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Fine Antique Clocks

John Wycherley - A Watch Manufacturing Pioneer

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John Wycherley of Prescot, Lancashire (1817-1891) Various movements stamped for John Wycherley are shown through-out the exhibition; from blanks supplied to Hughes, complete movements and complete watches. An excerpt from Watchmaking by Machinery by David Glasgow (Taken from The New Technical Educator, London: Cassell, circa 1890) The late Mr. John Wycherley of Prescot, a movement-maker, finding a difficulty in supplying the demand for his movements, and  being a man of more enterprise than some of his neighbours, set up a steam-engine, and invented or procured some very ingenious  machines for the production of movements of uniform size and thickness or height, and in other things carrying the work of the watch  a little further towards completion by drilling the hoes for dial feet, and in some cases the holes in which the pivots were to run in the  frames. But the demand for watches at this period was mostly for full-plate watches with fusees, and fusees would be very difficult to  make by any complication of machinery, so the wheels, pinions, and fusees were made in the old way by hand, the wheels stamped  out roughly one space at a time, and crossed out by hand with files afterwards. Still the improvement was great in facilitating the  manufacture of cheap watches, as it enabled manufacturers to get their dials made by the dozen, or more, instead of separately, and  case makers made silver cases to blocks that fitted Wycherley’s movements. The life of John Wycherley with notes taken from contemporary literature, including his obituary in the Horological  Journal dated October 1891  John Wycherley, the son of a labourer, is considered one of the pioneers of factory manufacturing when it came to watchmaking,  although others at the time where considering various ideas, Ingor being one. At the mid-point of the 19th century the English makers  were clinging to the notion that hand-made movements and watches was the correct way to manufacture their wares, many  suggesting that the need for the very ‘English’ fusee didn’t allow for any form of ‘mass-production’. This despite the rise of the  American market led by such as Dennison at Waltham, and the Swiss factory-made movements made easier by the invention of the  Lepine calliper allowing for smaller movemnts to be made with interchangeable parts.  Wicherley saw things differently and it was his perserverance that saw his native town of Prescot become a centre of manufacture  for interchangeable watch movements. He was apprenticed to the watch & chronometer makers Hewitts in Atherton Street and had  such a good working relationship he continued working within that firm for some considerable time after his apprenticeship ended.  Indeed, as we shall see his relationship with T.P. Hewitt would have a considerable bearing of the watch industry in the latter years of  his life. Then in circa 1850 he took on the business of the balance maker Edmund Range, whose widow he then married. Wycherley  expanded the business and started to deal in the loose materials for Coventry manufacturers.  Having become frustrated at the waste in both time and materials entailed in making a watch using conventional hand-tools,  remembering that a blank was made in one place, a balance elsewhere, a fusee in another place and so on, before being taken to a  finisher to be completed, Wycherley decided, in 1866, to open a factory under which roof all aspects of the process could be  concentrated. And so a large building was built in Warrington Road, Prescot consisting of three floors. I t was fitted out with steam  power and after a time employed some 120 workers of which around thirty to forty were girls.  He decided on eight standard sizes of movement to be manufactured under his machine system ranging from size 4, 1.34 inches, to  size 18, 1.83 inches with a difference between each of the eight of 7/100 of an inch. The plates were made of a standard size without  varying by more than 1/1000 of an inch so that any cap, case and dial, when made using the standard blocks, would be  interchangeable with any of the movements of its size.  One of the many problems Wycherley encountered was the obvious lack of machine tools to make his parts and so he had to design  and make all the tooling and then educate the workers in the to use of them. He was also up against the prejudices of the watch  making industry who preferred the individuality that hand-making of movements produced with many of these doom-mongers almost  willing Wycherley to fail in his venture.  That much of the machinery required to make the parts was based on a lathe, being that the majority of parts in a movement are  round, he used ingenuity to devise chucks and fixings that would utilise existing machines as far as possible. Wycherley also  decideded that riveting the pillars to the pillar plate left too much room for intolerance and so decided on both riveting and screwing.  The machines he devised for the turning of a mainspring barrel were both simple and effective, utilising some four or five turning  tools, each shaped to a particular part of the barrel, on a round block of brass set within a chuck. Cutters were then set to work, each  mounted on a capstan rest and stopping at the exact point needed by the use of a stop in the slide rest. As soon as this part of the  process was completed a drill spindle would run through the hollow lathe mandrel to pierce the centre hole.  But the most important aspect of the J.W movement was that the train wheels and pinions were so accurately pitched that uniformity  was ensured and therefore considerable time saved in the finishing process.  Having established his factory as both a financial and mechanical success Wycherley entered into a partnership with T.P. Hewitt,  who by now had a factory in Scotch Lane, Prescot, where watches with a keyless mechanism were manufactured. Wycherley, Hewitt  & Co continued to expand on this side of the business making it even more prosperous.  John Wycherley was married three times, his first wife being Miss Hoskin of Halewood by whom he had four children. On the 15th of  January 1851, now a widower, he married Margery Range, aged 31, the widow of the watchmaker Edmund Range and daughter of  the watchmaker Thomas Lloyd, at St Mary the Virgin church, Prescot, before marrying for a third time a lady from Ormskirk. In circa  1883 Wycherley moved to Southport where he died in September 1891. He was buried in Prescot churchyard with his funeral taking  place on Thursday the 10th of September.