Industries: Clock and watch-making

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Industries: Clock and watch-making', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton, (London, 1911) pp. 158-165. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]


The early history of the clock and watch trade in London is very obscure. Very little is known about the early clockmakers, and had it not been for the custom of marking the works of each watch with the name of its maker, our knowledge would have been still more scanty. The obligation of stamping all gold and silver cases at Goldsmiths' Hall affords some statistics of the number of watches produced in England, but not of the hands employed in their manufacture. A contributor to Knight's London, (fn. 1) writing in 1842, estimates the average annual number of watches which passed through Goldsmiths' Hall at 14,000 gold and 85,000 silver. This estimate is much below that given in the report of a committee of the House of Commons made in 1818, which gives the number of watches stamped at Goldsmiths' Hall in 1796 as 191,678. This latter number, which includes both gold and silver watches, has never been equalled before or since, and probably included large numbers of the inferior watches with forged makers' names which were then flooding the country.

The principal makers mostly congregated in the City of London, but many settled at the West End in the neighbourhood of the Court, so that Middlesex had its fair share of the prominent craftsmen of the metropolis. In Soho there was an important settlement of French watchmakers, skilled operatives driven over by the Huguenot persecution. Since the beginning of the 18th century Clerkenwell has been the great centre of the working members of the trade. Many streets were almost wholly occupied by workmen engaged in the various subdivisions of the trade, such as 'escapement maker,' 'engine turner,' 'fusee cutter,' 'springer,' 'secretspringer,' 'finisher,' 'joint finisher,' &c.

An early reference to clockmaking in Middlesex relates to the clockmaker or clockmender of Westminster Abbey in 1469, one Harcourt, who was employed also by Sir John Paston. Writing in the spring of that year, Sir John mentions two clocks which he had left for repair in Harcourt's hands, one of which was 'My Lordys Archebysshopis.' (fn. 2)

Some of the most skilled clockmakers employed in England during the 16th century were foreigners. Nicholas Cratzer or Craczer, (fn. 3) a German astronomer, was 'deviser of the King's (Hen. VIII) horloges,' and lived thirty years in England. He was a Bavarian, born in 1487. Six French craftsmen were imported in the time of Henry VIII to make a clock for Nonsuch Palace. Nicholas Oursiau, Frenchman and denizen, was clockmaker to both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and constructed the old turret clock at Hampton Court. (fn. 4) He as well as his two assistants Laurence Daunton of the French Church and Peter Doute of the Dutch Church, are returned as living in Westminster in 1568.

One of the earliest Middlesex clockmakers whose work has survived is Bartholomew Newsam, who lived in the Strand near Somerset House. In 1568 he obtained from the Crown a lease of these premises for thirty years, and lived to occupy them to within five years of the expiration of the term. In 1572 he obtained the reversion of the office of Clockmaker to the Queen, and in 1590 he succeeded to that office on the death of Nicholas Urseau or Oursiau. Newsam had, prior to 1582, been clock-keeper to the queen, and on 4 June 1583 received under privy seal 32s. 8d. for 'mending of clocks during the past year.' He did not long enjoy his double office, but died in 1593. His will, executed in 1586, contains some interesting bequests. He leaves to John Newsam, clockmaker, of York, various tools, including his 'best vice save one, a beckhorne to stand upon borde, a great fore hammer, and two hand hammers.' The rest of his tools he gave to his son Edward, 'with condition he became a clockmaker as I am,' if not, the said tools were to be sold. His bequests to friends included 'a sonne dyall of copper gylte,' 'one cristall jewell with a watch in it, garnished with gould,' 'one watch clocke in a silken purse,' 'a sonne dyall to stand uppon a post in his garden,' and 'a chamber clocke of fyve markes price.' The British Museum has a striking clock by Newsam, which is a masterpiece of construction. The case is of brass, gilt and engraved, about 2½ in. square and 6½ in. high, with an ornamental dome and perforated top. The clock has a verge escapement; its workmanship is unusually fine for the period, and is remarkably free from subsequent interference. An illustration of a fine casket by Bartholomew Newsam is given in Archaeologia, vol. 55.

Holborn and its neighbourhood was for over two centuries a favourite locality for horological craftsmen. Jeffery Bailey, who was admitted to the freedom of the Clockmakers' Company in 1648, and served as master in 1674, was a maker of lantern clocks 'at ye Turn Style in Holborn.'

