Whitchurch's very own horology legends come under the spotlight in Bygones

Reporter:

Barrie White

We make a return to Whitchurch for our Bygones page this week as we take an introductory look at one of the biggest names in the town’s past.

JB Joyce & Co are one of the most famous names in the town – in fact, the Heritage Centre’s main exhibition hall, in St Mary’s Street, is dedicated to the clockmakers, once of the High Street and Station Road.

The business started when William Joyce began making longcase clocks in the small village of Cockshutt, between Wem and Shrewsbury.

It is believed William first made his clocks around 1690, giving Joyce & Co the opportunity to make the claim they are the oldest manufacturer of clocks in the world.

However, though we don’t listen to this, another firm – Thwaites & Reed – claim to have records showing clock making all the way back to 1610.

The family business was handed down from father to son and in 1790 moved to the High Street, where they remained for more than 200 years.

But it was in 1904 that JB Joyce moved to Station Road, a premises that still bears one of their clocks on the front despite now being the home of Trevanion and Dean.

In 1834 Thomas Joyce made large clocks for local churches and public buildings, with plenty of examples to be found around the villages and parishes surrounding Whitchurch.

These include churches at Bronnington, Hanmer, Overton, Worthenbury and Tallarn Green, and then further afield towards Ruabon and Wrexham.

In 1849 the company copied the Big Ben escapement designed by Lord Grimthorpe.

The firm made large clocks for many public buildings, both at home and overseas, and for some of the principal railway companies, including Liverpool’s Lime Street Station where commuters are met by one of their finest pieces of work.

Other railways stations include Aberystwyth in Wales and Carnforth in Lancashire.

Since 1945 the company installed more than 2,000 large public clocks in Britain and Ireland, the majority being the synchronous mains-controlled type and a high proportion installed in churches.

In 1964, Norman Joyce, the last member of the Joyce family, retired and sold the company to Smith of Derby.

Many clocks were changed to electric motors made by its parent company Smith of Derby during the 1970s, thereby losing a heritage of mechanical clocks.

The JB Joyce brand name has been upheld by Smith of Derby Group, who now maintain many original heritage pieces still in operation in public places around the world.

A Joyce clock can be seen as far and wide as Australia and South Africa; the former has a clock at the General Post Office in Sydney, where the clock was installed c.1890s.

The clock in Cape Town’s City Hall was part of the building which was completed in 1905 and there is also a Joyce clock in the clocktower in Custom House in Shanghai, China, which bears a striking resemblance to Liverpool's Liver Building.

But one of their most famous designs is much closer to home, with Chester’s superb Eastgate clock. Joyce made it in 1897 and until 1974, provided a technician every year to maintain it.

On November 28, 2012 a timed-bid auction was held to dispose of the surplus items accumulated at the Station Road premises and lovers of the work of JB Joyce joined with interior designers and collectors of historic items in bidding to own a piece of horological history.

n With thanks to Whitchurch Heritage Centre.

Email:

barrie.white@nwn.co.uk

See full story in the Whitchurch Herald

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