was used on watches that carry the British Watch Company name.
The sponsor's mark “W.E” incuse was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 14 November 1867 by William Ehrhardt, and also at the London Assay Office.
After the first incuse punch, further punches with “WE” and “W.E” in cameo within oval and rectangular surrounds were registered between 1880 and 1914.
The punch mark shown here with “W.E” in cameo within an oval surround was made by one of three punches registered between 1907 and 1914.
The watches manufactured appear to have been initially full plate key wound with going barrels, with anticlockwise winding to simulate the presence of a fusee. Early models had English right angle lever escapements with pointed escape wheel teeth and the frames pinned together, later models had Swiss straight line lever escapements with club tooth escape wheels with the frames screwed together. The patent granted to Ehrhardt in 1894 shows that he was interested in keyless winding by that date, and later production included three quarter plate movements with keyless winding.
In an article in Antiquarian Horology Winter 1996 D. H. Bacon estimated the total output of Ehrhardt watches from the 1874 founding of the Time Works factory as 775,000 watches. This works out very approximately as about fifteen and a half thousand watches a year or 300 a week over 50 years. The rate was lower than this in the beginning and towards the end, and higher in the good years between 1885 and 1910.
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William Ehrhardt Sponsor's Mark and Hallmarks
Hallmarks - click image to enlarge
Movement - click image to enlarge
Thanks to Ken in the USA for the pictures.
Ehrhardt Birmingham 1888/89 Hallmarks: Click image to enlarge. Thanks to Darren in Auckland for the picture.
Two sets of hallmarks are shown here from cases of watches made by the company of William Ehrhardt Ltd. of Birmingham, England. William Ehrhardt first entered a sponsor's mark at the Birmingham Assay Office on 14 November 1867.
Starting with the images from Ken in USA, reading from the top and then left to right the hallmarks are:
- The lion passant or walking lion with raised right forepaw, the standard mark for sterling silver.
- An anchor: the town mark of the Birmingham Assay Office.
- The date letter in the picture of the full case back is a capital "k" within a rectangular surround with curly base: the date letter of the Birmingham hallmarking year 1909 to 1910.
- In the picture of the full case back the sponsor's mark is "W.E" within an oval surround, the registered mark of William Ehrhardt Ltd. This sponsor's mark was first entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 20 February 1907.
The cropped picture from Darren W. in Auckland shows the earliest sponsor's mark entered by Ehrhardt at the Birmingham Assay Office in November 1867, the initials "W.E" incuse without surround. Several other forms of marks were entered by the Ehrhardt company over the years.
The hallmarks in Darren's image are an anchor, the Birmingham Assay Office town mark, a lion passant, the standard mark of sterling silver, and the date letter "o" in Black Letter Small face for 1888 to 1889.
Note that the Birmingham Assay Office used unique surround shapes for date letters specifically on watch cases in the nineteenth century that are not shown in any published tables.
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The Anglo-American and English Watch Company
The history of the Anglo-American and English Watch Company is a story of one factory under two sets of management and two different names.
The Anglo-American Watch Company Limited was set up by Aaron Dennison and a group of investors in Birmingham in 1871. After the company failed to achieve sufficient sales of its watches in America, Dennison left in 1874 and the company was renamed the English Watch Company. In 1875 the board of directors decided that the company was not viable and it was liquidated. The factory and machinery was sold to William Bragge who ran it under the same name of the English Watch Company, although this had no legal connection with the dissolved limited company of the same name. Bragge's company was itself incorporated and became the second English Watch Company Limited in 1882.
Anglo-American Watch Company
The Anglo-American Watch Company was one of the first companies in England to use mass production machinery to manufacture finished watches in any significant quantity. William Ehrhardt set up a company in Birmingham in 1856 to make finished watches by machinery. John Wycherley also started earlier, in 1866, but made only rough movements sold to watch finishers in London, Liverpool and Coventry.
Aaron Dennison left the American Watch Company of Waltham in 1861 after a disagreements with Royal E. Robbins. 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. Bigelow's idea was to make the larger parts of the movement such as the plates and barrels in America by machine, and import the small fine parts, such as the train wheels, balance and escapement from Switzerland, where wages were lower than in America. Bigelow and Dennison founded the Tremont Watch Company in Boston, and Dennison went to Zurich to supervise the ordering and delivery of parts to America.
