A Spotter’s Guide to the High Street: Jewellers’ Clocks & Time Balls

Bedford June 2017 (44) - Copy

John Bull & Co., 49 High Street, Bedford.

Just as pawnbrokers signal their presence with three suspended balls, and barbers have their red and white striped poles, so jewellers, clockmakers and watchmakers have traditionally attracted attention with elaborate projecting clocks, turret clocks or time balls. Examples can be found on high streets throughout the British Isles. You just need to look up!

Nathans Birmingham 1999

Nathan’s moved from Union Passage to Corporation Street, Birmingham, in 1887. It’s said that they brought their old clock with them. The three balls indicate that they bought old gold. Photo: 1999.

Some jewellers were particularly ambitious with their public timepieces, seeking to outdo the local competition. They wanted something eye-catching and novel.

The enormous clock projecting from John Bull’s former shop on Bedford’s High Street is topped by a golden bull with a ring through its nose, and has bulls’ heads on the sides. A bull is one of the conventional symbols for butchers’ shops, but here (obviously!) refers to the proprietor’s name. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to discover that in 1817 Bull started out, inauspiciously, in an old butcher’s shop near Ram’s Yard, with slaughter houses at the back (Bedfordshire Times & Independent, 5 April 1940, 12).

Bedford June 2017 (11)

John Bull & Co., 49 High Street, Bedford.

Bull was, primarily, a clockmaker, watchmaker and gunmaker. His sons took charge in the late 1860s and branched out, becoming ‘goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers, cutlers and opticians’. They even repaired umbrellas and parasols, and were the Bedford agent for Mappin & Webb. The clock with the golden bull was probably added when the shop was rebuilt in 1878.

Dyson AA011471 Tony Perry

John Dyson & Sons, Time Ball Buildings, Leeds. (c. Historic England)

In 1877, on Briggate in Leeds, the jeweller John Dyson installed an electric time ball which dropped at 1pm each day ‘by a special current of electricity direct from Greenwich’ (Leeds Times, 29 September 1877, 5). Ten years later, in 1887, Dyson replaced it with a much larger ball – 3ft in diameter – on top of a domed bay window. This included a new projecting clock with a wooden figure of Father Time. Originally Father Time had an hour glass which turned ever hour, as well as the customary scythe.

Dysons TP 2001 AA011475

John Dyson & Sons, Time Ball Buildings, Leeds. (c. Historic England)

Dyson’s time ball was one of the largest in the country, but it was not unique: in 1873 visitors to Hull were urged to see the jeweller James Scott’s three-faced illuminated clock and gas-powered time ball at 4 Market Place (Hull Packet, 1 August 1873, 1). Another, presumably much smaller, example could be seen in the window of the jeweller and optician Henry Steer in Derby in the 1870s. In Bedford, John Bull’s sons installed a ‘Time Ball Figure’ in their window in 1888 – they entered into a five-year contract with the Postmaster General to receive the current from Greenwich, and offered to set watches to the correct time free of charge (Bedfordshire Times & Independent, 7 July 1888, 1).

Time balls remained fashionable for decades. In 1908 Preston’s installed a gilded ball on a mast above its corner premises on Deansgate in Bolton. Like many others, this dropped at 10am each morning. It was slowly wound up at 9am the following day to prepare for the next drop, and was considered the ‘latest addition to Bolton’s civilisation’ (Bolton Evening News, 8 May 1908, 5). Preston’s closed in 2016.

Gloucester 2000 (1)crop

G. A. Baker, Gloucester.

G. A. Baker’s novel clock on Southgate, Gloucester, was made in 1904 by Niehus Bros of Bristol. It presented a tableau of five automata – Father Time pulled a rope to ring the hour bell while figures representing England (John Bull), Scotland (‘The Cock o’ th’ North’), Wales and Ireland rang the quarters (Gloucestershire Chronicle, 26 November 1904, 3). These figures were made by the chief clerk to the Gloucester Diocesan Registry, Walter J. Lifton, who was also an amateur artist. The hour bell is suspended from a projecting clock, attached to the building by ornate iron brackets, with a small gilded ball on top – perhaps a notional time ball!


