Prescot Watches

Prescot Watches

Some years ago I read two books by Dr. Robert Kemp: ‘The Englishman’s Watch’ first published in 1979 and ‘The Fusee Lever Watch’ first published in 1981.

In his first one, in Plate 30 there is a photograph of a ‘fusee lever by John Chesworth of Prescot, case-dated Chester 1845’.  Kemp goes on to say:

“Ironically though millions of movements in the rough were made at Prescot, this is my only example of a watch finished and retailed by an individual watch maker of the township.”

In his second book, in the Chapter entitled ‘Nineteenth Century Watch Manufacture’ on Page 49, he says:

“Most collectors will be interested enough in their watches to want to know exactly where their pieces were actually made.  This may not be an easy matter….The actual signature may be significant or it may be misleading and in any case many watches were unsigned.

In broad outline the manufacture had, by the beginning of the nineteenth century in this country, come to follow the tradition of a clear division.  Watch and chronometer movement parts were turned out in Prescot and its surrounding villages.  They were then assembled by master movement makers, mainly in Prescot itself, and the assembled rough movements were sent to the finishing centres.  Except in the days of the Lancashire Watch Company there were no finishers in Prescot. (JGP’s italics).  This sharp distinction is negatively emphasized by the rarity with which a Prescot signature appears on a top plate.  Two only present and I have seen a third.

  1. A silver cased watch signed by John Chesworth, Prescot, No. 1846, Chester 1845. Cased by R.L. – Richard Lucas of Liverpool.  There are no movement makers initials.  A liver bird is engraved on the typically Liverpool cock.  Jno. Chesworth, of Shuttle Alley, Prescot is listed in the directory of 1854.
  2. A watch by Ricd. Holmes, Prescot, No. 20001, Chester 1878, cased by H.H. – Henry Hill, Liverpool.  The number suggests that this was first watch that Richard Holmes had finished or had had finished.  It is a Liverpool runner with Liverpool jewelling to the fusee arbor and is in excellent condition.  The initials R.H. appear in more than one position on the movement.”

It is only relatively recently that the ‘no finishers in Prescot’ statement has been disproved.  In the December 1985 edition of Antiquarian Horology, the journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society, on Page 604 is an article ‘An Early 18th Century Watchmaker’s Notebook’ ‘Richard Wright of Cronton and the Lancashire-London connection by Alan Smith’.  The article describes finding a ‘Lancashire watch-makers pocket-book with notes of work undertaken, movements made and sent to London’.  The notebook is in the Lancashire Record Office in Preston, England.  The article, which gives details of every page of the notebook contains the paragraph:

“The finishing of watch movements in Lancashire is exactly the reverse of what one would expect when normally rough Lancashire ébauches which still required finishing were sent to London, as noted in the extract from Matthew Gregson’s notes quoted earlier.  Here, however, is irrefutable evidence that the reverse procedure sometimes occurred.  Another similar example appears on page 12 for “a watch to finish” for Charles Goode in 1722 (Illus. 5) and an order from Mr. Goode for Lancashire files follows on the next page. It would be interesting to know exactly what Wright’s workmen did to Horseman’s watches during the several weeks while they were in Lancashire though on page 16 it is stated: “October ye 19th scaping a movement”.

In case the reader should think that the Wright notebook entries already quoted do not establish firmly the Lancashire/London connection in the early 18th century, all doubts must be removed when we turn to almost all the pages of the notebook from 20 to 36 where details of sending watch movements “to be Deliver’d at ye Bell in Wood Street” occur no less than twenty-five times.”

Robert Kemp’s statement about ‘no finishers in Prescot’, the prevailing view at the time, does not diminish in any way the value of the information contained within his books.  And bearing in mind that he probably studied thousands of watches in his life, his statements about a paucity of movements bearing the name ‘Prescot’ (other than LWC ones) resonated with me.  I decided to be on the lookout for examples and I encouraged others to do the same.  Now I have this website I am publishing photographs, where available, of those seen to date.  These watches have a variety of owners and it will take time to get photographs of them.  I also recognise that this section will never be complete but over time we will get a reasonable view of just how many might exist.  I would encourage any owners of such watches to contact me with details.  If you can furnish me with photographs I will be happy to put them on this website, either anonymously or giving credit, your choice.  And I’ve also included the surrounding locations which also had watch trade individuals – e.g. Cronton, Farnworth (not the Farnworth located near south east of Bolton), Tarbock, St Helens.  I anticipate that this Prescot Watches section will continue growing as new examples to come to light.  Areas included can be seen on the map on the home page.

Click on one of the links above to start viewing.

The current number of watches listed is 97.  If any reader would like more details of a particular watch contact me.  If I still have access to the watch I will try to answer any query.

John Platt