Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Bracebridges

The Bracebridges were watchmakers active in the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth centuries.  Traditional horological reference resources – Britten’s , Baillie’s and Loomes – list three makers with this name, but I have identified five, in three generations.

The line begins with Edward.  Britten’s records working dates of 1799–1818, with the address, 8 Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell.  Baillie adds that Edward was in partnership with William Pleace.  There is little more than can be said about Edward.  The earliest possible reference to him is October 1766, when an Edward Bracebridge gave evidence in an Old Bailey trial concerning a larceny in Clerkenwell.  Given the locality and that the profession of a fellow witness, James Upjohn, is given as a watchmaker, it is likely that this is ‘our’ Bracebridge.  Certainly relevant is a Sun Life Insurance record from 1787 which refers to cover for the beer copper of one Alex. Ruff, ‘at Mr Bracebridge’s Watchmaker opp., the small pox hospital in Cold Bath Fields’, (an area close to the Mount Pleasant Royal Mail centre).  The Hospital was demolished and replaced by a prison which opened in 1794.  This institution, incidentally, represents a link to one of Edward’s sons in the early nineteenth century.

I believe Edward had two sons, James and Edward Charles.  James would have been born circa 1788-92 and died circa 1849.  This documentary reference to James is from the Sussex Advertiser, 27 March 1826:

Cornelius Muzzell’s Affairs: Notice is hereby Given, that Cornelius Muzzell, of Horsham, in the county of Sussex, Clock and Silversmith, hath, by indenture bearing date the 5th day of November, 1825, assigned all his Estate and Effects to James Troup, of Cheapside, in the city of London, Silversmith; James Bracebridge of Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell, in the county of Middlesex, Watchmaker and Edward Walker, of Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell aforesaid, Ironmonger, in trust for themselves, and such other Creditors of the said Cornelius Muzzell, as shall, on or before the 5th day of May next, agree to accept the Dividend or Composition arising under the trusts of the said Assignment, in full of their respective debts, - And further Notice is hereby given, that the said Deed of Assignment is left at our Office for the inspection and signature of the Creditors.  Sheppard, Thomas and Lepard.  Cloak Lane, London, 18th March 1826.

Another reference is of much greater horological significance.  When Pierre-Frederick Ingold attempted to set up industrialised watch production in 1842 he encountered staunch opposition from London’s traditional watchmaking trade.  Rather than seeing Ingold’s British Watch & Clock Company as an important element in combating the insurgent Swiss and American industries, the Trade perceived it as a further threat and petitioned Parliament for legislation to deny Ingold’s right to raise capital for the new company.

Edward Charles was born circa 1790, evidenced by a record of admission to St Paul’s School in 1800, his age being shown as ten.  At the age of twenty Edward Charles attained the Freedom of London, a privilege passed on to him by convention as a result of his father’s entitlement to the honour.

Edward Charles’s name appears on a list of jurors for a very significant London trial in 1820.  His suitability to sit on the jury was successfully challenged by the Crown and he therefore took no part in the proceedings.  However, this trial, (of the ‘Cato Street conspirators’), is of general interest as it resulted in the last instance of men found guilty of treason being subject to an execution in which they were hanged and beheaded, (a diminution of the ‘hanged, drawn and quartered’ punishment which had originated in the reign of Henry III).  They had been confined in the Cold Bath prison mentioned above in connection with Edward.

That Edward Charles – in partnership with brother James - was occupying the familiar Red Lion Street premises is confirmed by an entry in the 1825 issue of Pigot’s Directory.  That he was prospering is perhaps suggested by his having his – and his wife, Philippa’s – portrait painted in 1839 by John Samuel Agar, an artist of moderate repute and for a time President of the Society of Engravers.

The business, styled as Edward Charles Bracebridge & Co is evident in various directories with the dates 1851-81.  The primary address remained 8 Red Lion Street, in 1862 a shop was trading at 119 New Bond Street, managed by Charles Roe.  The family residence was 6 Barnsbury Villas, Liverpool Road, Islington.

Edward Charles and Philippa had two sons, James (James II), circa 1823-92, and Edward Gilbert, 1822-99.  James II proved to be the more high profile outside the family business itself – he served as Treasurer to the Watch and Clockmakers Benevolent Institute and was this body’s representative at the funeral of Charles Frodsham in 1871.

