The Newbury men who made their mark in time
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 June 2020
Time is one of the scarcest commodities known to man yet it seems to rule everything. It can cause panic and despair, it goes quickly when you want it to go slow and slow when you want it to go fast. Some people, however, love time, especially people who lived in Newbury.
It could almost be said that Newbury is the centre of time because there have been many famous clock and watch-makers connected to the town and indeed other parts of Berkshire who have made their mark in horological history.
Let us start, though, with Henry Walsh. Does the name mean anything to you? Maybe not and yet he was well known in watch and clock-making circles and also had quite a reputation as a silversmith. Henry had to be good at his job because he had a wife and three sons to provide for but his life seems to have had its complications.
Henry was born in Lewes in Sussex in 1806 and at the age of 21 started an apprenticeship to the highly esteemed Robert Fish in London. It was a seven-year apprenticeship and Henry proved to be a very good student.
During this time he married Charlotte Wade and they had two sons, Henry and Frederick, both born while Henry Senior was still an apprentice.
At last, Henry had served his time and learned the trade, which had continued to fascinate him. The seven years were up and it was time for him to branch out on his own and that is what led to him moving to Newbury in 1835 and establishing himself as a highly talented manufacturer of unique timepieces.
A third son, Alfred, was born in Newbury and as his family grew, so did Henry’s reputation. His work was second to none and his watches and clocks grew to be in great demand.
At Newbury, Walsh made some interesting timepieces that have since become quite iconic. One of his most famous creations involved another gentleman – Joseph Vines, who was an inventor rather than a clock maker. Between them they
came up with a clock that had two dials but one mechanical movement. Both of their names are inscribed on the clock but it was without doubt that Henry was the horological genius who put the whole thing together. Take a look for yourself – it is at the Science Museum in London.
Having established himself in Newbury, Henry felt the need to move elsewhere but not very far. He and his family had been living at the home of John Moss and his wife while in Newbury, and it was a home they shared with a further 18 boys who were boarding at the school. Needless to say it was a bit crowded.
Henry took his family to Reading and became known as H. Walsh Clockmakers of Newbury and Reading.
Everything continued to go well until 1844, when tragedy struck and Henry’s wife, Charlotte, died. He returned to London and operated his business from Chancery Lane. A year later, he met and married his second wife, Phoebe.
In 1849, he took his new wife and his two younger sons to Australia and set up in business there. It seems that he went from success to success there and became a local dignitary. That was not, however, the end of the Newbury connection.
Henry’s eldest son, Henry, did not go to Australia. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became an apprentice to another clock maker – in Newbury. Henry Junior had already learned quite a lot from his father and sailed through his apprenticeship before joining the rest of the family.
In Australia, Henry Senior and all three of his sons grew the business and many famous clocks were created by them. In Australia, they often referred to themselves as ‘Walsh & Co London’ to add to their already excellent reputation. Museum Victoria has two stunning Walsh timepieces in its horological section and thus the name has been committed to history both in London and in Australia.
Even that is not the end of the Berkshire connection because there has been a succession of great watch and clock manufacturers from the county ever since, many inspired perhaps by the man from Newbury, Henry Walsh.
There are clocks and there are CLOCKS and William Randall could turn his hand to anything whether it was a small timepiece or a larger-than-life church clock. He was also known to create clocks with unusual faces, religiously themed for the churches and perhaps romantically themed for those smaller, personal gifts.
William was a married man with a son, John, who became a bootmaker and, with his wife, Mary, moved to Australia in December 1854. Perhaps John Randall met up with Henry Walsh. They certainly had plenty in common since they were connected through the trade, but because, yes, you’ve guessed it, William also worked from Cheap Street, Newbury. He was a Newbury man, born and bred.
Berkshire has produced many skilled watch and clock makers like Henry Walsh, Caleb Joyce and William Randall and there is little doubt that the Newbury connection comes through time after time.
ANOTHER NEWBURY CONNECTION
Henry Walsh was the most famous of our watch and clock makers but let us not forget Caleb Joyce, who was another celebrated master craftsman of timepieces.
Caleb was born in 1811 and by the time he was 30 he had completed his apprenticeship and had set up in business in Hungerford. He soon gained a strong clientele of influential people and was celebrated without being of the same inventive stardom as Henry Walsh. Caleb was married twice, his first son, John, was born in Thatcham when Caleb was 32. His seventh child was born when Caleb was 74. By this time he had married again and had moved to Speenhamland on the outskirts of Newbury. Yes, the Newbury connection again. When he died in December 1886 he was buried at Hampstead Norreys, where he had been born. Yes, Caleb Joyce was a Newbury man.