Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area

between 1650 and 1900 Wrexham had a considerable clock and watchmaking trade

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
An unusual watch inscribed "William Ellis" and showing St. Giles Church, Wrexham.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area.

Over the centuries methods of timekeeping have responded to changes in technology, fashion and popularity. Timekeeping has become more accurate; clocks and watches have become more readily available, no longer the prerogative of the wealthy. For much of their recent history they have been respected items of furniture or jewellery as well as having a practical value.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
Watch signed Thos. Heywood, Wrexham.

There have been many early and primitive ways of measuring time including the sand glass, the water clock and the sundial. Although private sundials are known (Brymbo Hall is said to have had one) most were to be found in churchyards and indicate that early time-keeping was a public affair. Pocket sundials for private use are known but most people relied on the parish church clock in order to tell the time.

The church then was the focus of community life; the ringing of church bells advised local people that it was time for prayer but also gave an indication of the passage of time. Local sundials survive at Holt, Ruabon, Wrexham, Gresford (by Hampson), Erddig, Minera and Hanmer.

Early clocks and watches were rare and expensive and beyond the means of the average person. Naturally, the church was probably the first building to have a public clock. St. Giles, Wrexham had one in the early Seventeenth Century and it is known that Sir John Trevor of Trefalyn had his own clock in 1580.

The first mechanical clock is believed to have been introduced to Britain from Europe in the mid 1300’s. These were notably inaccurate and could lose or gain as much as an hour per day having to be set regularly from a sundial. Early mechanical clocks only rang a bell. Later a dial and hour hand were fitted. With such inaccuracy a minute hand was of no use. This changed with the invention of the pendulum clock in 1658 when clocks could be made that kept time to two minutes a week. At the same time, it was practical to add a minute hand and clocks became the first precision domestic instrument.

Watches were no more accurate than early clocks until the invention of the balance spring in 1675, after which their accuracy improved to about 2 minutes a day. During the early 1800’sT:he lever escapement gradually replaced the verge escapement and this increased accuracy to aboiit 30 seconds a day.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
An unusual watch inscribed “William Ellis” and showing St. Giles Church, Wrexham.

Wrexham: The Market Town

From the Seventeenth Century onwards clock making developed in Wrexham as in many other Welsh settlements. At that time, Wrexham was a thriving market town at the centre of a prosperous agricultural area. The coal, iron and lead industries were also expanding. The Eighteenth Century therefore saw the rise of several wealthy landowners including the Wynns, the Lloyds and the Yorkes.

The long case clock became a fashionable item of furniture and intricately ornamented watches were stylish items of jewellery. Wrexham itself was the natural focus for trade and developed many of the typical industries associated with market towns. Brewing, printing and leather working developed together with clock making. Wrexham too had natural advantages; it is assumed that lead mined at Minera was used to make the weights. It is likely that local iron foundries also supplied parts and cabinet makers would have used local oak for the cases.

Many of the parts of early clocks were probably made locally. However, in the days of mass production in the Nineteenth Century parts were probably manufactured elsewhere and would have been merely finished or assembled in Wrexham. By the early and mid-Nineteenth Century, it is certain that Birmingham, for example, supplied many parts for locally assembled clocks.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
Brass dial of a Hampson’s long case clock c1760.

Wrexham’s Clock and Watch Makers

Local research has revealed that between 1650 and 1900 Wrexham had a considerable clock and watchmaking trade. There is strong evidence of a family tradition in the industry, son following father. The Ratcliffes were working in Wrexham by the 1760’s; the Hampsons between 1719 and 1780 and the Fernals around 1770. Some of the earliest clock makers were Humphrey and William Maysmore of Town Hill between 1716 and 1730.

Hampson clocks were particularly well made and the family is considered to be amongst the elite of the early Welsh clock makers.

Many local brass dialed clocks produced by the Hampson family still exist in the Wrexham area. In 1728, Thomas Hampson moved into the High Street of Wrexham, where he worked in a building known as ”The Clock”. By 1748 he had moved to Charles Street. His sons followed him in the trade and it may also be that the family is related to other clock making families within the area.

Thomas Hampson numbered his brass dials between the years 1719 and 1740. However, research has shown that the numbered sequence did not follow a chronological order; some low numbered clocks are later than some numbered higher.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
A painted dial showing T. Heywood.

Both brass and painted dials are well represented in the Wrexham clock industry. Some of them have detailed ornamentation showing floral designs, or cherubs on the early brass clocks.

