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Antique clocks by a Welsh family that rival the best in the world

By Christopher Proudlove ©

by Christopher Proudlove�
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Morris cut out


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

clock maker

Tags: Clocks · Welsh

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Antique clocks // Feb 4, 2008 at 4:18 am

    Your posting was great! I’ve never seen like this before. It’s a nice one and very old. Im a collector of antique clocks for more than 20 years. I collect anything and more on antique clocks. I would like to share this to you Antique Clocks

  • 2 Christopher Proudlove // Feb 4, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Karl – many thanks for your kind words. It’s what makes the Internet tick!

  • 3 Robert Loomes // Oct 23, 2008 at 5:54 am

    This dial is probably the work of Walker & Hughes, dialmakers, who were in partnership between roughly 1811 and 1835.
    They worked in Lower Hill, Birmingham and had a prolific partnership, supplying many clockmakers. A clockmaker could either specify what name they wanted on the dial, or ask for it to be left blank to complete themselves.
    This particular dial appears to date from the first half of their partnership.
    Nice blog by the way!

  • 4 Robert Jackson // May 20, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Very interesting, I have a large collection of Long case clocks including Llangernyw Llanrwst, and Abergele. I have also been repairing them for over 30 years,
    Robert

  • 5 Carlos Myers // Dec 20, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Very informing information. I am from New Zealand. My great great great grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Millward nee “Morris”. Yes I am related to John Lennon distantly. I just wanted to know if anyone knows the connection between William Morris and Mary Millward. Any information would be kindly appricated. Punzie_mita@hotmail.com

  • 6 Peter shepherd // Jun 21, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Excellent article, I have just bought an 8 day, Moses Evans painted dial oak longcase clock, and was interested in the close link with the Owens of Llanrwst. It appears Moses Evans is a respected Welsh clockmaker,

  • 7 Christopher Proudlove // Jun 21, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Thanks for your comment – I’m very jealous! The Llanwrst clock makers would make an interesting piece, which I must look into some time. Look after your Evans clock, it was a wise purchase.

  • 8 Sarah Gilpin // Sep 4, 2016 at 9:47 am

    I have a John Evans clock, circa 1800, which was made for the Bowen family of Waunifor estate, Llandyssul, Maesycrugai. It stayed in Waunifor under the Lloyds until he early 20th century, when Mrs Margaret Lloyd (widow of Charles Lloyd of Waunifor) and her elder daughter Frances moved to Putney to be closer to her married daughter Margaret (my grandmother) Crawford. My father inheritied the clock and passed it on to me as we have ceilings high enough to use it. The makers name was too faint to read, but it is currently being restored to full working condition, and the name has been seen using ultra violet light. We ar looking forward to having it once more in th house.

  • 9 Christopher Proudlove // Sep 4, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Bravo Sarah. Every longcase deserves to be rescued, nine more so than an example of Evans’s work.

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