John Brownbill single roller movement in Chester 1858/9 case

Discussion in 'European & Other Pocket Watches' started by John Matthews, Jul 10, 2017.

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  1. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User

    Sep 22, 2015
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    I attach photographs of a Liverpool size 14 movement in a Chester case that I just brought back to life. I believe I have been able to correctly identify the case maker as Thomas Green of Liverpool, who from census information, was working from 32 Lionel Street in 1851 and 44 Gerrard Street in 1861 in both cases giving his trade as a watch case maker.

    The watch is signed John Brownbill with the address 6 Prussia Street. I have been unable to find a reference to John Brownbill at this address. The premises are recorded as those of James Brownbill in the 1851 census. The Liverpool museum database does refer to his brother John – but I cannot find a record of John at that address. All the records I found were at different addresses, Does anyone have a reference of John at the Prussia Street address and his activities?

    Unfortunately, there are no marks on the plate beneath the dial, other than the movement size stamps. However, 'TATE' is stamped on the underside of the balance cock. There is a James Tate recorded as a watch maker working from 12a Wolstenholme Square, Liverpool. Having no further information on Tate, I am unsure how to interpret the mark. Did Tate simply make the balance cock? Does anyone have any further information on James Tate's work?

    The only other mark is on the underside of the dial 'R' I guess it is very unlikely that this can be assigned, although the Liverpool museum records a Samuel Ralph as a dial maker in Liverpool at this time. Can anyone help with Ralph's work?

    John
     
  2. JTD

    JTD Registered User
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    Sep 27, 2005
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    Baillie lists more than one John Brownbill in Liverpool. One of them is John Brownbill (Prussia Street) 1816-1829. Also listed is James Brownbill (Prussia Street) 1767-1814, which may, I suppose, have been John's father.

    John Brownbill is still listed in the 1837 Liverpool Poll Book, living at Prussia Street and described as a watchmaker.

    The baptismal records of St. Nicholas Church, Liverpool, show Ellen Brownbill as being baptised on 20th February 1831 and she is shown as the daughter of John Brownbill, watchmaker, of Prussia Street.

    So it may be that John Brownbill was still working later than Baillie suggests.

    Brownbill is not a common name but there seem to have been quite a number in the Liverpool area - sadly for us, many of them followed the custom of giving the sons the father's name, so it is quite hard to know which is which! In the issue of 'Wetherby News and Central Yorkshire Journal' dated 27th November 1879, a John Brownbill is advertising his watches ('from £5 - £100') at his shop in Briggate, Leeds, and claims the business to have been established in 1772. Where the business started is not mentioned.

    All of this would need to be further looked into in order to see who is who and where your watch comes in, but hope that it may be of some interest and help in any further research you may undertake.

    JTD
     
  3. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User

    Sep 22, 2015
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    JTD - how right you are, when I did my initial search I was overwhelmed by the number of Brownbills in the Liverpool watch trade during the late C18th and into the C19th. However, thanks to the Liverpool museum horological database I believe I have just now established the maker of the watch.

    I mentioned that the the James Brownbill of 6 Prussia Street had a brother John. James Brownbill is described as a chronometer maker and his brother is listed in the 1851 database as an apprentice watch finisher. I attach copies of the database records (note John son of John - illustrating JTD's observation).

    So it would appear that this John was born 1834/5 and that by 1858/9 he had progressed to being able to have his name engraved on the movement but after that my attempts to find any further records have drawn a blank.

    John
     
  4. JTD

    JTD Registered User
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    Glad you have got more on the various Johns and it looks as if you have found 'your' John. I had thought your watch little earlier than the 1850s, but I am no expert on pocket watches at all, so am glad to be corrected.

    What wonders me is that the name on your watch is so crudely and unevenly engraved (even stamped??) compared to the very elegant engraving of Liverpool and Prussia Street. Don't mean to sound disparaging about your watch, which I like very much, particularly the simple but stately dial, but there is a rather noticeable contrast in the writing.

    JTD
     
  5. John Matthews

    John Matthews Registered User

    Sep 22, 2015
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    JTD – I entirely agree with your comments. They reminded me that I had seen similar examples in the past, particularly on Liverpool watches. I thought I had seen one recently. It was a vague memory but, together with the price, I thought it caused me to quickly pass it over.

    So I have just checked back on sold items on eBay – I found the item and surprise, surprise it is also a watch signed by John Brownbill with the same address 6 Prussia Street. Again the name is in a different style to the rest of the engraving, although in this case it is linked to the street address by some typical Liverpool scrolls. It looks less out of place.

    As it is a completed auction, I believe I can post the link – http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/252983036771

    Interestingly, this is in an earlier Chester case of 1847/48. I appreciate that using cases to date watches, even when case and movement have the same serial number, is not always correct, but for the moment the case hallmarks are the best evidence I have to date both watches. The dates started me thinking.

    At what age would John Brownbill have begun his apprenticeship? He was born in 1834/35 – so he would have been 13 in 1847/48, would you expect his name to appear on new watches that early? – or, possibly, the watch was old stock that he worked on at a later date. In any case, what did it mean in the Liverpool trade to be designated as an apprentice watch finisher at this time? In previous centuries, I understand that a watch finisher was someone highly regarded, who followed the manufacture of individual watches through all of the stages. The finisher was essentially responsible for ensuring quality control and the standard of finish of the complete product. But by the middle of the C19th in Lancashire, was it just a designation for a young family member being used as cheap labour?

    John
     
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