Jacob Winter’s, Stockport (Creative Commons Clem Rutter, cropped)

Baker was not the first jeweller to install automata. By the early 1870s several figures, including Gog and Magog, adorned the frontage of the watch establishment of Sir John Bennett Ltd. on Cheapside in London. The tableau, with clockwork and bells, was dismounted and shipped to America for Henry Ford in 1929. Another jeweller’s façade with automata was Jacob Winter’s in Stockport, now a pub. Around 1900 three figures were set in niches below bells. They depicted Old Father Time, a soldier and a sailor.

Berkhamsted 30 Ap 2016 (14) - Copy

De Lisle’s, Berkhamsted.

Some jewellers preferred a turret clock – perhaps more visible from a distance, though not easily viewed by window-shoppers. A turret clock and cupola over a modest mid-20th century parade of shops on the corner of High Street and Lower Kings Road, Berkhamsted, bears the name of the jeweller De Lisle & Sons. Like most of the clocks illustrated here, it has Roman rather than Arabic numerals.

Northern Goldsmiths Newcastle 2000 - Copy

Northern Goldsmiths, Newcastle. Photo: 2000.

No account of jewellers’ clocks is complete without mention of Newcastle’s golden girl, who symbolises ‘Progress’. Dating from 1935, she braves the chill winds of the North-East by posing with her arms upstretched atop a square Rolex clock on the corner of Pilgrim Street and Blackett Street, over Northern Goldsmiths’ shop. The sculptor was Alfred Glover, and the material is gilded iron. Northern Goldsmiths advertised their presence ‘under the golden clocks’, just as H. Samuel did in pre-war Plymouth.


Brufords, Terminus Road, Eastbourne (building dated 1950)

Unfortunately, the clocks of few post-war jewellers have managed to compete with those of their inventive – and sometimes over-the-top – predecessors. A symptom, perhaps, of the increasing separation of manufacturing and retailing in the jewellery trade.


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Charles Morrison’s Diary, 1 to 14 August 1864

Across Loch Roag to Uig

Across Loch Roag to Uig, watercolour by Gina G. Morrison, nd.

Monday 1st August

I wrote father that I expected to be married soon. I was a good while with Robt Gerrie and spoke to him about Christina & I. At night I was up with Christina in the summer seat.

Tuesday 2nd August

The “Lion” man of war came in. Not much doing.

Wednesday 3rd August

Pretty busy today.

Thursday 4th August

Sacramental fast day. In the afternoon I went to the Established Church with Robt & Christina Gerrie. Mr Strachan preached from the 2nd chapter of Galatians 20th verse last clause And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. In the evening Mr Deans preached a sermon in the U.P. Church. Afterwards I had a walk with Robt & Christina Gerrie.

Friday 5th August

Not much doing. I was in Goathill for about an hour and a half.

Saturday 6th August

Pretty stormy. I remained in the shop all day.

Sunday 7th August

In the morning Mr Deans preached from the 3rd chapter of John from the 1st to the 10th verses. In the evening he preached from the 6th chapter of Romans 23rd verse For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. It was a very disagreeable day for them that had to sit out at the sacraments on the green, it rained and was pretty blowy all day. There were a great number in Town.

Monday 8th August

I had a letter from George Phillips and Isabella Sutherland. I was pretty busy today. At night I saw Christina. She told me that Mrs Russell spoke to Sandy about us and that he seemed to be agreeable.

Tuesday 9th August

Very course and rainy. Very slack. I did not feel well in the evening.

Wednesday 10th August

In the evening Robert and Christina Gerrie & I met in Mr Russell’s to consult about our marriage and how we were to proceed. I agreed to call on Mrs Gerrie next day and bring the matter before her.

