John donates 'Pompey Watch'
Posted on 30th Jan 2024 by David Taylor
This watch was kindly donated to the History Society by John Charlton. John, of Steep near Petersfield, bought the watch ‘home’ from Sunderland where it was for sale and has given it to the society after doing some research about the maker. It is a ladies watch from the early 1900s and made by a Portsmouth watchmaker who lost his premises during the war. We believe that it was called the ‘Pompey’ watch to either distinguish it from other watches in his range or as an item associated with the club. Whatever, it shows an early use of the name ‘Pompey’ and is worth putting on display.
The research from John and the PHS shows that the maker, AJ Owen, was one of Portsmouths watchmakers - and there were a number of them. Born in 1843, he served his apprenticeship in the dockyard from age 13 - he came from Wales, specifically from Pembroke, travelling to and from there as he came here to get work (at age 13!!!!). He often spoke of making the journey from Pembroke to Portsmouth on the old open air carriages that were commonly used on the railways when it first started.
He injured his leg whilst at work in the Dockyard and was invalided out having become “recorder of weights”, retiring on pension in 1897. It was unusual to get a pension in those days unless one was in a senior position and a government official, which he was - the recorder job was pretty senior in those days. By then he had already opened the jewellers and watchmakers business at 109 in 1875 with his wife running it while he was in the dockyard working. He also had a shop in Grayshott from 1905 where he was well known and the directories show him having a shop in Bishops Waltham around the same time. He was one of the Town’s “Guardians” so well known and the Superintendent of the Lake Road Baptist Church.
He lived at 109 Lake Road from 1875, he died there in 1932 at age 88 having run his business with one of his sons, Charles Henry Owen, for many years. There are adverts in the Evening News for Owen and Son in the 1920s and the 1930s and the directories show the business as AJ Owen and Son at 109 Lake Road from the early 1900s. After he died, the son carried on the business but Charles (recorded as a jeweller businessman at 109 Lake Road but then living elsewhere in Southsea) soon went bankrupt on 15th October 1937. From the directories it's clear that after dad died, the rooms above the shop were let out as the adverts for the rooms are in the papers at the time but Charles kept the business going until going bust. The business was purchased by someone else and continued to run as a jeweller and watchmaker under a different name until the war. Lake Road is of course very different today, we have Mr Hitler to thank for that!!
Regarding the watch, we do wonder if it is an early one as it just says “AJ” but maybe they decided to keep with that as he was the well known one. Normally, the swiss mechanism is date stamped on these old pocket watches and on the inside face of the back plate it normally says something like the date and the materials used. Many watchmakers simply imported the mechanisms from Switzerland, as this one probably was as it says “ Swiss made", and got the cases elsewhere then put their mark on it.
It could have been made for the club or for the Pompey Hotel, possibly something that was presented to a customer or made for the licensee. It is also possible that as AJ was one of Portsmouth’s senior businessmen with three shops to his name (his obituary states he was “one of Portsmouth's oldest businessmen” and had “a striking personality” with “a wide circle of friends in the temperance, political and church life of Portsmouth”) that he had a range of watches that he sold from the shops, with one called “The Pompey”. This fits with that period, fits with what our colleagues at the Central Library History Centre know of watchmaking in Portsmouth and goes alongside products from other businesses such as “The Pompey Ale”, “The Pompey Cigarettes” and “The Pompey Ties” that we've seen adverts for.
It is a lovely item - thanks to John for allowing us to have it.