A Welshman's Italian Job – well maybe …

Discussion in 'European & Other Pocket Watches' started by John Matthews, Jul 13, 2020.

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  1. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    This watch is a fine example of what is possibly a Lancashire verge, signed by Hugh Hughes of Caernarvon, North Wales, housed in well preserved Liverpool pair cases. In addition to the quality of the workmanship, it has two two features which appealed to me. Firstly, the pair cases carry a set of very rare Chester hallmarks. Secondly, the Hughes signature is followed, not by Caernarvon, but Portella – this may indicate a connection between the North Wales watch maker and a settlement in Italy, but I am yet to establish a connection. I am aware of one other example #1706 in 1813 pair cases, which I believe was signed Hugh Hughes, Caernarvon.

    20200713 011.jpg 20200713 001.jpg 20200713 002.jpg 20200713 007.jpg 20200713 004.jpg 20200713 005.jpg 20200713 010.jpg

    The watch has been serviced and is working strongly – I haven't checked the timing accurately, but does appear to be keeping reasonable time.

    The hallmark includes the date letter 'I' from the Chester Cycle V (July 1776 – July 1797) This date letter was only used for 6 months during 1785, from 28 January until 20 July. As explained by Moore & Priestley (AH Summer, 1997), the Chester Assay Master, John Scasebrick, became ill and died during 1784 and the date letter change from 'h' to 'I' was delayed from the normal date in July, until the following 28 January (Note that the entry in Bradbury is in error for this date letter.) The hallmark also includes the left facing profile duty stamp of George III, which was used from 1 December, 1784, until 20 July, 1786.

    20200713 003.jpg 20200713 012.jpg

    The most unusual aspect of this set of Chester hallmarks, is the Leopard's Head. When I first saw this, I did an extensive search of old Chester silver marks, as it was bringing into question whether the set were faux marks. I did eventually find one other example, on a contemporary silver barrel beaker, which had an identical mark. The period when this head was used 1778 until 1794. There is a photograph of the stamp in Ridgway & Priestley where the image is in relief within a well defined cartouche. The mark on these pair cases and the silver barrel beaker, is similar, but not as clearly defined. I assume that these marks were made by a different punch, which although less frequently used, nonetheless produced a genuine mark.

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    If anyone has silver items with Chester hallmarks between 1778 and 1794 I would very much appreciate a photograph of the hallmarks.

    The case maker's mark is the very distinctive one of John Adamson (IA in cartouche #77 as defined by Priestley). There is an excellent account of the work of Adamson in the Moore & Priestley publication I referred to above. He is there described as operating a 'large concern' who was submitting cases to Chester prior to 1785 and continued to submit to Chester until 1789. In that year he transferred his business to the Birmingham Office, not to return to Chester until 1795 when the firm was designated as John Adamson & Son. The reasons for this are also explained in the paper. Adamson operated from various addresses in Liverpool. In 1785 he was possibly located a 8 Hales Street, Liverpool. This address is recorded for 1781 but by 1787 he was listed at 18 Johnson Street. To give some measure of the size of his business, in1792 he submitted 572 pair cases for assay at the Birmingham Assay Office.

    Moore & Priestley Summer 1997.JPG

    The watch came with an interesting, although rather worn silk watch paper carrying a poem 'What is Life' by Montgomery which I have been unable to identify.

    20200713 015.jpg

    Hugh Hughes is listed in Loomes as being active in Caernarvon 1794-1806. In a subsequent entry he implies that the same watch maker was active in Gaerwen, Llangefni, Llanrhyddlad and Pwllheli. I am not convinced. I have been able to establish that there was a definitely a Hugh Hughes located in Pool Street from 1794 through to 1811 and in all probability from 1786 to 1815 from jury records. There is evidence that his son, John, was active from 1805. In that year Hugh is recorded as taking as a watch & clock maker apprentice, David Williams, for 4 years for the sum of £10.

    Hugh's business was continued by his son. He died in 1863 and after a brief period when it was under the name of his wife, Ann, it subsequently became Hughes & Co at 12 Pool Street until 1885. The business then became Roberts & Owen, continuing as jewellers, silversmiths and opticians until the mid 1930s.

    As an aside, I also found an earlier apprentice record – Richard Hughes, master, William Williams, apprentice, watch movement maker, Caernarvon Wales 1/6/1739 7 years £20. Whether Hugh was related to Richard, I do not know, but the trade of movement maker, with a commensurate high apprentice fee, based in Caernarvon, came as somewhat of a surprise. Can we therefore infer that the watch making community in Caernarvon in the C18th were performing rather more that just watch finishing? I am left questioning just how much work Hughes contributed to this particular watch.