Thursday 11th August

I was rather excited today about going to Mrs Gerrie to ask Christina of her knowing that she would not be willing to consent however I went about 5 and spoke to her Robert being present and she said she would not consent to it. However that is not to keep us back it rather hastens on the happy day and when we shall enjoy and think the more of each others company and I trust neither of us will have cause to regret the choice we have made and it will be my pleasing duty to endeavour to make dear Christina happy for all she has had to suffer for my sake. I was at the prayer meeting.

Friday 12th August

I was at Alex Robertson’s seeing about a house but did not succeed. Christina was down. I was at tea with her in Mr Russell’s. I went home with her & Robert.

Saturday 13th August

I called to see Mrs Stewart’s house but it was taken. I was all the evening in Mr Russell’s with patterns from Mr McMorland choosing the different articles required. Christina & Robert was there.

Sunday 14th August

In the morning Mr Deans preached from the 21st chapter of John from the 15th to the 23rd verses. In the evening he preached from the 5th chapter of 2nd Corinthians Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature old things are passed away behold all things are become new.

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Charles Morrison’s Diary, July 1864

Untitled Castle Grounds

Untitled (Lews Castle Grounds c.1890) by Gina G Morrison

Continue reading

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Star Supply Stores

IMG_5500 - CopyStumbling across the wonderful Star Supply Stores on Lowestoft’s historical High Street – now Raphael Crafts – prompted a bit of research into this retail business. Star was one of many chains of grocers and provision dealers that thrived in English towns during the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries.

Indeed, the chain which eventually became Star Supply Stores was one of the first national multiples to be established in England. It was at the cutting edge of a retail revolution. Despite this – unlike comparable chains such as Lipton’s or David Greig’s – its story is not particularly well known.

Star Supply Stores had its roots in the Star Tea Company, founded in Manchester around 1873 by Joseph Cadman (1820-1897) and James Fish (1836-1913). Cadman, the principal partner, was a successful grocer and tea merchant based on Downing Street in Manchester. Fish lived in nearby Chorlton and worked as a commercial traveller in the tea trade. It is easy to imagine how these men brought their two sets of skills together to create the Star Tea Company, selling tea bought in bulk for cash (‘ready money’) through several outlets – the new method of so-called ‘multiple’ retailing.

IMG_5505In the late 1870s Cadman moved his family and business to Derby. By the time Fish retired in 1888, and the partnership was dissolved, they had amassed an impressive portfolio of retail businesses (listed in the Western Daily Press, 4 January 1888, 8). Most of their shops – of which there were over 40 throughout England – traded as ‘The Star Tea Company’. Other were:

  • The Gresham Café, Star Medicine Stores and The Star Provision Stores, Stafford
  • The Gresham Café and Parrot Inn, Gloucester
  • The Star Medicine Stores, Burton-on-Trent
  • The Star Medicine Stores and Carfax Cigar Stores, Oxford

Because several unrelated companies had similar, or identical, names in the mid-19th century, it is difficult to discover just when Cadman and Fish opened their first branch shops. In the mid-1870s, however, they claimed to have between 30 and 40 branches of the Star Tea Company, with three ‘head establishments’ – at 271 Walworth Road, London, 17 Wheeler Gate, Nottingham (which opened in 1875), and 75 Downing Street, Manchester (where Cadman had his own shop in 1861 and 1871). Even if they exaggerated, they certainly had over 20 branches by 1877.

IMG_5500 - Copy (2)The first shop to adopt the name ‘Star Supply Stores’ appears to have been the branch at 5 Queen Street, Oxford, in 1887. After Star became a limited liability company in 1892, however, this name supplanted that of the Star Tea Company on fascias across the chain.

Big changes followed Fish’s retirement. First of all, Cadman’s colourful son-in-law joined the firm. This was the dashing Australian cricketer Frederick R. Spofforth (1855-1926) who, in his heyday, was known as ‘the demon bowler’. Spofforth had married Cadman’s daughter in 1886. They lived in Australia for two years before returning to England in 1888 and, eventually, settling in Surrey. Spofforth became a regional director, then chairman and managing director of Star.

