Howell Morgan of Blaengarw: Jewellery, Clocks & Watches

Submitted by David Dimmick.

A little while ago I purchased a book called ‘Cardiff Clocks’ by William Linnard, which is described as ‘a comprehensive account of watch and clock makers in Cardiff, the Valleys, and the Vale of Glamorgan’. I had bought the book because my great-great-grandfather appeared in a 19th century census as a Watchmaker and I wanted to find out more about him. I did not find anything more about my ancestor, but I found in the book a facsimile copy of the catalogue and price-list issued by Howell Morgan, ‘Jeweller of Blaengarw, c.1900’, known apparently for his engagement rings sporting two diamonds. (people were to say later that  ‘A double diamond works wonders!’ but of course the slogan referred to a more liquid type of commodity!)

Howard Morgan became established in the Garw around 1890,at a time when the coal mines provided a great deal of employment all over the South Wales Valleys, not only in the mines themselves but in all kinds of support services, from butchers to drapers and furniture shops. Adverts such as ‘We sell everything from telescopes and teapots to tureens and tricycles’ was one quaint advertising slogan, with ‘prices rarely beaten’ underneath, and a promise to deliver ‘goods to any part of the United Kingdom with the promptest attention’!

pasted-imageHowell Morgan’s shop in the Strand, Blaengarw sold not only jewellery but also watches and clocks. One of his ‘bestsellers’ was a sturdy pocket watch described as ‘H.Morgan’s workman’s watch, keyless, and made expressly for underground and rough wear- 16/6 in nickel case, 35/- in real silver’.

Pocket watches were often sold with a fob chain in gold or silver, known as an ‘Albert’, along with the pendant fob. They were the standard time pieces for both men and women before World War 1, but then watches that could be strapped to the wrist became a much more convenient way to tell the time.  Sometimes  fob watches were encased in leather pouches and straps; lithographs and photographs of Trench action in WW1 show troops waiting for the whistle to come from the officer studying his watch before sending his men ‘over the top’.  Eventually, after the war, manufacturers began to produce purpose-made watches for the military with companies such as Services, founded in 1927, being a popular choice. These types of watches found favour with the public at large, leading to the highly accurate timepieces we have today.

Howell Morgan also sold a considerable array of clocks, with the ornate mantel clocks fashionable at that time finding homes on many a mantelpiece. These could be bought in white marble with a glass cover at 30/- or in walnut with an eight-day ‘cathedral’ gong at 44/-. Wall clocks and grandfather clocks were also sold, although fewer of these appear in the catalogue; alarm clocks were becoming very popular as so many men had to get up early for their shifts in the mines.

Other essential items sold at his shop were pieces of cutlery, sometimes sold individually such as when a soup ladle was needed for a special occasion, or by the dozen, such as the tablespoons in Nevada silver, sold at 13/- per dozen. Miscellaneous items, from barometers to bicycles, organs to opera glasses, were also said to be available!

Readers or their families might  remember Howell Morgan’s shop in the Strand, and they might also like to hear of two other clock and watchmakers in  the Garw: Anthony Morgan of Llangeinor, of whom nothing is known other than he was buried on September 18th 1767, and Robert Carne, who was buried in 1887 in Pontycymer, again no further details of his enterprise.  One other notable clockmaker, William Harris of Cardiff, was recorded as being in Gaol in 1734, obviously ‘doing time’ for his misdeeds!

Howell Morgan and others of his trade who found their way into the Garw Valley have undisputedly brought vibrancy and glamour at a time when everything must have appeared quite the opposite!

Submitted by David Dimmick.

2 comments Add yours
  1. Local history often overlooks the small independent craftsmen and retailers. Often the only source is from old newspaper advertisements, however I have at home some surviving original letter heads and have sent copies to the GVHS. Mr Dimmeck’s article helps to fill out the commercial history of the Garw.

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