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Time for research.

WHILE researching a reader's family tree I discovered her ancestor was a clockmaker from Prescot.

South west Lancashire, and Prescot in particular, was a famous centre for clock/watch makers with their products being renowned for their craftsmanship and accuracy.

If you come across anyone connected with the profession during your researches you will be rewarded with a fascinating insight into the industry in our region.

The study of clock and watch makers is known as 'horology' and there are plenty of resources to help you further your research. If you are able to trace your ancestor back through the 19th century census retur ns and you find they are listed as 'clockmaker' or 'watchmaker', chances are that you will also find them listed in the local town or county directories of the time. You can search these directories at Hundreds of families were involved and there were many trades associated with the industry such as watch toolmakers, pinion, roller and verge makers, dial artists and cabinet makers.

Clock/watch makers became increasingly important during the early days of the industrial revolution - factory hours, stagecoach and later train timetables all relied upon accuracy of the local clock/ watch makers and even small towns would have a tradition of at least one family being connected with the profession.

If you discover one of your ancestors was involved a good starting point is the Prescot Museum in the town's Church Street which has displays on all aspects of the industry. On show are local longcase clocks, clock and watch making tools, a reconstruction of an 18th century clock maker''s home and workshop, and a reconstruction of part of the 19th century Lancashire Watch Factory in the town. was first introduced into Prescot by a Huguenot refugee from France called Woolrich. The skills were picked up by the town''s blacksmiths, with the work being done in houses and by 1800 it was said that the town produced the world's best watches. At the height of the industry the town had hundreds of small workshops where either parts were made, or where watches were constructed from parts made by specialist makers.

All the other English watchmaking centres, including Liverpool, London, Coventry and Birmingham, were dependent on the Prescot makers for the foundation of the watch - technically known as the 'movement'.

The Liverpool centre for watchmaking was based in Toxteth Park where one of the earliest 17th century watchmakers, Thomas Aspinwall, worked. Later the Lassell family was prominent there in the manufacture of longcase clocks.

A later, famous Liverpool clock and ship's chronometer maker was Richard Hornby. He was born in 1810 and lived in New Scotland Road before moving to 41 Pool Lane where he is recorded as working until at least 1834. In 1839 he was known to be at 36 Castle Street where he stayed until his death in 1872. After his death his sons James and Henry continued the business at 167 Duke Street.

There are plenty of internet resources to help you try to identify a particular maker or see examples of their work.

Some really useful articles on clockmakers by specialist Brian Loomes can be found at The site also gives an appreciation of the development of clocks and the differing styles associated with various parts of the country.

'Grandfather' or longcase clocks have a fascinating history with their richly veneered cases and fascinating dials. Some of these clocks have a 'rolling moon' in the arch at the top. These 'moon phase' clocks were designed so that anyone wishing to travel by night would be able to tell from his clock when the next full moon would be and would be able to plan his travel when there would be most light.

If you are searching for a particular maker the standard reference work is Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World by G.H.Baille, (volumes 1 and 2) which can be bought on the internet or should be available through your local library.

Happy hunting!


table clock ORNATE: A James Moorcroft clock dating from 1787, at Prescot Museum
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Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 19, 2009
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