Edward East, watchmaker to Charles I, was in business at first in Pall Mall, near the Tennis Court. He afterwards removed to Fleet Street, and later still to the Strand, as in the London Gazette for 22-26 January, 1690, he is described as 'Mr. East at the Sun, outside Temple Bar.' His watches were held in high repute, and were often used by Charles II as stakes at games of tennis in the Mall. Sir Thomas Herbert relates in his Memoirs, (fn. 5) that having failed to call the king at an early hour His Majesty ordered him to be supplied with a gold alarm-watch, 'which, as there may be cause, shall awake you.' A watch was accordingly procured by the Earl of Pembroke from Mr. East his watchmaker in Fleet Street. East was a member of the Clockmakers' Company, and one of the ten original assistants named in its charter of incorporation. After serving the office of warden, he was twice elected master, in 1645 and again in 1652. In 1647 he also served the office of treasurer of the company, an office of which he was the unique occupant. In 1693, probably not long before his death, he gave £100 to the company for the benefit of the poor. A very large silver alarum clock-watch by East which Charles I kept at his bedside, and gave to Mr., afterwards Sir Thomas, Herbert on 30 January 1649, when on his way to execution at Whitehall, is still in private possession. It is a beautiful piece of work, and has been frequently illustrated; the dial and back are finely decorated with pierced work. This may be the 'Watch and a Larum of gould' for which East received 'fortie pounds' from the Receiver-General on 23 June 1649, (fn. 6) the watch having been supplied 'for the late King's use the xviith of January last.' Another fine example of an 'Eduardus East' is in the British Museum; it is an octangular crystal-cased watch made about the year 1640, and has a recumbent female figure engraved on the dial. The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford possesses a gold watch by East in the form of a melon. Other specimens of this maker known to exist are a watch with tortoise-shell case, in the British Museum, dating from about 1640; another in the Victoria and Albert Museum; two examples in the Guildhall Museum, one a watch movement and the other a silver watch in oval hunting case with crystal centre; and two clock-watches in finely-pierced silver cases, in private possession.

Jeremy East, a contemporary and probably a relative of Edward East, was admitted to the freedom of the Clockmakers' Company in 1641. Two specimens of his workmanship are described by Britten. (fn. 7) One is a superb and very early example of English work, a watch in an hexagonal crystal case with gilt brass mountings; the plate is inscribed 'Jeremie East, Londini,' and the work is not later than 1600. The other is a small oval watch with a plain silver dial and one hand; its date is about 1610. East was living in 1656, when he joined with some other freemen of the Clockmakers' Company in a petition to the Lord Mayor respecting certain disputes as to the management of the company.

Another skilled maker of this period was William Clay, who appears to have been in business from 1646 to 1670, but of whom very little is known. An engraved metal dial, very fine for this early period, and denoting the minutes in a peculiar way, bears the inscription, 'William Clay, King's Street, Westminster.' Clay took part in the disputes which occurred in the Clockmakers' Company in 1656, and was probably the maker of a watch presented by Cromwell to Colonel Bagnell at the siege of Clonmel.

Of somewhat earlier date was Richard Harris, who is said to have constructed a turret clock with a pendulum for the church of St. Paul, Covent Garden, which was afterwards destroyed by fire. An inscription on an engraved plate in the old vestry-room states that 'The clock fixed in the tower of the said church was the first long pendulum clock in Europe, invented and made by Richard Harris of London, although the honour of the invention was assumed by Vincenzio Galilei, A.D. 1649, and also by Huygens in 1657.'

Richard Bowen, a London maker whose address is not known, but who was in business in the earlier half of the 17th century, was one of the first makers of a keyless watch. In the London Gazette for 10-13 January 1686, there is an advertisement, 'Lost, a watch in black shagreen studded case with a glass in it, having only one Motion and Time pointing to the Hour on the Dial Plate, the spring being wound up without a key, and it opening contrary to all other watches. R. Bowen, Londini, fecit, on the black plate.' Another watch by Bowen is said to have been given by Charles I in 1647, while at Carisbrooke, to Colonel Hammond. It is a large silver watch with two cases, the outer one chased and engraved with a border of flowers and the figure of the king praying, and the words: 'And what I sai to you I sai unto all, Watch.'

