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1781 James Wilson’s four fine silver watches

Four fine silver watches made by the 1781 Cornet, James Wilson, were stolen from the Bull and Mouth Inn in London in 1778

The New Daily Advertiser of 5 June 1778 reported a major robbery from the Bull and Mouth Inn in Holborn early that Sunday morning.

The Bull and Mouth crops up often in the trial records of the Old Bailey. I can’t find any trial record relating to the theft of our Cornet’s watches, but the trial of Elizabeth McDougal in December 1789 for theft from the Bull and Mouth Inn is typica

Found guilty of the Grand Larceny of what we would call second hand clothes valued at £2, she was transported to Australia for 7 years, arriving in 1791 on the Third Fleet

But the theft which involved our Cornet’s watches was more serious, with £21 available from the Blind Beak Sir John Fielding for information. The haul was also considerable – £15 of gold and silver, 24 yards of brocade and other costly materials, a great many boxes and parcels broken open – and 10 silver watches, including four numbered pieces made by James Wilson of Hawick – and Hawick Cornet in 1781.

There is some information available about him – but it would cost £10 to see the record, so I won’t be doing that anytime soon.

The photo below isn’t his long case clock, but a fine one by John Turnbull of Hawick of the same period [who may have been related to the clockmaker James Turnbull,  Cornet in 1776. OK – I admit that this is pure speculation]

James Wilson’s two longcase clocks would be very much in the same fashion, though presumably he would have his own style.

The pocket watches of this date would be similar to this one [here Perth in 1790]

And that is it, I am afraid – I can’t find anyone tried at the Old Bailey for the robbery, I don’t have any information on James Wilson’s whereabouts in Hawick, or a marriage, or a birth [though there is a likely one recorded on 18 May 1760, to father Robert Wilson and Sarah Scott]

All I know about him is that he had produced at around 51 silver watches by 1778 [unless he started his numbering system at , say 10 so that people wouldn’t be put off buying his first efforts], and he later produced at least one long case clock.
And we know roughly what his watches looked like, and have a better idea of the long case clocks from one made by John Turnbull [and I cling to the idea that he might ,just might, be in some way related to the 1776 clockmaker Cornet James Turnbull.


About Neil Wallace

Born in the Haig Maternity, lived in Dovemount Place, and started school there at Trinity. To Burnfoot Primary then the High School. Moved away from the town to Cardiff, then Edinburgh, and now an exile in Suffolk.


6 thoughts on “1781 James Wilson’s four fine silver watches

  1. I have a few comments here:

    Firstly, the newspaper article says four watches, not five.

    Secondly, those long-case clocks were basically a standard kit, which local clockmakers would customize with their own decorated faces etc. I’ve seen the same ones “made” by Thomas Graham and by William Rutherford, both Hawick clockmakers.

    Thirdly, we *do* know more about this James Wilson. He was nicknamed “the Bean” and lived 1747-1821. He married Janet Gibson of Cardrona, Peeblesshire, who died in 1839, aged 76. Their children were Peggy, Mary, Nancy and Hardy James. His father was “Whusky Wullie” and his mother was a Hardie, related to Bailie John.

    Posted by Douglas Scott | January 31, 2012, 09:22
    • Oh dear – I can’t even count to five! You are absolutely right that only four watches were stolen.

      And about the long case clocks – I have a Wallace one with the horns etc and a four seasons dial of rustic Scottish scenes – metalwork all bought in except for the hands according to my clock repairer

      And! The Bean! That rings a bell

      My random walk through a few Cornets has turned up so many amazingly enticing pathways – this one is certainly interesting with its complex network of suppliers and agents and contacts with London and beyond.

      Many thanks


      Posted by Neil Wallace | January 31, 2012, 10:12
  2. In our Family we have A James Wilson presumably of Loop Long Case Clock Dial made in 1709 that has been in our family for quite a number of years
    Do you know where I would be able to get more info as the dial maker lived in Warwick as far as I can gather

    Posted by Anthony Carr | December 21, 2014, 07:32

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