250MC: Watches – Coventry’s History

So in my last post, I began to focus my new idea on watches, while taking into account the idea of macro photography with it. However as of the moment, I am still lacking in what particular images I would like to achieve. So what I need to start doing is focus more on the history of these watches to gain more information about the process.

In my last post, I said that the actual trade was flourishing in the late 1800’s. However after more research, I found out that  “during the later 17th century a local trade was beginning to appear” (Stephens 1969). This is quite interesting in that it took nearly over a 100 years for the business to actually become noticeable. It seems that after the 18th century though nothing significant happens in the industry at all; almost as if it has fallen of the map. The only important fact to note is that “Samuel Vale, the first of the Rotherhams, John Bottrill, and probably others were beginning to develop the trade.” (Stephens 1969). By the mid 1800’s there was around 53 watchmakers who were deemed to be worthy to find themselves in West’s Directory of Warwickshire (although by 1935 only six remained). In the watchmakers, to make one individual watch, it consisted of up 30 workers (each one was specialized in making an individual part.)
The demand at first for apprenticeships in these jobs were relatively low during the 1830’s (28% percent became watchmakers after a 7 year apprenticeship) even though you had to be highly skilled and factories weren’t threatening the trade. However as the people began to realize that there was an extremely good wage (even better than the ribbon makers at the time) the interest was increased, so much by the time of the 1850’s, it had risen to 54% (Stephens 1969.) By the time the market decline, many of the workers went on to work in other industrial sectors, such as motorcycle, automobile, machine tool and aircraft industries. (Wikipedia, 2014)

What is interesting to note is that with all of these business that were built up at the time, they took up the majority of the houses in the main roads, however they weren’t allowed to have any windows facing the street at all. This was quite relevant in the Chapelfields area, where many watch-making shops were found. It raises the questions about why this was the case; was it to create a more prestigious look on the development, or was it down to the workers believing that they were a cut above all the other workers? (Fry, 2011) It’s hard to actually narrow it down, but one explanation put forward is due to the wage that was earned by the workers was of a higher income compared to other workers. I think that what could also be a reason is that with the watchmaking trade flourishing, competition would have been high. So possibly it could have been down to them valuing their craftsmanship so much they needed to shield it away from any prying eyes.

I think this information has definitely giving me much more context on the whole business and has now allowed me to begin to think of some ideas to follow on. It’s obvious that to make each watch, it must have been time-consuming to get every little piece together and work fluidly, which highlights the level of craftsmanship needed. So my first idea to look at would be the gear and mechanisms within the watch to highlight how everything fits in together and takes us on journey, as if it is a map. My second idea leads on from this is the actual tools that were used to make the watches; specific tools that had each role, so I think it would be interesting to just highlight them in a simple way. My third and final idea is slightly different from the other two, but is based on looking at the scuffs and marks of the watches, bringing it in a more modern context. With the craftsmanship being so high, the watches when would have been looked after a lot at the time. But now, with the watches being passed on, it would be interesting to see the marks they have developed over the years and the stories that they bring with them.

Fry, D. (2011). Chapelfields | thecoventrywehavelost.co.uk. [online] Thecoventrywehavelost.co.uk. Available at: http://www.thecoventrywehavelost.co.uk/streets-and-buildings/chapelfields/ [Accessed 1 Nov. 2014].

Insley, C. (2007). BBC – History – History of a City: Coventry. [online] Bbc.co.uk. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/local_history/city/history_of_city_03.shtml [Accessed 31 Oct. 2014].

Stephens W.B (1969), A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8: The City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick pp. 162-189. [online] Available at: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=16026 [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].

Wikipedia, (2014). History of Coventry. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Coventry#Clocks_and_watches [Accessed 31 Oct. 2014].

Gallery, H. (n.d.). Watches. [online] Theherbert.org. Available at: http://www.theherbert.org/collections/social-industrial-history/watches [Accessed 31 Oct. 2014].


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