IMG_5496.JPGIn 1890 Cadman retired to Brighton, leaving the business in Spofforth’s hands. He sold his home, shop and stores in Derby. This considerable property included a house called ‘The Cedars’ in Breadsall, a shop at 182 Normanton Road, together with commercial premises bounded by Haarlem Street, Waterloo Street and Britannia Street in Derby with ‘ . . . the extensive Mill Premises, Warehouses, Stores, Engine Sheds, Yards, Dwelling-house and appurtenances . . .’ (Derbyshire Advertiser & Journal, 12 December 1890, 1). Today this site is covered by a major traffic interchange – even the street names have been eliminated. Cadman enjoyed a short retirement in Brighton before dying in 1897. He left a colossal fortune of £95,000.

Star’s headquarters moved to purpose-built offices and warehouses at 292-314 Old Street in the City of London. By 1908, the chain comprised over 200 shops.

IMG_5498 - CopyIn 1922 the Star Tea Company, with 321 shops, acquired control of Ridgeways Ltd., a London-based tea importer and dealer founded in 1836. The two companies had been closely associated for some time. In 1928-29, however, the Star Tea Company (with Ridgeways) was taken over by the International Tea Company, a similar business founded in 1878. International had manufacturing capacity – something never developed by Star. After 1929 many Star outlets were rebranded, refurbished or redecorated.

The Star Supply Stores name endured until around 1972, when the International Stores Group was taken over by British American Tobacco. Surviving shops were later renamed Gateway, and subsequently Somerfield.

Star Supply Stores had very smart shopfronts – very like those of the International Tea Company – topped by large facscias brandishing the name in brilliant-cut gilt lettering covered by glass. To one side of the entrance was a sash window, and to the other fixed glazing. This was the pattern adopted by other multiples in the same trade, such as David Grieg’s or Lipton’s.

IMG_5497Very few Star Supply Stores shopfronts are known to survive – Lowestoft is rare – and those recorded in old photographs suggest that there was no hard-and-fast house style. However, the company regularly installed brass stall plates engraved with the Star name. Some transom lights held glass etched with a star (something to look out for!) and occasionally a star-shaped hanging sign projected from the frontage. The name was repeated on an opaque lamp shade over the entrance lobbies – the hook for this can still be seen at Lowestoft.

Ghost signs are another reminder of Star Supply Stores. One on Hall Croft in Shepshed, still reads: ‘Star Supply Stores. The Money Saving Grocers’.

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Charles Morrison’s Diary, June 1864

Loch Arrah na'L 15June 1900

Loch Airidh na Lice (‘Arrah na L’), just west of Stornoway,  by Gina G. Morrison, 15 June 1900

Wednesday 1st June

I had a letter from Robert.

Thursday 2nd June

The fishing very light. Not much doing.

Friday 3rd June

Pretty busy today. A light fishing.

Saturday 4th June

A light fishing. I was very busy today. I received the goods from Wilson & Matheson.

Sunday 5th June

In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 16th chapter of Romans 25th & 26th verses Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now is made manifest and by the scriptures of the prophets according to the commandment of the everlasting God made known to all nations for the obedience of faith. In the evening he preached from the 24th verse of the 17th chapter of John Father I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the work.

Monday 6th June

For the rest of the month I did not take any notes being kept so very busy. There was a very heavy fishing about the middle of the month. On the 10th John McKenzie got ill which was a great disappointment to me having none but myself and so much doing. I wrote for Robert. He came by the “Vanguard” on the 23rd and I had very much need of him. The fishermen commenced at this time to settle their accounts before leaving. I drew in June £245-3-6.

Untitled Loch oil on canvas 1

Untitled (oil on canvas) by Gina G. Morrison



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Remnants of Victorian Stornoway: the Lews (now Lewis) Hotel

Stornoway 19-23 May 2017 (21) - Copy

The Lewis (formerly Lews) Hotel in May 2017, still an imposing presence on North Beach after nearly two centuries.