James himself eventually found his health failing and in the 1 August 1891 issue of The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith it was reported:

. . . Mr. James Bracebridge is retiring from the business which he has carried on for many years as watch manufacturer in Clerkenwell, under the style of E. C. Bracebridge and Co.  Mr. Bracebridge has appointed his nephew, Mr. F. Bracebridge Mills, to settle his affairs. There is, we believe, some likelihood that Mr. T. D. Wright, who for many years has held the post of manager to Mr. Bracebridge, will continue the business, and in this event there is no doubt that the reputation the firm has long enjoyed will be fully maintained in Mr. Wright's hands.

Edward Gilbert’s role in the business is not clear.  One of the few references to him is a record of a donation of £10.10s. to the North London Consumption Hospital in 1896, so one might conclude that he, or a close family member suffered with this condition which was all too prevalent in late nineteenth century London.

Thomas Wright formed a partnership with William Craighead to carry on the business at Red Lion Street from 1891.  Wright became very well known in wider horological circles and it was his proposal for the format of British Summer Time clocks adjustment that we use to this day.

I have traced eleven extant Bracebridge watches.  Attribution to specific members of the family is difficult because of some missing movement numbers, some re-cases and un hallmarked cases.  At least three sets of 4 digit movement numbers seem to have been used, with an apparently relatively consistent range between 1823 - #5882 and 1850 - #8935.  A five digit #38931 is dated to 1865 and another, #12741, is in a silver case hallmarked for 1892.

Perhaps the most attractive is #5882, a repeater in 18ct Gold Case made by Louis Comtesse:

Courtesy of Matthew Barton Ltd


The British Museum holds a Bracebridge movement.  Circa1865, this features a Savage-two-pin lever escapement and utilises a keyless winding mechanism:

© Trustees of the British Museum


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Thomas Earnshaw 1749-c1914 (!)

Anyone who studies English watchmaking in the period 1750-1850 will soon come across multiple references to Thomas Earnshaw.  Though born in Lancashire, Earnshaw was for many years a prominent figure in London horological circles, noted both for technical brilliance and for a chaotic lifestyle, especially in regard to his finances.  He particularly came to my attention when I was researching the post here, A Watch to Die For, and for an article on George Margetts. 

Earnshaw is well known for his contribution to the refinement of Marine Chronometers with his spring detent escapement, (1783 patent in the name of Thomas Wright) and for his dispute with Arnold to which that invention gave rise.  Speculating on his disposition, the word ‘disgruntled’ comes to mind and not only with Arnold, but also with the Board of Longitude, (leading to his Appeal to the Public, 1808), and, persistently, with various creditors who , not unreasonably, sought his imprisonment on grounds of insolvency. 

The standard horological reference works – Baillie, Loomes, Mercer - tend to dwell on Thomas himself, 1749-1829, and his son, also Thomas, b1784.  Britten’s does go further, recording two more generations, but I believe that I have identified no less than five Thomas Earnshaw fathers-and-sons, born successively in 1749 – 1784 – 1809 or 1811 – 1835 – 1862. 

Thomas II (b1784) carried on the business at 119 High Holborn, according to the ‘brand’s’ current website, until 1854.  Mercer suggests that latterly he moved the business to 87 Fenchurch Street.  At the time of the 1851 Census he was living at 12 Union Road, Clapham.  Although there is some doubt about dates/locations, an important milestone is recorded around the years 1841-2.  In the 1820s/1830s the production of top quality Earnshaw chronometers declined.  Anthony Randall has observed that Thomas II possibly lacked his father’s technical ability and interest in chronometry and was content to be the maker of more ordinary watches, ‘for purely civil use’.1  The latest movement number with hallmark-verified date is #7131/1841.  The date is significant in that it was in 1842 that Thomas II’s name appeared on a list of Directors for the nascent British Watch and Clockmaking Company.  Although Thomas’s name – as did John Barwise’s and John Frodsham’s – lent credibility to the prospects of the industrial-model company, the traditional trade’s opposition won the day, and the business was defunct before it had ever really got going.2 

The third Thomas was born around 1810.  Whilst next to nothing is documented about his watchmaking, numerous pieces of paper were required to record the fecund nature of Thomas III’s marriage to Jane Cunningham: they had nine children, born across the years 1835 to 1848.  The first-born was Thomas IV.  The household must have been a lively, crowded milieu at the time of the 1851 Census since Thomas had two apprentices – James Dean and James Bacon – also living-in, at 48 St John’s Street, Clerkenwell. 