The strategy was initially successful. In 1866 the company relocated to Melrose, Massachusetts, and was renamed the Melrose Watch Company. At the same time, Bigelow decided to make all the parts of the movements, and to increase production to 100 watches per week. Dennison disagreed with this and left the company. The new strategy was not a success; the Melrose Watch Company ran out of money and failed in 1868. Dennison returned to Boston and tried to form a new company to purchase the machinery and factory but failed.
After failing to find a buyer for the Melrose machinery, Dennison decided to take it on himself; he had previously given up his shares for an interest in the Melrose factory machinery and work-in-progress. He found investors in Birmingham who were prepared to give financial backing to the venture and a limited liability company called the Anglo-American Watch Company Limited was formed in October 1871. The Melrose machinery was brought to Birmingham and erected at 45 Villa Street, Aston-juxta-Birmingham, which later became known as Hockley.
The articles of agreement between the Anglo-American Watch Company Limited and Dennison, dated 1 January 1872, state that he was to be manager at a salary of £350 per year, subject to dismissal on three months’ notice. At the end of five years Dennison was to receive shares in the company, and a share of the profits if they exceeded 5 per cent for the first year, 10 per cent for the second, 15 per cent for the third, 20 per cent for the fourth, and 25 per cent for the fifth year.
First Liquidation and Sale
The initial products of the Anglo-American Watch Company, uncased movements, were sent to America for sale, but there was little demand because of severe economic depression after the financial crisis of 1873 and the market was over supplied.
In Watches: 1850-1980, Cutmore says that the Anglo-American Watch Company was wound up “late in 1874” and sold for £5,500 to William Bragge, who “renamed it the English Watch Company.” However, this date is wrong, and the name of the company had already been changed to the English Watch Company before it went into liquidation.
In his history of Aaron Dennison and the Dennison watch case company, Philip Priestley records a special resolution of the Anglo-American Watch Company passed on 11 February 1874 that changed the name of the company to the English Watch Company. It appears that Dennison left the company at this time, probably because the investors had become disillusioned due to his inability to turn his ideas into profits. The change of name was in recognition that its watches had not sold well in America and that the company was shifting its focus to the home market, adopting a name that would be more appealing to British buyers.
Unfortunately, the change of focus did not succeed and, less than a year and a half later, another special resolution initiated the voluntary winding up and sale of the English Watch Company. The London Gazette report reproduced here shows that the initial resolution that the English Watch Company Limited of Villa Street, Aston-juxta-Birmingham, be wound up voluntarily was made on 9 June 1875. This resolution was confirmed at a second Extraordinary General Meeting on 24 June when Liquidators were appointed. This shows that the date of 1874 given by Cutmore is wrong.
The notice to creditors posted by the liquidators in the London Gazette on 9 July 1875 required all creditors claims to be submitted before 1 August 1875. When the assets were sold is not recorded, but the liquidators would have wished to dispose of the assets as quickly as possible, so probably in the second half of 1875.
Purchase by Bragge
The assets of the company were sold to William Bragge, a son of a Birmingham jeweller, born in Birmingham on 31 May 1823, who had become a wealthy engineer. At the time of the purchase, William Bragge was manager at the works of John Brown and Co in Sheffield, which had a profitable line in the manufacture of armour-plate.
A sponsor's mark R.B in cameo was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 19 January 1876 for Robert Bragge, William Bragge's brother. The details in the register show that he was “Trading as English Watch Company, 45 Villa Street, Hockley, Birmingham & Rosherville Place, Heathfield Road, Birmingham.” This shows that the assets were bought from the liquidators some time after 1 August 1875 and before 19 January 1876. The entry of Robert Bragge's sponsor's mark at the Birmingham Assay Office implies that the company was preparing to send watch cases for hallmarking under the new ownership in January 1876, and the registration of Robert as the responsible person indicates that he was hands-on in the day to day running of the company.
William Bragge did not buy or take over the existing limited company, which went liquidation taking its debts and liabilities with it. Bragge purchased the buildings, machinery and stock-in-trade from the liquidators, in the process creating a new private company which was also called the English Watch Company. This was not a limited company, which might explain Cutmore's remark that he changed the name, it changing from the English Watch Company Limited to the English Watch Company, which was a different legal entity although ostensibly sharing the same name.
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 the assets of the company disposed of. The meeting marked the end of the first English Watch Company, although the name would have remained on the register at Companies House for some time after before it was struck off.