It is intriguing to imagine how the Hebridean town of Stornoway would have looked in the 1860s, when Charles Morrison was writing his diary.

The Lews Hotel, located close to Macdonald & Morrison’s shop on North Beach Street, was Stornoway’s principal inn at this time. It was built in 1829 by a local couple, Captain John Mackenzie and his wife Agnes Murray Reid. This was recorded on a date stone, set in the centre of the main frontage.

Construction probably involved heightening an existing building which resembled the properties standing to the right of the hotel. Any untidy conjunction of old and new would have been masked by a coating of render, incised with lines to imitate masonry. Few buildings in the vicinity rose to three storeys in height and the new hotel must have dominated the waterfront.

Stornoway 19-23 May 2017 (38)

Lewis Hotel: datestone.

Unfortunately, Captain John Mackenzie died a year after completing the hotel, in 1830, followed by Agnes in 1845. Nevertheless, the building continued to be owned by their descendants for many years to come.

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Lewis Hotel: rolled skewputt.

The hotel is probably the establishment named ‘McKenzie’s Inn, Stornoway’ in a newspaper of 1831 (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 31 January 1831, 4). It may have been renamed ‘Lews Hotel’ in 1845, when Sir James Matheson was first welcomed to the island with a dinner in the Mason’s Hall catered by ‘Mrs Macleay, of the Lews Hotel’ (Inverness Courier, 3 September 1845, 5).

Charles Morrison’s landlady at 7 North Beach, Miss Betsy Macdonald, was Agnes Reid’s niece. As such, she must have enjoyed a close relationship with the cousins who owned the Lews Hotel. The hotel itself, however, was leased to a succession of proprietors, such as the aforementioned Mrs Macleay (or ‘McLea’). By 1848 it was run by Messrs Campbell & Hart (Ordnance Survey Name Book OS1/27/72/17). Campbell – one Neil Campbell from Argyllshire – later became a baker in Govan.

Stornoway 19-23 May 2017 (25)

The Lewis Hotel in May 2017.

In 1863-64, when Charles Morrison’s diary was written, the hotel was kept by James Mackenzie from Contin. Upon his death in 1866, his furniture and other effects were sold and the hotel was let by Mrs Daniel Lewis Mackenzie (1827-1912; John and Agnes’s widowed daughter-in-law) to Lachlan Ross from Skye. On the evening of 25 September 1863 Charles Morrison noted that he paid a visit to ‘Mrs D. L. Mackenzie’, who lived at 5 South Beach, seemingly the site of the Caledonian Hotel.

In 1870 Ross left Stornoway to take charge of the Royal Hotel in Portree. The Lews Hotel was once more advertised to let. It included two public rooms, a bar, nine bedrooms, stables and a coach-house. It also boasted gas, water and a W. C. (Inverness Courier, 21 April 1870, 4). The incoming proprietor was Allan Clark (d.1879), followed by Alexander F. Macdougall (d.1893). Part of the building, however, seems to have housed a shop: a grocer’s or spirit-dealer’s premises which may originally have been rented by the Mrs Macleay mentioned above.

Stornoway 19-23 May 2017 (40)

The rear of the Lewis Hotel (Castle Street/Point Street) in May 2017.

Until the Posting Department was wound up by Macdougall in 1885, the following horses were stabled behind the hotel: Ben, Gipp, Wilkie, Bebbie, Monarch, Jeanie, Dick and Nors (Inverness Courier, 19 December 1885, 1). Sold with them were several vehicles: a ‘break’ capable of carrying 14 people, two large ‘wagonnettes’, one small ‘wagonette’, a covered phaeton, two dog carts and a cart.

Lewis Hotel 3

The Lewis Hotel in 1999.