Among the numerous French Protestant refugees who settled in Soho towards the close of the 17th century were the Debaufres, a family of very skilful French watchmakers. Peter Debaufre, who was in business in Church Street, Soho, from 1686 to 1720, was admitted into the Clockmakers' Company in 1689, and in 1704, in conjunction with Nicholas Facio and Jacob Debaufre, was granted a patent for the application of jewels to the pivot holes of watches and clocks. A few months later the patentees applied to Parliament for permission to extend the term of their patent, but the Bill was opposed by the Clockmakers' Company (fn. 8) on what appears to have been insufficient grounds, and was defeated. In 1704 the firm announced by advertisement that jewelled watches were to be seen at their shop; a watch bearing the name 'Debauffre' is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Peter Debaufre also devised a dead-beat or 'club-footed' verge escapement which was adopted with some alterations by several other makers. James Debaufre became connected with the business in 1712 and carried it on at Church Street, Soho, until 1750.

Another successful Huguenot firm was that of the De Charmes. Simon De Charmes, who was driven over here by the persecution about the year 1688, was admitted as a clockmaker in 1691 and built Grove Hall, Hammersmith, in 1730. The house was occupied by his son David, who lived there till his death in 1783, (fn. 9) and succeeded his father in the business.

Jonathan Lowndes, who was in business in Pall Mall between 1680 and 1700, was a celebrated maker of his day.

Christopher Pinchbeck, son of the inventor of the 'Pinchbeck' alloy, carried on a successful business in Cockspur Street, and is described as clockmaker to the king. In 1766 he is said to have procured for George III the first pocket watch made with a compensation curb. He was elected an honorary freeman of the Clockmakers' Company in 1781, and died in 1783 at the age of seventy-three.

The Perigals were a family of celebrated horologists from which three firms originated. Francis Perigal, the founder, was established from 1740 at the Royal Exchange, where he was succeeded by his son and grandson. Another Francis (1770-94), who was watchmaker to the king, settled in New Bond Street and was succeeded by Perigal & Duterran, 'Watchmakers to His Majesty,' from 1810 to 1840. Another branch of the family established itself in Coventry Street as John Perigal (1770-1800), and Perigal & Browne (1794-1800).

Charles Haley (1770-1800), of Wigmore Street, who was admitted to the honorary freedom of the Clockmakers' Company in 1781, was a celebrated maker, and a patentee of a remontoire escapement for chronometers. (fn. 10) He was one of the experts appointed by the Parliamentary Committee in 1793 to report on Mudge's chronometers. The firm afterwards became Haley and Milner (1800-15), Haley and Son (1832), and James Grohe (1834-42).

Other prominent makers of this period were James Short (1740-70), who sent to the Royal Society in 1752 an interesting letter on compensated pendulums; John Bittleston (1765-94), of High Holborn, the maker of a very curious astronomical watch; Thomas Best (1770-94), of Red Lion Street, a maker of musical clocks and watches; Francis Magniac (1770-94) of St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, a maker of complicated clocks and automata; James Smith (1776-94) of Jermyn Street, clockmaker to George III; and William Hughes (1769-94) of High Holborn, a maker of musical clocks and clocks of curious mechanism.

