HH logo

History Hunters home

[Coventry home]

Chapelfields team

Rotherham's team

Adkins team

Coventry history


evidence and finds



Coventry resources

the watchmakers of Coventry


Tony Robinson with a Coventry watch

Coventry is now seen as primarily a car city, but in the 19th century, it was a major centre of watchmaking. Yet today there is hardly a trace left of this once thriving industry. Three teams of Coventry residents attempt to ferret out the evidence of this boom time in their city's history -- from the home-based artisans who worked in purpose-built workshops called 'topshops' behind the facades of terraced houses, to large manufacturers that sold Coventry watches around the world. On the way, the teams will encounter a princess, the South Pole, apprentices' graffiti -- and Lady Godiva.

the quests

Each team was presented with a mystery concerning a particular watch, the unravelling of which illuminated a specific aspect of Coventry's watchmaking history.

the Chapelfields team

Barbara Hollins: Mount Street
Jan Dixon: business analyst, St Thomas White's Street
Sheila Browne: legal executive, Craven Street

The Chapelfields team was given a watch inscribed with the name 'A M PLAYER' and dated 1893; 'CWMS' is engraved on the back. They had to find out who 'A M Player' was and where the watch was made. The three women also wanted to find out more about the purpose-built estate that was the origins of Chapelfields, how the watches were put together by the various artisans and how the latter inter-related.

the Rotherham's team

Steve Fish: managing director of Rotherham & Sons.
Jerry Elford: industrial modelmaker, currently engaged in the relaunch of Rotherham's millennium clocks.
Lee Evans: industrial designer and precision engineer at Rotherham's.

The team from Rotherham & Sons -- generally acknowledged as the oldest firm in Coventry, founded in 1750 as a watchmaking firm in Spon Street -- was shown a rare watch (so rare that it is not allowed outside the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum). On it was a portrait of Princess Charlotte and the date 1819. The team had to find out why this watch was made the way it was and where it was manufactured.

Steve was also interested in discovering the origins of Rotherham & Sons. Gerry was keen on establishing a Rotherham connection with prominent Coventry clocks. And Lee wanted to know how innovative Rotherham's had been.

the Adkins team

Malcolm Adkins: lives in Gloucester Street in Coventry's Spon End, in a house originally built in 1878 by the watchmaker William Wakelin. Today, Malcolm carries out conservation boat building there.
Hazel Cash-Davis: Malcolm's partner, who works in Ely library.
Helen Adkins: Malcolm's daughter, editor of Traditional Woodworking magazine.
John Greenwood: Helen's husband, a solicitor.

The Adkins team was given a pocket watch with the inscription 'BONNIKSEN, NORFOLK STREET' (Norfolk Street backs on to Gloucester Street). On the back there is a number -- 56985 -- and an 'Admiralty arrow'. They had to find out who owned the watch and where it had been.

Malcolm also wanted to find out about the workings of the watchmaking trade and whether his theory -- that the watchmakers were a resilient community of independent artisans with little hierarchy -- was true.
Tony Robinson and Dr Carl Chinn take some time off at the Museum of British Road Transport


Thanks to the people of Coventry. The webmaster would like to thank Roger Vaughan of Coventry Archives for permission to reproduce maps and photographs from their collection, and Margaret Rylatt of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum for permission to use the photographs of the Vale and Rotherham watch.