The Lewis Hotel was listed Category B in 1971. Despite this, between 1999 and 2017 the wooden (hornless, four-pane) sash windows were replaced with UPVC, new dormers were added, and the stables to the rear were demolished.

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Charles Morrison’s Diary, 15 to 31 May 1864

18 June 1898

Fishermen in Stornoway, 18 June 1898. Gina G. Morrison

Sunday 15th May

In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 3rd chapter of Acts from the 1st to the 11th verse. In the evening he preached from Ephesians 2nd chapter 5th verse Even when we were dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ by grace ye are saved. In the afternoon I was in the Sabbath School.

Monday 16th May

I got settlement from Angus for the goods after deducting liabilities £99-11-6, and signed the dissolution of partnership. I was getting shelving into the shop. A number of the fishing boats arrived. I took John Mckenzie with me.

 [Note: The dissolution of the partnership was reported in Perry’s Gazette as follows:
Scotch Partnerships Dissolved
Gazette – May 20, 1864
McDONALD Angus, jun. and Charles Morrison, merchants, Stornoway, 4th May. Debts by A. McDonald jun.]

Tuesday 17th May

I was going about seeing a number of the fishermen.

Wednesday 18th May

Not much doing. Robert Gerrie arrived from London. A great number of passengers came by the “Vanguard”. Mr A Malcolm fisherman came. I changed my room in Mr Pope’s.

[Note: Charles had moved from Miss McDonald’s on North Beach to Mr Pope’s in January 1864].

Thursday 19th May

I wrote Father. I was doing a little today. I got the counter into the shop.

Friday 20th May

The boats went out to night I had tea in Goathill. There was a concert in the Mason Hall tonight.

[Note: the Stornoway herring fishing season started on this day, as set by an Act of Parliament and closely observed by H. M. Jackal.]

Saturday 21st May

There was a pretty good fishing today for the commencement and the quality of fish very good. I was doing a little today.

Sunday 22nd May

In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 5th chapter of Romans 1st & 2nd verses Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our lord Jesus Christ by whom also we have access by faith unto this grace where in we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. In the evening he delivered a most excellent sermon from the 2nd chapter of Hebrews 3rd verse How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation. Mr Paterson preached on the 8th from the same text and had the same heads. In the afternoon there was a prayer meeting and Sabbath School. The Church today was crowded.

Monday 23rd May

Received a lot of goods and did a little business. I had a letter from George Phillips.

Tuesday 24th May

A pretty good fishing.

Wednesday 25th May

A middling fishing. I had a letter from Robert, he says that Mr McKay is dead. I received meal from Aberdeen.

Thursday 26th May

A light fishing. I have done very little business today.

Friday 27th May

A fair fishing. Very little doing.

Saturday 28th May

A fair fishing. The S.S. “Best Bower” left for Stettin with 2500 barrels of herring. I had a letter from Robert. I was greatly disappointed at Wilson & Matheson not sending me the goods ordered from them. I was pretty busy today.

[Note: Wilson & Matheson were Glasgow warehousemen who supplied waterproofs (‘oiled coats, leggins, South-Westerns’), rubber boots, and other items which Charles would have sold to the fishermen who swelled the population of Stornoway during the herring season. It was probably vital for merchants to have a good stock of equipment at the start of the fishing.]

Sunday 29th May

In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 5th chapter of Romans 3 & 4th verses And not only so but we glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulations worketh patience and patience experience and experience hope. In the evening he preached from the 1st verse of the 63rd Psalm O God thou art my God early will I seek thee my soul thirsteth for thee my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is. In the afternoon Mr Laing from Wick preached from the 43rd verse of the 23 chapter of Luke And Jesus said unto him Verily I say unto thee Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. In the evening I had a walk down to the bank along with Robert & Christina Gerrie & Miss Smith.

Monday 30th May

A heavy fall of snow, the boats could not go out.

Tuesday 31st May

Very stormy and rained all day the boats did not go out. Mr Malcolm &c & party went to Callenish. The sum I drew since I came down is £29-14-6.


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