In 1772 the japanned or painted dial was invented in Birmingham. The early dials had scroll work or flowers and the more expensive ones had figures often representing the four seasons. After 1800 the amount of painting on the dial increased and included almost anything: shells, fans or animals. These dials were ordered from Birmingham by the local clockmaker and sometimes special dials with specific designs were asked for.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
Detail of a painted dial of a fraser long case clock c1860.

The early long cases were generally made of oak but some more recent cases were made from mahogany which was introduced to this country in 1715. Again some cases are highly ornamented by earning or with inlay of holly or satinwood. Apart from the practical value of telling the time, long case clocks were treasured items of furniture and were frequently the most valuable item in the household.

Watch Case Papers

Many local examples of watch papers still exist. These take the form of a liner placed between the inner and outer watch case to ensure a tight fit. They are generally made of paper (but can take the form of needle-work samplers) and can show either an advertisement for the firm or perhaps a calendar. It is quite common to see several watch papers compressed into the outer case of a watch, many of them annotated to show the repairs undertaken on that watch. They are therefore a record of the history of that watch over a number of years.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
Watch Case paper E. Moss of Crane Street, Cefn Mawr.
Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area
Watch Case paper, D.D. Pierce, The Old Bank, Ruabon.

Clock and Watchmakers of the Wrexham Area

Those listed with a C indicated craftsmen capable of making their own parts. Those listed AV were in the main assembler/vendors of bought in movements and parts, although many of them would have been competent tradesmen. It was easier and more profitable to buy in and assemble; they mainly date in the latter half of the 19th Century.

ARTHUR SMITH 1650 (C).

JOSEPH SMITH 1680 (C).

RICHARD JOYNSON 1700 High Street, Wrexham (C).

JOHN MACKEY 1720 (C).

HUMPHREY & WILLIAM MAYSMORE 1720 of Town Hill, Wrexham (C).

THOMAS, ROBERT & JOSEPH HAMPSON 1730, 1770, 1780 (C).

JOHN COTTEREL 1750 (C).

JAMES BANNISTER 1756

JOHN & JOSEPH RATCLIFFE 1760, 1720

THOMAS & JOHN HALEY 1760 Also used the name YELAH (C).

JOHN FERNAL 1770 (C).

JOHN NEWELL 1770 (C).

WILLIAM HIGHFIELD 1778 (C).

JOHN JONES 1778 (C).

JOHN HAYES 1780 Charles Street, Wrexham (C).

ISAAC ROBERTS 1790 Ruabon (C).

THOMAS EDWARDS 1798 (C).

JOHN SMITH 1800 Yorke Street, Wrexham (C).

WILLIAM ELLIS 1830 Mold and Wrexham (C).

SAMUEL MONK 1830 Hope Street, Wrexham (C).

JOHN SMITH Jnr. 1830 Yorke Street, Wrexham (C).

ROBERT WILLIAMS 1830 Town Hill, Wrexham (C).

WILLIAM HIGGS 1835 Ruabon.

ROBERT WINSTANLEY 1835 Ruabon (AV).

THOMAS EDWARDS 1840 Llangollen (C).

THOMAS HEYWOOD 1840 High Street & Hope Street, Wrexham (AV).

R.K. BURROUGHS 1850 Hope Street, Wrexham (AV).

ROBERT HUGHES 1850 Llangollen (C,AV). Precursor to Hughes, High Street, Wrexham.

FREDERICK ERASER 1860 High Street, Wrexham (AV).

JOHN PARRY 1860 Abbot Street, Wrexham (AV).

JAMES ROSS 1860 Church Street & Hope Street, Wrexham (AV).

ISAAC WILLIAMS 1870 Coedpoeth (AV).

GEORGE BROWN 1874 Abbot Street, Wrexham (AV).

ROBERT ROBERTS 1874 Ruabon (AV).

ISAIAH SMITH 1874 Cefn (AV).

EDMUND HILLARY 1875 Rhosymedre.

THOMAS HUGHES 1887  Ruabon.

EDWIN OWEN 1887 Supplied clocks for the Post Office in 1886 (AV).

RICHARD WILKS 1887 Yorke Street, Wrexham (AV).

DANIEL PIERCE 1880 Wrexham & The Old Bank, Ruabon (AV).

WILLIAM MARTIN 1890 Bank Street, Wrexham (AV).

WILLIAM ELLIS

E. MOSS Crane Street, Cefn Mawr.

RICHARD JONES Ruabon.

THOMAS ROBERTS Ruabon.

THOMAS WARD (C).

If you have further information that may have been missed please contact us to update this article.

Source: Original material printed by Wrexham Heritage Centre. Supplied by Martin Rees Jewellers. Additional research Graham Lloyd.