Bragge's English Watch Company
After the takeover by Bragge, 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 200 men were employed and the machinery was little improved, the escapement and much of the material still being imported from Switzerland.
Second Limited Company
In February 1882, the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith reported 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 "English Watch Company Limited", a completely separate legal entity from the first limited company.
The works at Nos. 41 to 49 Villa Street, Lozells, Birmingham, were reported to have been in active operation under the present management for about six years, which would imply from late 1875 or early 1876. This ties in with the date of December 1875 to January 1876 for the purchase of the assets of the company by Bragge from the liquidators as discussed above. The works manager was Charles Haseler.
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. It was said that in addition to making parts by costly high-class and automatic machinery, “the several parts of the same sizes are interchangeable.” Large orders were flowing in from the Indian, Colonial and Home markets with a revival in trade after the depression of the 1870s.
The prospectus for the share sale in 1882 said that the watches made were exclusively English levers. This might have been taken, might even have been intended, to imply that all the components were of English manufacture, suggesting a change from the earlier imported Swiss club tooth escape wheels to local manufacture of the pointed tooth escape wheels of an English lever escapement. However, that was not the case. Evidence from watches shows that the use of club tooth escape wheels continued for a number of years.
English Watch Company Production
The chart of English Watch Co. production from Antiquarian Horology Winter 1996 shows movements divided into three broad types or “zones”. Zone 1 are the oldest styles with clockwise winding. Zone 2 have anticlockwise winding, with an extra wheel inserted to make the movement wind in the same direction as a fusee movement although it had a going barrel.
Zones 1 and 2 have Swiss club tooth escape wheels whereas zone 3 have English pointed tooth escape wheels. Zone 3 begins around 1888, which suggests that the change to pointed tooth escape wheels might have been due to the Merchandise Marks Act 1887, which sought to eliminate the use of foreign parts in watches described as being of English make.
William Bragge died at his home in Handsworth on 7 June 1884. In 1885 at the 4th Annual General Meeting the shareholders were told of the death of the “founder”, 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.
In 1886 the company was reported to be very busy.
R·B: Robert Bragge
Robert Bragge of the English Watch Company registered the mark R•B in cameo within a rectangular surround with the Birmingham Assay Office in 1878.
The trademark of the English Watch Co. is reproduced here from Cutmore. The larger image with this trademark is from a watch case that has Birmingham Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver with the date letter "d" for 1878 to 1879. The sponsor's mark R and B in separate cameos must therefore be RB for Robert Bragge, but the mark with the letters separated like this is not recorded in Priestley.
The sponsor's mark E.W.Co in cameo within a rectangular surround was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 16 Mar 1885 by the English Watch Company Limited. The case has Birmingham Assay Office (anchor) hallmarks for sterling silver (walking lion). The date letter is the "i" of the Birmingham hallmarking year from July 1885 to June 1886. Assay office date letter punches were changed when new wardens were elected, which took place in Birmingham at the end of June, so each date letter was used over two calendar years.
The words “Haseler's Patent” on the dial plate or “Patent” on the ratchet wheel click refer to Patent No. 646 granted to Charles Haseler on 16 February 1877 for a recoiling click. In Haseler's design the click has a slot in it which, at the end of winding, allows a small reversal of the barrel to relax the mainspring spring tension slightly. This prevents the excessive balance amplitude which is caused if the spring is left tightly wound at the end of winding and removes the need for stop work on the barrel.
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 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 1890, on 22 Februrary, Robert Bragge was granted British patent 2,856 for 'Improvements in chrono-micrometer watches'.
Despite the promising reports, all was not well with the company's production.
In September 1888 it was reported rather ominously that, for the third year in succession, the English Watch Company was unable to pay a dividend. Mr. Haseler, who had been manager for some time, resigned his position.
In April 1889 it was reported that the London Watchmakers' Protection Society had prosecuted Kendal & Dent, of Cheapside, under the Merchandise Marks Act for selling a watch marked as English manufacture, some of the parts of which were of foreign production. The watch had been manufactured by the English Watch Company. This would have been a serious blow to the company's strategy of appealing to the British market. Faced with the possibility of further such prosecutions, they had to either cease describing their watches as being of English make, or invest in the capacity to make more of their parts in England.
The data reported in Antiquarian Horology Winter 1996 about the Zone 2 watches with pointed tooth escape wheels suggests that the company might have started to make more of the parts locally, and that perhaps the watch that Kendal & Dent were prosecuted over was from older stock. The absence of a dividend for three years in a row together with expensive investment in the capability to manufacture more parts of the movement was not a happy story for the share holders.