It’s a shame not more is known about this Thomas – he was, I suspect, a ‘colourful’ character.  When only 15 he was involved in a dispute over the affections for one Miss Dowler.  It was alleged that Thomas had issued to a rival a challenge to a duel, but this evidently was ultimately found to be a hoax. 

As noted above, Thomas IV grew up in a fully occupied dwelling from which the business was conducted in Clerkenwell, the traditional centre of the London watchmaking trade.  But, as the nineteenth century progressed into its second half, that Trade was in decline, watches from Switzerland and America taking ever higher market share.  Although there had been failure in London itself to introduce a more efficient/cost-competitive manufacturing model, semi-industrialisation was established in Lancashire and Coventry.  There was a degree of migration of watchmaking individuals and families from London to these areas.  Thus Thomas was to be found for the 1891 Census in Solihull and in Coventry for those of 1901 and 1911. 

The ‘last’ watchmaking Thomas Earnshaw, son of Thomas IV, was born in 1862.  He was still living at home with his father and mother, Annie, in 1891, but is untraceable after that date.  Thomas IV, though by then 75 years of age, was still recorded as working when the 1911 Census was conducted. 

For a good overview of extant Earnshaw timepieces, I’d recommend a visit to David Penney’s Antique Watch Store http://www.antiquewatchstore.com/search?controller=search&orderby=position&orderway=desc&search_query=earnshaw&submit_search=&p=2

1              A G Randall, Thomas Earnshaw’s Numbering Sequence, Antiquarian Horology, Vol17 No4,                 Summer 1988

2              Alun C Davies, The Ingold Episode Revisited, Antiquarian Horology, Vol31 No5, Sept 2009

 

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Price of a Museum Piece?

My previous post here, Small is Beautiful, April 2016, and my articles in Clocks Magazine, April and May 2016, referred to the beautiful small gold chronometer made by Alexander Watkins for the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Given the unique nature of this timepiece, I’m surprised to see today that it is up for sale at an auction-estimated price which I would consider to be very modest. 

The auctioneers are VAN HAM Kunstauktionen, and the sale dates are 17th and 18th November.  An estimate of 25,000 EUR - 30,000 EUR has been posted.  When last subject to public sale, at Sotheby’s in 2004, it made £51,000.  It will be interesting to see the hammer price achieved next month, and, if this is close to the current estimate, I will be trying to understand what has caused such an apparently high degree of devaluation.
 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Fathers and Sons, Wealth and Insolvency

I recently completed a research project and consequent narrative article on a family of watchmakers stretching over 5 generations and covering the period 1738-1921.  The more I look into the lives of English Georgian/Victorian horologists, the greater I am impressed by their resilience.  Quite often bankruptcies occurred repeatedly, often by sons who inherited a father’s tendency towards impecuniosity as well as a liking/facility for working with wheels and springs.  I might be kidding myself, but I like to think that failures were usually the result of a maker’s over-concentration on innovation at the expense of revenue-generating productivity.  There is certainly some correlation in several instances between the taking out of a patent and the posting of a bankruptcy petition.  In this regard I immediately think of Ralph Gout – see my post http://theoldwatchword.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/ralph-gout-man-or-brand.html . 

Another is Charles Haley (& Son) described by Baillie as ‘A famous maker,’ whose patent, #2132, for a Marine Chronometer, was dated 17th August 1796, but who also was the subject of a bankruptcy notice printed in the London Gazette in August 1812.  Haley’s work does indeed look elegant, as evident in this circa 1804 Pocket Chronometer:
 
Courtesy of Calibre X
 
Haley sometimes used a letter code instead of a conventional movement number; examples seen include: M/CEC; FFA and PAM: difficult to figure to say the least.

Also worth a look is a circa-1813 gold-cased Pocket Watch with an unusual and attractive bezel: http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1333460  

Related to another Haley movement in The British Museum, Anthony G. Randall/Richard Good note:

Charles Haley, 7 Wigmore Street, was made a Freeman of the Clockmakers Company in 1781 and died in 1825.   He was a pioneer chronometer maker and was granted a patent, No. 2132, in 1796 for a constant force escapement. A watch fitted with this device is preserved in the Guildhall Museum, London*. He was appointed by the Select Committee of the House of Commons to report on Mudge’s timekeepers and application for a reward. 