John Harrison, one of the most famous of English clockmakers, was born in 1693 near Pontefract in Yorkshire. For several years he followed his father's trade as a carpenter, and, having a great taste for mechanical pursuits, gave much of his attention to the improvement of clocks and watches. The family removed to Barrow in Lincolnshire in 1700, and here Harrison made his first attempts at clockmaking. One of his earliest efforts, a clock with wheels and pinions of wood, bears his signature and the date 1713. Another long-case clock by him is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a similar specimen is in the Guildhall Museum. He was then attracted by the reward of £20,000 offered by Parliament for the construction of a timekeeper of sufficient accuracy to ascertain the longitude at sea within half a degree. He invented a form of recoil escapement known as the 'grasshopper,' and also succeeded in constructing his famous 'gridiron' pendulum in which the effects of heat and cold in lengthening and shortening the pendulum were neutralized by the use of two metals having different ratios of expansion. These he brought to London in 1728, with drawings of his proposed time-keeper for submission to the Board of Longitude. On the advice of George Graham, the celebrated watch-maker, Harrison delayed submitting his designs until he had constructed his timekeeper and tested its capabilities. After spending seven more years in experiments, he returned to London in 1735, bringing with him his timepiece, and resided in Orange Street, Red Lion Square. His work received the highest approval of Halley, Graham, and other fellows of the Royal Society, and on their recommendation he was allowed in 1736 to proceed with it to Lisbon in a king's ship. During the voyage he was able to correct the reckoning to within a degree and a half, and the Board of Longitude gave him £500 as an encouragement to proceed with his experiments. He finished another timepiece in 1739, and afterwards a third; this procured him in 1749 the medal annually awarded by the Royal Society for the most useful discovery. His last timepiece was smaller, and he now resolved to abandon the heavy framing and wheels which he used in his earlier attempts. In 1759 he perfected his celebrated 'watch,' which, after being tested in two voyages, to Jamaica in 1761-2, and to Barbadoes in 1764, at length obtained for him the full reward offered by government. Harrison's watch and the three timepieces which preceded it are still preserved at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. A duplicate of the fourth watch which secured for him the government reward was purchased by the Clockmakers' Company in 1891 for £105, and is exhibited with other chronometers in their museum at the Guildhall. It was at one time in the Shandon Collection, and bears the hall-mark of 1768-9. (fn. 11) He died on 24 March 1776 at his house in Red Lion Square, and was buried in the south-west corner of Hampstead churchyard. His tomb, which was restored by the Clockmakers' Company in 1880, contains a long inscription recording the merits of his inventions. (fn. 12) There is an engraved portrait by Reading of 'Longitude Harrison' in the European Magazine, and another by Tassaert was published in Knight's Portrait Gallery.

Another inventor of improvements in the chronometer was Thomas Earnshaw, who was born at Ashton-under-Lyne in 1749. After serving his apprenticeship to a watchmaker, he came to London and worked for some time as a finisher of verge and cylinder watches; he also taught himself watch-jewelling and cylinder-escapement making, making use of ruby cylinders and steel wheels. Earnshaw worked for John Brockbank, Thomas Wright of the Poultry, and other makers, and in 1781 improved the chronometer escapement by using a spring detent instead of the pivot form employed by the French makers. After showing a watch with his new device to Brockbank, it was agreed that Wright should patent it, but the latter kept the watch for a year to observe its going, and did not procure the patent till 1783. Meanwhile John Arnold had registered a patent specification claiming the device as his own invention; this embittered Earnshaw's feelings towards Brockbank, whom he accused of having divulged his plan to Arnold. In 1795 Earnshaw set up in business for himself at 119, High Holborn, one door east of what is now Southampton Row. In 1801 he was awarded £500 by the Board of Longitude on account of his inventions, and in 1803 a further sum of £2,500. This did not, however, satisfy him, and in 1808 he issued 'An appeal to the Public,' in which he urged his claim to higher consideration. He died at Chenies Street in 1829, but the business was carried on by his son Thomas in Holborn, and afterwards at 87, Fenchurch Street. There is a portrait of Earnshaw engraved by Bullin from a painting by Sir Martin Archer Shee, R.A.

Benjamin Gray, who was in business in Pall Mall, was the founder of a celebrated firm of watchmakers. He was clockmaker to George II, and several specimens of his work between 1730 and 1758 are in the Guildhall Museum. Gray was joined in partnership by Justin Vulliamy, who settled in London about 1730. Vulliamy was of Swiss origin, and the first of a line of wellknown makers of that name; he married the daughter of Benjamin Gray, and succeeded him in his business in Pall Mall. The watches made by this firm were of very fine quality: one of them fetched £120 15s. when the Hawkins Collection was dispersed by auction in 1895. This beautiful example had an outer case of gold and crystal and a diamond thumb-piece to press back the locking spring, the inner case being enamelled in colours with a garden scene. Justin Vulliamy was succeeded by his son Benjamin, who was in favour with George III, and much consulted by the king on mechanical subjects, especially in connexion with Kew Observatory. Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, the next head of the firm, was born in 1780, and obtained a high reputation for the exactness and excellent finish of his work, both in clocks and watches. Until his death in 1854, the office of clockmaker to the reigning sovereign continued to be held by members of the Vulliamy family. The royal palaces contain many fine clocks made by the Vulliamys. At Windsor Castle, on the mantelpiece of the royal dining-room, is a clock by Justin Vulliamy, and in the presence chamber is another clock by the firm inclosed in a marble case which forms part of a mantelpiece designed by J. Bacon, R.A. Among the public timekeepers made by B. L. Vulliamy were the large clock at the old Post Office, St. Martin's-leGrand, and one at Christ Church, Oxford. Vulliamy was the author of several pamphlets on the art of clock-making; one of them being on the construction of the deadbeat escapement. He was a very active member of the Company of Clockmakers, of which he was five times master; in recognition of his services to them, the company presented him with a piece of plate in 1849.