However, it was reported in 1891 that the workmen of the English Watch Company dined together, at the White Horse Hotel, Birmingham, on Saturday, January 10th, under the presidency of Mr. J. J. Gardner [sic, actually F J Gardner], the manager. In the course of the evening reference was made to a contemplated enlargement of the premises of the Company, to meet increasing demand.
On 11 February 1895, meeting in the very splendid setting of the Grand Hotel on Colmore Row in Birmingham, an Extraordinary General Meeting of the English Watch Company Limited passed a resolution that the company should be wound up voluntarily. This time it was not resurrected. In December 1897 a General Meeting of the English Watch Company Limited was was called for 25 January 1898 for the purposes of hearing from the liquidators how the winding up had been conducted and the assets of the company disposed of.
Bacon estimated that the total output of the English Watch Company, in all its guises, was circa 200,000 watches. That is roughly 40,000 watches for each year of the company's approximately 25 years of existence, or about 800 per week. This was a large output for an English manufacturer, but during the same period, the American Watch Company of Waltham was producing about half a million watches each year.
The company H Williamson of Coventry bought some of the assets, including the machinery to make watch movement plates.
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English Watch Co. Birmingham 1878 / 1879 Hallmarks
British made case
These hallmarks are in the British made case of a watch made by the English Watch Co. of Coventry.
Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:
- The lion passant or walking lion with raised right forepaw, the mark for sterling silver.
- The anchor: the town mark of the Birmingham Assay Office.
- The date letter "d" in Black Letter font: the date letter of the Birmingham hallmarking year 1878 to 1879.
- Below the these upper three hallmarks is the trademark of the English Watch Company.
- Finally the sponsor's mark "R·B" in a rectangular surround, the registered mark of Robert Bragge.
If you click on the images to the right, you should get a bigger view.
Note that the surrounds in this hallmark around the Birmingham Assay Office town mark and the date letter cameos are not the same shape as shown in the published tables but instead have a point at the base and flat top. This was a shape that the Birmingham Assay Office reserved for watch cases.
According to Priestley there are two candidates for the sponsor's mark "R·B" in a rectangular surround; Richard Baker of Coventry who registered this mark in 1838, and Robert Bragge of the English Watch Co. who registered an apparently identical mark in 1878. This shouldn't happen, but record keeping was not as efficient then as now and it could be that Baker had ceased work in the intervening 40 years between his registration and Bragge's. The trademark of the English Watch Co. clearly shows that this particular mark is Robert Bragge's.
The name on the movement, William Philcox, 83 High Street, Wandsworth, is that of the retailer, not the maker; it was common practice at the time for the retailer to have their name engraved on the movement by the manufacturer.
The square boss in the middle of the barrel bridge, between "High St." and "Wandsworth" is where a key was applied to wind the watch. This square is on the end of the barrel arbor and winds the watch mainspring directly. This was because the machinery on which the plates were made was designed for the American market, where the use of a going barrel which drove the train directly was the norm while English watchmakers were still clinging to the use of the fusee. In an English watch with a fusee the key was applied to the fusee arbor and wound anticlockwise, so later versions of English Watch Co. watches were made with an extra gear to replicate this direction of winding for the comfort of English customers, although the watches remained driven by a going barrel and not a fusee.
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Robert Kunzler was a highly skilled watch springer and adjuster.
Kunzler was born in Switzerland near Le Locle about 1870. He trained in watchmaking at the Le Locle Technicum and worked in Germany, moving to England around 1900. After working for Erhardt in Coventry he returned to Le Locle to take a course in high-precision watch adjusting, afterwards returning to England.
Kunzler set up in business as a high precision watch springer and adjuster. At first he did this work as a subcontractor for watchmakers, but later became a watchmaker in his own right. He bought movements from Harry Pybus, who had taken over the movement maker Joseph Preston & Son, in Prescot and had them finished by specialist outworkers (jewellers, escapement makers, etc.) in Coventry and Birmingham, and then adjusted them himself. He submitted watches to Greenwich and Kew for rating.
Kunzler was asked by the Astronomer Royal to assist in setting up a chronometer repair department at Greenwich. Kunzler became the first employee of the Chronometer Repair Section in November 1937, along with H. Warden and D. Evans.
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Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved. This page updated September 2023. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.