CHAPMAN, Watchmaker, Watford, Early 19th century

April, 2011


Clock & Watch Makers


Jody.Steele (jody.steele @t is the Heritage Programs Manager, Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Port Arthur, Tasmania, writes: We have just had a bequest come to us with a pocket watch that appears to have been made by Mr Chapman of Watford - presumably in the early 19th century. Do you by chance have any information on this watch maker?

The Hertfordshire Militia Ballot Lists show that there were a number of watch and (in some cases) clock makers in Watford in the 1760s. One of the entries for 1761-1765 refers to Mr Richard Marsh - and the title suggests that he was of some status - and it may be that he was a master watchmaker employing others. William Collett (listed 1755-1773) was both a watch and clock maker so may have had more status. Others listed were James Carvell (1761-63), Thomas Collett (1765, apprentice watchmaker), James Cornil (1762) and Samuel Smith (1784-86).watford-st-mary-08

A James Chapman was born about 1760 and is listed  in the militia list in 1778 (when he became 18) and 1785 No occupation is given but he would appear to be the James Chapman who married Mary Cocking at St Mary's Watford, on 18th June, 1783, and whose son John was baptised there a few months later on 17th August, 1783. A James Chapman, aged 58, was buried at St. Mary's on 11 March 1819. While these records give no indication of occupation, in about 1795 someone called Chapman was a watch and clockmaker at Watford (Universal British Directory, Volume 4). The directory also lists Richard Sims as a clock & watchmaker.

Between 1823 and 1839 there were three watchmakers in Watford, John Chapman, Richard Sims and Sampson Wright. (Pigot's Directories) and the evidence suggest that John was the son of James, presumably continuing the business recorded in about 1795.

An article in the Journal of the Watford and District Industrial History Society, No. 3, 1973, reports

An example of this period is a clock sold (but not made in the town) by John Chapman of Watford probably somewhere between 1810 and 1820. Its styling shows a decorated and engraved back plate to the mechanism, but not as much decoration as in earlier clocks. Also both the pendulum bob and rob engraved. There is a glass back in the case so that the engraving can be seen and it is possible the clock was intended for use on a table where it could more easily seen than on a shelf. Again, the term bracket clock is one used today rather than one used in 1820. It would then have been called a portable clock and in fact there are hand carrying handles on the side.

watford-high-st-valentine-34307The census and trade directories show that between 1841 and 1851 John Chapman was an unmarried watchmaker who had been born in Watford about 1780. In 1851 he was living in the High Street just south of the Eight Bells (the pub on the left of the photograph) with a resident housekeeper, and he is recorded as employing one man. The area immediately beyond the pub has clearly been redeveloped since the early 19th century, and his shop may have been where Queens Road was built in the late 1860s. The 1855 directory shows a James [sic] Chapman as a watchmaker in the High Street, and the John Chapman who died at Watford in 1860 [FreeBMD] may well be the one born in 1783. While I have not seen it, John Chapman, clock and watchmaker of Watford, apparently made a will in 1853 (Two Nineteen-Century Diaries).

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

April 2011   Page created