* This collection now installed at The Science Museum. 

Incidentally, Thomas Mudge received a total of £3,000 as a reward from the Board of Longitude, largely as a result of the persistence of his son.  (Poor old Mudge Snr had little opportunity to enjoy the bulk of the grant, dying the following year.)  How grateful would Gout or Haley have been for such munificence - £279,500.00 in terms of purchasing power at current rates: no more selling off stock in a hurry with that much under the mattress! 

Friday, 29 July 2016

John Poole - Chronometer Maker

John Poole was an English Marine Chronometer Maker rated a little below the elite makers such as Arnold, Earnshaw, Frodsham, Kullberg and Dent.  One reason why he didn’t quite reach the highest echelon was his relatively short working life – he died aged just 49.  Nowadays, when Poole chronometers come on the market any brief biographical details added to the watch’s description almost always include this or something similar: John Poole took his own life in 1867, shortly after winning the gold medal at the Paris Exhibition. 
 
Much as I’m fascinated by old clocks and watches, I’m even more intrigued by the people who made them, and I’m always surprised to see it when a note of this type is merely copied/pasted and no attempt has been made to understand the ‘why’ behind the factoid.  After all, in the more straightforward society of Victorian England, what on earth would induce a prize-winning man with a successful business and thriving family to commit suicide? 
 
Having found no indication of the circumstances of Poole’s death in existing horological research resources/writings, I set about solving this mystery myself.  I’m pleased that I’ve been able to provide answers, but saddened by Poole’s situation, even at this distance in time.  My findings are reported in my article on John Poole, published in the August 2016 issue of Clocks Magazine. 
 
The Marine Chronometer is an especially attractive type of timekeeper.  The style of the instrument itself and the wooden storage box seem to me quintessentially English and singularly evocative of the nineteenth century.  Their aesthetic merits were underpinned by functional integrity – however good one looked, it would be useless (for its primary purpose) if it didn’t perform with supreme accuracy.  And the accuracy was measured stringently, at the Greenwich Trials for instance.  At these, in 1845 and again in 1854, Poole chronometers were the outright winners. 
 
Since writing the article I came across this excellent example, representative of Poole’s output:

 

Courtesy of Charles Miller 

Eight day Marine Chronometer, circa 1855 with silvered dial signed John Poole, 57 Fenchurch Street, London, 2702, Maker to the Admiralty, gold hands with blued-steel subsidiaries, Earnshaw Escapement with Poole's auxiliary compensation set within a counterweighted and gimbal-mounted bowl within three-tier wooden box with tipsy key, with numbered maker's plate and inset handles.  Offered at auction in May 2016 with an estimate of £3-5,000.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Updated - Decimal Time - The Statters

This is an updated version of the article I posted here on 26 June 2016.  The update features photographs of the Statters' watch – No 1 – which have kindly been made available to me by Sir George White Bt., F.S.A., Keeper, The Clockmakers' Museum at The Science Museum.

Richard Dover Statter was born in 1825 in Liverpool.  His father, Edward, was a physician and Richard followed in his footsteps, noted on the 1861 Census as a General Practitioner and Member of the College of Surgeons of England.  He is not, however, remembered for any medical advances, but for a 38 page pamphlet promoting the concept of decimalisation.  This was complemented by a ‘decimal’ watch made by his brother, Thomas. 

Richard’s approach to decimalisation was in keeping with today’s medical outlook in that it was holistic, as can be gathered from the pamphlet’s title: The Decimal System as a Whole, in its relation to Time, Measure, Weight, Capacity and Money, in Unison with each other. 

An attempt to introduce decimalised timekeeping had been made in the wake of the French Revolution.  A revised, ‘Republican Calendar’, in which there were twelve 30 day months, with each month divided by 3 decades, (replacing ‘weeks’), lasted from 1793 to 1805.  The related daily timekeeping model, with each day divided into 10 parts, these parts divided by one hundred, (a decimal minute) and each ‘minute’ by one hundred, (a decimal second), lasted only from 24 November 1793 to 7 April 1795.
 