There is a fine long-clock by Richard Vick, in a handsome Chippendale case, at Windsor Castle. Vick, who carried on business in the Strand, was master of the Clockmakers' Company in 1729, and is the maker of a repeating watch inscribed 'Richard Vick, watchmaker to his late Majesty.' Among the celebrated Clerkenwell makers the firm of Thwaites occupies an honourable place. Ainsworth Thwaites, who was in business in Rosoman Street between 1740 and 1780, made the Horse Guards clock in 1756, and a handsome long-clock about 1770 for the East India Company which is now in the India Office. He was succeeded as head of the firm by John Thwaites, who was master of the Clockmakers' Company in 1815, 1819, and 1820, and presented the company with a notable timekeeper by Henry Sully. He remained at the head of the firm from 1780 to 1816, when the firm became Thwaites & Reed, and so remained until 1842.

Stephen Rimbault was a maker of high reputation between the years 1760 and 1781, and carried on business in Great St. Andrew's Street, St. Giles's. He particularly excelled in clocks with mechanical figures dancing or working on the dials, and other complicated time-pieces; a musical clock made by Rimbault in 1780, which plays six tunes on eleven bells, is illustrated by Britten. John Zoffany, R.A., in his early days was Rimbault's decorative assistant, and his services no doubt helped largely to establish this maker's reputation.

Thomas Grignion, the first of a celebrated family of clockmakers, is stated in the inscription of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, already quoted, to have brought to perfection in 1740 'the horizontal principle in watches and the dead beat in clocks,' and to have made 'the time-piece in the pediment at the end of this parish church, destroyed by fire A.D. 1795.' A new turret clock with bells was made for the church in 1797 by Thomas Grignion the younger. The firm started at the 'King's Arms and Dial' in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, with Daniel and Thomas Grignion as partners, who described themselves as finishers to the late Daniel Quare. One of their watches, a fine repeater with beautifully enamelled case, is of about the year 1730, and another in the Dunn Gardner collection has the hall-mark of 1748. Thomas Grignion junior, who succeeded as head of the firm, was born in 1713 and died in 1784; a watch by him, in a repoussé case, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1775 the firm was styled Grignion & Son, and a third Thomas Grignion was at the head of it between 1800 and 1825.

Eardley Norton was a well-known Clerkenwell maker living at 49, St. John Street, and celebrated for his musical and astronomical clocks and watches. In 1771 he patented (No. 987) 'a clock which strikes the hours and parts upon a principle entirely new, and a watch which repeats the hours and parts, so concisely contrived and disposed as to admit of being conveniently contained not only in a watch, but also in its appendage, such as a key, seal, or trinket.' An astronomical clock with four dials made by Norton for George III is in Buckingham Palace. He was in business from 1770 to 1794, and was succeeded by Gravell & Tolkein (1794-1820), William Gravell & Son (1820-50), and Robert Rolfe (1850).

A Swiss watchmaker of eminent ability, Josiah Emery, came to England and settled in London, carrying on business at 33, Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, between 1770 and 1805. Emery was one of the earliest makers to adopt Mudge's invention of the lever escapement, and having made a watch on this principle for Count Bruhl, which proved a most satisfactory timekeeper, he decided to continue its use. In his evidence before the House of Commons Committee appointed to consider Mudge's claims to the government reward he said that he had made thirty-two or thirty-three such watches, and that his price for them was £150 each. Emery was presented with the honorary freedom of the Clockmakers' Company on 2 April 1781; there is a watch by him with ruby cylinder, helical balance spring, and compensation curb, in the Guildhall Museum.

Louis Recordon, who succeeded Emery, was in business for himself in 1780 at Greek Street, Soho. In that year he patented a pedometer-winding for watches, (fn. 13) a contrivance by which the motion of the wearer's body is utilized for winding. Recordon lived until 1810, and the business next passed into the hands of Peter Des Granges, who retired in 1842, when his shop and its goodwill was acquired by Edward John Dent.

