OVER the course of time, stories become a little hazy – especially stories about devices that tell time.

James Hird Horner was a miner at Brancepeth Colliery at Willington in County Durham. Like many miners, he had a Sunday best pocketwatch, perhaps given to him at a landmark birthday, and made locally.

Like the watch that featured in Memories 329, it was made by Thomas Wakefield of Willington. The Wakefield family of watchmakers started in Gateshead, but as the generations multiplied, they fanned out to find new markets: in the 19th Century, there were Wakefields making watches in Chester-le-Street and Hartlepool plus Gateshead, while Thomas worked at Willington from the 1860s to the 1880s.

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Possibly because the air in mining communities was very dusty, the pocketwatches were cleaned on an almost annual basis, and James stored his circular, watch-shaped receipts inside the watchcase, presumably so that he knew when the next service was due.

It is believed that James looked after pit ponies at the colliery, and when the First World War broke out, he was sent to France where his horsemanship was employed at the frontline.

When he came home, he was presented with a second watch which, according to the inscription on the fob, “was presented to him as a tribute of gratitude by his fellow workmen in the Great War”. In several places, communities had collections to pay for mementoes for returning soldiers, and we guess these is one of those.

The Northern Echo:

Left: James Hird Horner's watch that was presented to him by Willington miners when he returned from the First World War. Right: The inside of the watch which appears to have been made by Richard Kevitt Rotherham of Coventry

Although the face of this second watch is plain, the mechanism is extremely fancy, and is inscribed “Richard Kevitt, London”. There were three generations of watchmakers called Richard Kevitt Rotherham. They worked in Coventry, but they put London on their mechanisms because they thought it sounded more expensive than Coventry. They also were keen on introducing machinery to their factory – they somehow diversified into making bicycles with it – so we guess this was a mass produced watch aimed at the community commemoration market.

James returned from the front with yellow fever. He recovered, went down Sunnybrow colliery where he was trapped by a fall of stone. When he was released, he moved to Rough Lea Farm, near Hunwick, where he became a milk merchant.

He died in 1949, and now his watches are proudly owned by his grandson, Jim, and his wife, Pat, and their daughter Emma.

If you have any locally made watches or clocks, we’d love to hear from you.