    I should perhaps also mention William Hughes the famous clock and watch maker of 119 High Holborn in London. A native of Llanfflewin Anglesey, he left for London sometime before 1755. He was elected honorary freeman in 1781 and made a number of fine watches. He was succeeded by Thomas Earnshaw at the High Holborn address. I have no idea if there is any family connection.

    Portella, Italy.JPG

    In terms of the Italian connection, Portella is a location inland approximately midway between Rome and Naples. Enrico informs me that in the C18th it would have been close to the border between the Bourbon Kingdom and the Roman State (Vatican). I have attempted to establish whether the Hughes family name existed in the area at the time. This has not yielded a great deal, although I have found evidence of the Hughes family in Naples in the C19th – Carlo Francesco Hughes being the Father of Giacomo Pietro Antonio Hughes who died in 1858.

    20200713 008.jpg

    It has crossed my mind that PORTELLA (all in capitals) could be PORT ELLA and that it was a location in North Wales – but this has not yielded any results. I have also given some thought as to the maritime trade of the period from this part of North Wales. While I think it unlikely that there was slate trade between North Wales and Italy, this was shortly after 'The Great Discover' / 'Welsh Copper Rush' at Parys Mountain, Anglesey in 1768. For a short period this was the largest copper mine in the world with product being shipped out from Amlwch on the north Anglesey coast.

    A number of very tenuous leads as to the why the Hughes signature was followed by Portella, but I am really scraping the barrel.

    John
     
  2. PatH

    PatH Registered User
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    What is Life? by Montgomery - from an 1853 book (Google) called The Forget Me Not: a selection of Simple Songs for Thinking Hearts. This book is a compilation of poems that includes What is Life?
    The forget me not: a selection of simple songs

    What is Life - Montgomery.png
     
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  3. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Pat - my thanks

    I often fail to search Google Books - this is a reminder for me. I was still unsure who Montgomery was - but thanks to your link I searched, for one of the other poems 'Night' and established that it was written by James Montgomery

    James Montgomery (1751-1854) was a British editor, hymn writer and poet. He was particularly associated with humanitarian causes such as the campaigns to abolish slavery and to end the exploitation of child chimney sweeps.

    John
     
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  4. DaveyG

    DaveyG Registered User

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    Hi John,

    The area of Anglesey and its close environs are, as you know, my stomping ground. The maritime history here disappears into the long, long past and copper was being exported from Amlwch way back into the Roman times and was, in fact, being extracted as far back as the bronze age, from the area around Parys Mountain. Parys Mountain is a regular (or was in the pre-Covid era) dog walk and is quite spectacular. There are several historic ports along the North coast of the island, but none now known as Ella and not, to the best of my knowledge, that have previously been called that. The closest by name is a Porth Eilan. I am not so familiar with the Caernarvon side of the Straits but going down the Lleyn there are, again, hundreds of small coves that were ports of one sort of another in the past. Llanfflewin I know vaguely - well off the beaten track!

    Hugh Hughes is (and was) a well known watch and clock maker in the Caernarfon area and (from memory) he was the son of a watchmaker and his son was also in the trade. Names I can't remember, I don't have the Watch and Clockmakers of Wales book but the local watch man here does. I, like you, would be somewhat sceptical of any direct connection to Llangefni (where I live). There were clockmakers here but I have only ever seen one watch marked for Llangefni and I don't recall any reference to Hughes here, neither have I seen a clock by Hughes marked for Llangefni.

    As to the Italian connection :?|. All I can say is that there is a long history of contact between the Welsh and the Italians. An interesting conundrum which should keep you happy for a while.
     
  5. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Dave - thanks for your post.

    I also (did) know Anglesey very well. As a geology lecturer I led field trips to Anglesey at least once a year from 1972 to 1988 and we usually spent a few hours at Parys Mountain each visit. I know Holy Island particularly well which has some of the best structural geology in the British Isles. Those were the days :).

    John
     
  6. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    #6 John Matthews, Jul 30, 2020
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2020
    I have now discovered a little more about the life of Hughes from a local historian in Caernarfon. Hugh Hughes was born in 1757 and the date often quoted for the commencement of his activity (1794) is, I am informed, taken from the sign above Roberts & Owen. Far from having ceased in the 1930's they continue to trade today. This photograph from 2018 ...

