Learning to tell the time in the Morris household was not easy. It was apparently all Grandpa William’s fault. He claimed it was named after him – he said it was called a grandfather clock, so he believed he was right � but he never did like the numbers painted on the dial. So one day, he took out his brush and a pot of black paint, and he replaced the digits with the letters of his name. Take a look at the picture and you can see the result: the photograph was taken at seven minutes past A o’clock!
It’s a charming story. But what’s equally fascinating the clock�s link to the clock-making industry that thrived in the Conwy Valley of North Wales in the 18th and 19th centuries. The family who own it have a link to someone special too. See the panel for more.
Centred on the small market town of Llanrwst, 12 miles south of Conwy, the North Wales clock-making industry established itself around the Owen family, whose production methods allowed them to become hugely prolific.
Well before mass-production was ever thought of, the Owens produced literally hundreds of clocks using components — movements, fingers and dials — imported from other centres, notably the clockmaking area around Prescot, St Helens and Warrington, which were assembled in cases made locally. Llanrwst already had a well-established furniture-making industry, using timber available locally.
Readers interested in learning more about the clockmakers of Llanrwst should obtain a copy of a book by the same title written by Colin and Mary Brown to whom I am grateful for the information in this week’s column. The book is published by Bridge Books, Wrexham (Tel: 01978 358661) and is available in softback, price �21.
However, as can be seen from the illustrations, William Morris’s clock does not bear the name of a Owen maker, rather one Moses Evans, of “Llangerniew”, who is recorded in that other vital research book: Clock and Watch Makers in Wales, written by Iorwerth C. Peate and published by the National Museum of Wales (Welsh Folk Museum). Mr Peate was Keeper of the Department of Folk Culture and Industries.
In fact, the latter book lists three makers by the same name working at Llangddoged from 1780-1819; at Llangernyw and at Llanrwst, although a footnote points out that all three are “almost certainly the same person”.
Evans is described by Colin and Mary Brown as the only other clockmaker of any significance to have ever established himself in or near Llanrwst, and they note that there is nothing to connect him to the Owen family.
Interestingly enough, the William Lewis Morris, whose name is painted on the dial of the Moses Evans clock face, is by marriage a distant relative of John Lennon, a fact not realised until 1995, when the link was established following family research.
Lennon�s great grandfather, John Denbry Millward was born in Llantwit Major, in South Wales, the son of the landlord of an inn which stands to this day. He subsequently moved to live in North Wales, where he met and married Mary Elizabeth Morris. She was born in Llysfaen in 1851, and her cousin William Lewis Morris, the man whose name appears on the clock, is the grandfather of the clock’s present owner.
Millward later became private secretary to the Earl of Shrewsbury, whose townhouse was the famous Tudor House on Lower Bridge Street in Chester, now the well known Bear and Billet public house.
While living in Chester, Millward and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, had a daughter Annie Jane, who was Lennon�s grandmother. Millward and wife Mary Elizabeth subsequently moved to Liverpool and their daughter, Annie Jane, met and married George Ernest Stanley. They had five daughters, one of whom was John Lennon�s mother, Julia.
Despite the competition that they would have provided him, Evans appears to have produced good-quality clocks for nearly 40 years.
Moses Evans was the only child of Owen and Jane Evans, tenant farmers on the Gwydir estate in Llanddoged, near Llanrwst. He was baptised in 1744 and married Jane Jones of Llangernyw in 1779, when he was 35. He died in 1819, aged 75.
Exhaustive research by Colin and Mary Brown gives valuable evidence for dating Moses’ clocks. A study of 35 examples by him spanning a period 1775 to 1819 showed no painted dials signed by him in Llanddoged. He moved to Llangernyw, his wife’s home village, in about 1785, so the William Morris clock must date after then.
All Moses’ clocks were eight-day duration and it is interesting to note that while he probably relied on farming for a least some of his income, he made no effort to compete with the Owen family which he could have done by making 30-hour clocks to sell cheaply to undercut them.
It would also appear that Moses used the same suppliers of mechanisms and fittings for his works and also the same joiners for his clock cases, but unlike the Owens, he is known for incorporating a clock into the centre of a dresser or cupboard
Pictures show, top:The time? It�s seven minutes after A o�clock! Mr Morris had an aversion to the numerals on the dial, so he took his paint brush and painted his name in their place. The Moses Evans clock is worth �1,000-1,500
Below: No painted dials were signed by Moses Evans in Llanddoged. He moved to Llangernyw, his wife’s home village, in about 1785, so the William Morris clock must date after then