John Leroux was a maker of high repute who was settled between 1760 and 1800 at 8, Charing Cross. He was admitted to the honorary freedom of the Clockmakers' Company in 1781, and there is a fine watch by him dated 1785 in the Guildhall Museum.

Space will only allow of very brief mention of makers of note in the 19th century. James Tregent (1770-1804), a celebrated French maker who settled in London, first in the Strand and afterwards in Cranbourne Street, was watchmaker to the Prince of Wales, and intimate with Garrick, Sheridan, and other celebrities of the stage. Joseph Anthony Berollas (1800-30), of Denmark Street, St. Giles's, and afterwards of Coppice Row, Clerkenwell, was an ingenious maker. In 1808 (fn. 14) he patented a repeater, in 1810 (fn. 15) a warning watch, and in 1827 (fn. 16) an alarum watch and pumping keyless arrangement. William Anthony (? 1764-1844) was one of the most expert watchmakers of his day, and specimens of his work are highly prized; his place of business was in Red Lion Street, St. John's Square. William Hardy (1800-30) was a skilful maker, living in Coppice Row, Coldbath Square, Clerkenwell. He devised, among other inventions, an escapement for clocks, which obtained a gold medal and prize of fifty guineas from the Society of Arts. A firm of well-known makers, which continued for about one hundred years at the same address, was started by Robert Storer in 1743 at 11, Berkeley Court, Clerkenwell. Walter Storer, great-grandson of the founder of the firm, retired about 1840 and died at Olney in 1865. (fn. 17)

Among the principal chronometer makers within the county of Middlesex two presentday firms, those of Barwise and Frodsham, require special mention. The first-named firm was founded by John Barwise in 1790 at St. Martin's Lane, and was afterwards removed to 3, Bury Street, St. James's. The British Press of 18 February 1811 describes an attack made by highwaymen on John Barwise whilst on his way to Dulwich. Barwise was associated in 1841 with Alex. Bain in a patent for electric clocks. (fn. 18) The present firm holds patents for a wristband watch and other inventions.

The family of Frodsham has produced several highly skilled chronometer and watchmakers. William Frodsham, of Kingsgate Street, Red Lion Square, received the honorary freedom of the Clockmakers' Company in 1781, and attested the value of Earnshaw's improvements in 1804. He took his son into partnership in 1790, and died in 1806, when the business was continued by John Frodsham until 1814. William James Frodsham, another member of this family, started in Change Alley, was a fellow of the Royal Society, and was some time in partnership with William Parkinson; he died in 1850, and left four sons who were brought up to the trade. One of them, John, was in business with his son in Gracechurch Street from 1825 to 1842. Charles, another of the sons of W. J. Frodsham, was the founder of the present firm of Charles Frodsham & Co. He lived from 1810 to 1871, and started business in 1842 at 7, Finsbury Pavement, and in the following year succeeded John R. Arnold at 84, Strand. He conducted many experiments to investigate the principles of the compensation balance and the balance spring, and wrote many papers on technical subjects; he also invented many improvements which still exist in chronometers and watches. He was succeeded by his son, H. M. Frodsham, in 1871, and the firm became a limited company in 1893. They gained the Admiralty prize of £170 for excellence of marine chronometers.

English watches were highly esteemed at the end of the 18th century, but about this time a swarm of worthless timepieces bearing the forged names of eminent London makers swamped the best markets and inflicted a great blow upon the high reputation of English work. The Swiss took advantage of this to drive us out of the foreign markets, and much distress was caused among operatives in the trade, which led in 1816 to the appointment of a Parliamentary Committee on the petition of the watchmakers of London and Coventry. The Swiss makers still continue, with the Americans, to be our most formidable rivals in the production of cheap watches, although their work will not compare in accuracy with the more costly watches produced by English makers. The necessity for the frequent repair of these foreign time-keepers has given employment to an increasing number of the less skilful members of the trade in this country.

Little has been done in England to synchronize our public clocks, and London is in this respect still much behind other great cities. A system of magnetic clocks devised by Sir Charles Wheatstone is at work at the Royal Institution and other places. A single motor clock upon this principle will govern sixty or seventy indicating clocks, the maintaining power being supplied by magneto-electric currents. A clock in the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, distributes the time to clocks in a few London centres, but the general adoption of this much-needed system, though often talked about, seems as far off as ever.

This is not the place to trace the progress of the art of watchmaking in England, which comes more suitably in the portion of this work to be specially devoted to the City of London, the most notable improvements in the art having been made by Tompion, Graham, Mudge, and other eminent London makers. Early in the reign of Charles I, when the Clockmakers' Company was incorporated (1632), the City of London was certainly the centre of British clock and watchmaking. Clerkenwell next became the head quarters of the trade, and maintained its supremacy as long as verge watches continued in use. Soon after the invention of the lever escapement by Mudge in 1750, the movementmaking was transferred to Lancashire. Here in 1866 the movements were made in Wycherley's factory by machinery in eight standard sizes, the different parts for thousands of movements being perfectly interchangeable. The movement when received by the manufacturer is usually first sent to the dial-maker to be fitted with a dial. The watch then passes through the hands of various subsidiary makers in the following order:-The escapement maker-with whom is associated the wheel-cutter and the pallet-maker, the jeweller, the finisher, and the fusee-cutter. The stopwork is then added, and (when necessary) the keyless work fitted. The case-maker, balancemaker, and hand-maker then add their work, and the examiner fits the movement to the case and puts on the hands. A work of great skill and delicacy remains, the introduction of the balance-spring. The screws of the balance require adjustment with the greatest care in order that the watch may keep time at temperatures ranging from 40 deg. to 90 deg.

The principal development of watchmaking in recent years is the application of machinery. This was attempted in London by the British Watch Company, established in 1843, at 75, Dean Street, Soho, to manufacture watches with duplicating tools invented by P. F. Ingold. An excellent watch was designed and several were made, but the incorporation of the company was successfully opposed by the 'trade,' and the undertaking consequently failed. In America the attempt to cheapen the cost of production has met with greater success. The pioneer of the movement was Aaron L. Denison, who after several preliminary attempts started a factory in 1851 at Roxbury, Massachusetts. (fn. 19) The enterprise passed through many vicissitudes before financial success and a satisfactory standard of manufacture were attained. It was not until 1860 that a dividend of 5 per cent. was declared by the American Watch Company, this being the first dividend declared by any watch factory in America. In 1900 the Waltham Watch Company produced 2,500 watches per day, and employed 1,400 women and 500 men. By the abolition of the fusee and chain a very great reduction was brought about in the number of pieces. In England the most expensive watches contain from one hundred and fifty to over a thousand pieces; the modern shortwind watch consists of forty-seven machinemade parts.

Whilst the efforts of foreign manufacturers have been almost wholly devoted to cheapening the cost of watches, it is satisfactory to note that in England the attainment of a high quality of workmanship continues to be a great object with our principal makers. A great help in this direction has been afforded by the trials instituted at Kew Observatory in 1884, under the auspices of the Royal Society, and now carried out by the National Physical Laboratory. Three classes of certificate are granted, known respectively as A, B, and C, the test for A being especially severe. Watches that obtain eighty or more out of a total of 100 marks are classed as 'especially good,' and in spite of the severity of the tests applied the number of watches which gain this distinction has a noticeable tendency to increase.


  • 1. Knight, Lond. iii, 142.
  • 2. Paston Letters (ed. 1900), ii, 393.
  • 3. F. J Britten, Old Clocks, 45.
  • 4. W. Page, Denizations and Naturalizations (Huguenot Soc.), p. xliii.
  • 5. (1813), 148.
  • 6. Britten, Old Clocks and Watches, 167-8.
  • 7. Ibid. 112, 402.
  • 8. Britten, Old Clocks and Watches, 351.
  • 9. T. Faulkner, Hist. of Fulham (1813), 349.
  • 10. No. 2,132, 17 Aug. 1796.
  • 11. Cat. of the Mus. of the Clockmakers' Company (1902), 46.
  • 12. S. E. Atkins and W. H. Overall, Hist. of the Clockmakers' Co. (1881), 179-80.
  • 13. 18 Mar. 1780, no. 1249.
  • 14. No. 3174, 31 Oct.
  • 15. No. 3342, 26 May.
  • 16. No. 5489, 28 Apr.; no. 5586, 13 Dec.
  • 17. The writer has to express his great indebtedness to Mr. F. J. Britten's admirable and exhaustive work, Old Clocks and Watches, and gratefully acknowledges that author's kindness in personally affording him information.
  • 18. No. 8783, 11 Jan.
  • 19. H. G. Abbott, Watch Factories of America (1888), 13; Ency. Brit. (ed. 10), xxxiii, 763.