The British Museum holds nine examples of decimal pocket watches made in France/Switzerland during the Revolutionary era.  The dials of eight of these are shown in the collage below:

© Trustees of the British Museum
 
Whilst the new physical units of measure – metre – litre – gram – became established, the proposed new time metrics did not, primarily because: 
 

·         It would have a cost a great deal to replace all existing clocks and watches
 

·         There was ‘comfort’ for the ordinary person in the old, familiar model and confusion is assimilating the new, especially when so much change was taking place over such a short period of time
 

·         There was no ‘natural’ or commercially logical motivation for people to voluntarily adopt the new model – enforcing its uptake would have required a ‘policing’ approach 
 

However, some half a century later, Statter’s pamphlet sought to resurrect the idea of decimal time and is especially interesting when considered in relation to his brother’s watch.  Thomas is recorded as a watchmaker in the 1861 Census – aged 22, he was still living at home with his mother and father.  The case of his decimal watch is hallmarked for 1862 and is now in the Clockmakers Museum within the Science Museum, London.  

The watch movement/cuvette bears two inscriptions:  

Richd. Dover Statter & Thos. Statter, Liverpool No.1  

The true basis of a universal Decimal system 
 
Courtesy of Sir George White Bt 
 
An alternative dial design – drawn seven years in advance of production of the watch – shown below is reproduced in the Pamphlet:
 
 
 
It would seem to be a remarkable piece given its two register functionality and elegance relative to the youthfulness of its maker, (aged just 23).  No other examples – of this decimal timepiece or indeed any other watches signed by him – of Thomas’s work are known to exist, partly accounted for no doubt by his short life – he was dead only 3 years later.  It would also be logical to view this as a prototype – perhaps ‘No. 1’ is the actual movement number.
 
After the Statters’ time, late in the nineteenth century, the ever-increasing influence of railways and the advent of the electric telegraph gave rise to renewed consideration of decimal time, since it could provide a model for a new global time standard.  Although no practical initiative emerged then, a similar communications revolution occurred as the twentieth century closed, with the establishment and rapid development of the Internet.  Stemming from this, 1998 saw the introduction of Swatch Internet Time, (also known as ‘beat time’).  The objective was to provide a common global time for people communicating over the Internet, from/to anywhere in the world, without the complication of any geographically-related ‘time zones’.  It divides the day into 1000 beats, midday occurring at 500 beats, (@500).  A beat is therefore equal to 1.44 minutes.  A dual function Swatch is shown below:
 
Courtesy Getty Images
 
And, coming right up to date, Chanson David Watches - http://www.chansondavid.com  - are currently offering a range of watches – called the Comparative - which indicate conventional and decimal time on a single analogue dial layout, where, as illustrated below, the hour hand (green tipped) points to the decimal value, against the outer scale.  This divides the average calendar day into 2 x 10 units is in accordance with the International System of Units (SI).  The conventional time showing in this illustration is 10 hrs 8 mins 24 seconds:
 
 
Courtesy of Chanson David



Friday, 3 June 2016

Ralph Gout - Man or Brand?

The June 2016 issue of Antiquarian Horology includes my article on Ralph Gout.  My study of Gout’s life and work was initially inspired by the acquisition of verge #21915.  I then became interested in Gout as an example of ‘brand marketing’, something that sounds very 21st century, but which was being exploited by English watchmakers two hundred years ago – the original working title for the article was ‘Ralph Gout – Man or Brand?’ 

Existing horological reference sources were muddled on Gout.  My Third Edition Baillie refers only to Ralph, with the dates 1770-1836.  Loomes (First Edition) added David Ralph 1832-57 and Ralph (?II) 1863.  Britten’s included Ralph 1858-67.  Most of the watches I was able to trace – usually signed Ralph Gout, London – appeared to stem from dates after Ralph’s death in 1828.
 
Ralph was an innovator.  He didn’t just make easily saleable watches for the English market.  He experimented with dual-functionality, took out relevant patents and created beautifully cased timepieces for the Ottoman market.  In so doing he found himself made bankrupt, but he also established a fine reputation for quality in Turkey.  As a result, his name on watches, made after his own lifetime by his son and an associate, guaranteed their marketability in Constantinople and Smyrna.  Thus, a brand was established that was so powerful that even a name of the stature of Frodsham was found to be ‘borrowing’ it illicitly! 

This is the verge, #21915: