Leigh Extence
Fine Antique Clocks

Robert Hughes - His Grey Movements and some from other makers

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In the early 1990’s Dennis Bacon obtained some blank movements stamped R.H. which set him on a quest to find out who these  initials belonged to. His research led him to Llangollen and the maker Robert Hughes, and he was lucky enough, after having an  article on this maker published in the Antiquarian Horology, to be contacted by a member of the Hughes family who allowed him  access to all the records still extant and which ended with him writing up the story in the book, Watchmaking in Llangollen by  Robert Hughes, published by The Antiquarian Horological Society in 2000, which gives an in-depth study to the workings and life of  Hughes.   Scroll down for images and descriptions of a selection of examples as seen in the exhibition  Robert Hughes, born 1838, was an innovative watchmaker and retailer who, having been apprenticed in Oswestry, then went on to  open his own workshop in Rhos-y-Medre. In 1866 he moved to Llangollen setting up at 37, Castle Street, where it is recorded one  of his workers, Sidwell, lived above the shop with his family. By 1891 Hughes had moved along the street to number 31 and had  set up his workshop at 15, Castle Street, being the address that Edward Scarisbrick, one of his frame suppliers from Prescot, was  known to send supplies. The business of Robert Hughes progressed from being a small-time maker of watches to a major supplier  of rough movements to the ‘watch finishers’ of Wales and the Welsh Borders.   Hughes would receive the frames from his Prescot suppliers, then work on them to one of three standards: first part; with  escapement; and finished off, and with polished or unpolished pivots, whereupon they were then sold to his watchmaking clients  for finishing and casing for retail.  The 1859 workbooks, as seen by Dennis Bacon, show the various costs that Robert Hughes charged to supply these differing  standard of finish:  Grey (unpolished pivots) Glossed (polished pivots) For first part 3s. 9d. 5s. 6d. For escapement 3s. 9d. 5s. 6d. For finishing off 4s. 6d. 7s. 0d. On top of these prices were extras for such as train jewelling, over-sprung hairsprings and sizes smaller or larger than the normal.  By 1870 Hughes was using, almost exclusively, Coventry workmen to work on his watches, although there is some confusion as to  whether they had moved to Llangollen or acted as outworkers still working in Coventry.  In March 1888, having lost the main supply of greys from their various suppliers in Prescot upon the formation of the Lancashire  Watch Co. Ltd (see the later section on this concern) Hughes formed a partnership with a watch material supplier, Thomas F.  Williams, to set up a factory and manufacture their own movements in Prescot under the name Williams & Hughes having taken on  the premises formerly used by Scarisbrick, he having sold the majority of his machinery and materials to the new Coventry Watch  Movement Manufacturing Company Ltd. But in December of that year they came to a rather forced agreement to sell the  partnership to the Lancashire Watch Company for £380, maybe an obvious scenario to Hughes as it was being run by men he had  previously worked so closely with and presumably trusted. But in 1889 a legal feud ensued as Williams believed that the  Lancashire firm where using his workforce, tools & materials to produce now inferior goods and wanted to break the agreement on  the grounds that this wasn’t as set out, stating to Hughes in one letter, I… got complaints that those (movements) supplied by the  Company [L.W. Co.] are not as good as those we used to make… You seemed to have made curious arrangements with them…  I  am not going to stand this sort of thing – if a proper understanding is not arrived at as to when they are to quit and what they are to  pay us & when they are to pay I shall certainly lock them out & take the consequences. Hughes, now obviously happy that supplies of greys would be forthcoming, did not wish to rock the boat, thus breaking the  Williams & Hughes partnership. This story can be read in its entirety in Bacon’s Robert Hughes book. Hughes died in 1895 and the business was continued by his two sons, R. Ll. Hughes and T.H. Hughes. In 1905 the workshop was  closed and watch manufacture ceased with R. Ll. continuing the Llangollen retail shop and T.H. opening another shop in Wrexham.  The Llangollen shop finally closed in 1965, whilst the Wrexham enterprise continued until the mid-1980’s.  Robert Hughes Movements Showing the three main suppliers to Hughes E.S  Edward Scarisbrick, born 1832, was recorded as a watchmaker in 1851, living in Atherton Street, Prescot with his older  brother William, a plumber and widower, his mother Mary, sister Alice and niece Mary Alice, along with his two watchmaking  brothers; Thomas, born 1818, and Charles, aged 17. It was Edward Scarisbrick who sold his tools, equipment and goodwill to the  newly formed Coventry Watch Movement Company in 1889, basically moving a small, outdated watchmaking concern from  Prescot to Coventry, with his brother Charles taking on a role at the Coventry concern as a part of the deal.   M.M James Berry. The M*M stamp Machine Made. Some front plates in this collection are stamped both M*M and J.B.  James Berry was born in 1835 in Wavertree, Lancashire, now a superb of Liverpool, to parents William & Catherine Berry. In 1851,  aged 16, he was still living at his parents home in Tarbock and was employed as a solicitor’s clerk, although by 1861, aged 26 and  by now married to Ann, born 1835, he is recorded as living at 91 Fall Lane, Prescot as a watch manufacturer, and ten years later it  is known he was employing 15 men and 11 boys (apprentices). By 1881 he and his family had moved to Coventry were they rented  premises at 50 Spon End, at the heart of the Coventry watch making area, but within ten years he had returned to Prescot and was  living at 70 Warrington Road, moving some time later to 74 Derby Street, his wife having died in 1895. In 1911, now aged 74 and  remarried to Francis, born 1867, with whom he had a son James in 1903 when aged 68, he had left the watchmaking business and  was recorded as a clerk at the Electric Cables Works living along the road at 19, Derby Street.  James Berry’s brother John, born 1839, moved to Eccleston (Prescot) where he was known as a watch frame maker before also  moving to Cranbourne, Coventry before 1881, presumably with his brother, where he was recorded as a watch movement maker.  J.W John Wycherley was an important name in the watch production and who may well have been the first maker in England to  consider and use interchangeable parts for movements.  See biography of John Wycherley.  In Typical Hughes Tins  1 R.H & E.S: a blank with verge escapement.  2 R.H & M.M: a blank, with a false fusee, for a lever escapement with gold three-arm balance in it’s original numbered balance  box and jewelled cock, the plates drilled for the wheel work, plus a dust cover stamped W&A O (for Willam & Alfred Oxley, 51 Spon  Street, Coventry)  3 R.H & E.S: a blank, with a cut fusee, for a lever escapement with a bimetallic balance in it’s original numbered balance box  and jewelled cock, the plates drilled for the wheel work with two round boxes, one for the bimetallic balance and jewelled clock,  plus a dust cover. Un-boxed  4 R.H & J.W: a blank front plate as supplied to Hughes by Wycherley. 5 E.S: no wheelwork, but with turned pillars and drilled pivot holes.  (Not illustrated)  6 Two identical three-quarter plate movement blanks, to show front plate and backplate, both stamped on the frontplate  T+S, a maker used by Hughes at times. Another three-quarter plate movement.  7 Two unused dials: one with subsidiary seconds, one without seconds. One with E.P written in ink on the rear. E.P. is  probably the dial maker Ebenezer Player, 6 Craven Street, Coventry.  Other dials have been noted marked T.S. Batting, probably Thomas Batting, 138 Spon Street, Coventry.  It is also known Hughes used other frame makers, one being M & W, whilst other frames had just R.H. stamped on them. It is  believed that these were probably supplied to the firm by James Berry after the death of Robert.   A number of dust covers made by William & Alfred Oxley (W.& A. O) are known to be interchangeable between movements  stamped for both Wycherley and Berry, backed up by the fact that both 2 & 4 above have hear-identical plates.  Further Greys by ‘unknown’ makers  The following three blanks showing various stages of manufacture:  8 No backcock, holed out (some countersunk), no wheelwork, no pivot holes drilled or marking out.  9 No jewel, no barrel, no wheelwork, no marking out.  10  Jewelled cock, barrel, no wheelwork, no pivot holes drilled or marking out.  11 A verge movement with a flat steel three-arm balance and traditional Bosley regulation, stamped I.J on the front plate.  12   A part assembled blank stamped H.F on the front plate. H.F is most likely Henry Foster, a watch frame maker working in  Prescot in the mid-to-late 19th century and who had a son, also Henry, born to his wife Martha in 1826, although one source  suggests it to be Henry Fletcher of Prescot. Not fully marked out but this movement appears identical to exhibit 3 by Scarisbrick. 13  With a duplex escape wheel, an early style Bosley regulation is attached, the index scribed out on the plate for engraving. 14   A basic blank with no pivot holes drilled, the wheels and arbors unattached and an uncut fusee.