    Roberts & Owen 15 May 2018 .JPG

    The shop is in fact a Grade II listed building ...

    A probably second quarter C19 building to which the present shop front was added in the third quarter of the C19 and shown on the 1888 Ordnance Survey. It was occupied by its present owners, Roberts & Owen, by 1895, but in 1883 was occupied by John Hughes & Co, also a watch and clock maker.
    A building in Pool Street certainly existed in 1794, which may have been completely replaced or extensively modified in the C19th. I can trace watch making and/or retailing activity at the address from 1794 to the present day.

    This is the information I have received from the historian which describes a more complex family history than I had previously discovered ...

    Hugh Hughes was born in 1757 and commenced in business on his own accord around 1794 (at least the shop sign says established 1794). One of his sons, who was born in 1787, was named Hugh after his father and also became a clockmaker. Hugh junior died in 1807 aged 20. At some point in the early 1800s Hugh senior remarried, and in 1811 a son was born to the couple, whom they called Hugh. This Hugh also became a clockmaker.

    Hugh senior died in March 1818 and it is unclear exactly who kept the business going at this point in time. What is certain is that another son, John Hughes, who was born in 1816, later took over the running of the business with his older brother Hugh working alongside him. Hugh died in 1844 at the age of only 32. John Hughes remained as head of the business, which was situated in a shop in Pool Street, until his own death in France in January 1864. The business was left in the charge of John’s widow Elizabeth until she died in 1883, when it was taken over and became known as Roberts and Owen, who are still trading as jewellers from the original premises in Pool Street to this day.

    I can't find any reference to Portella which might be connected to Hugh Hughes or Caernarfon I'm afraid.

    I believe the second wife of Hugh Hughes may have been a Mrs Harriet Lunt who is in an 1805 Traders List is recorded living with Hugh at the Pool Street address.

    The significance of PORTELLA remains a mystery.

    John
     
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  7. Allan C. Purcell

    Allan C. Purcell Registered User
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  8. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Allan - I was not aware of this archive.

    Unfortunately Caernarfon is in Gwynedd (green) to the west of Denbighshire (orange)

    upload_2020-7-30_17-31-54.png upload_2020-7-30_17-23-45.png

    I did check the list. I can find no connection with any of the Hughes listed with the watch maker from Caernarfon.

    John
     
  9. Allan C. Purcell

    Allan C. Purcell Registered User
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    It was worth a look John, Have you got a copy of "Samuel Roberts Clock Maker An eighteenth-century craftsman in a Welsh rural community" W.T.R. Pryce and T. Alun Davies- There is lots to say about the busy town of Caernarfon?

    Allan.
     
  10. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Allan - no I don't have it - does it mention watch making in Caernarfon or John Hughes who was a clockmaker?

    John
     
  11. Allan C. Purcell

    Allan C. Purcell Registered User
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    Quite a lot John. Dave will have a copy.

    Allan.
     
  12. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    Allan - Thanks for the heads up. I have it on order.

    John
     
  13. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User
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    I attach a table that summarises my research tracing the history of the Hughes family business in Pool Street from 1794 through to the present day premises of Roberts & Owen.

    [​IMG]

    Pryce & Davies, although primarily concerned with clock making, provide some interesting background information in their introductory chapter relating to the distribution of watch and clock makers in Wales. I attach a scan of their Table 1 which identifies Caernarvon as one of the important centres of activity. The figures provided for Anglesey are also of interest as they relate to economic activity.

    upload_2020-8-7_23-57-46.png

    I also found this paragraph on page 13 interesting ...

    'It is generally understood that until the 1780s virtually every clock maker designed and made clocks by assembling all the parts which he had made himself. After this date, increasingly, local clock makers were able to purchase semi-finished components from factory workshops in Birmingham, London or south Lancashire. The date when this change-over took place from hand-crafted, bespoke clocks to movements which were much more standardised and uniform cannot be stated exactly, but, .... all the evidence points to a transitional period extending from the late 1770s to the early 1800s. By c1825 persons described as clock and watch makers in trade directories and official records (such as parish registers) were increasingly former clock makers, or their descendants, who now concentrated on the retail side, undertaking repairs as well as selling factory made clocks and watches.'

    An opportunity for someone to re-write the paragraph for provincial English watch makers, perhaps ...

    John
     

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