Saturday, 7 May 2016

Benson "Field", "Ludgate" and "Bank of England" watches.


A variant of the Benson "Field"
watch with 19 jewels c 1900.
This post is intended to give an overview of the development of these three keyless movements sold by Benson and how they relate to each other, whilst Benson sold a number of variants of the three and several other English watches which are named in my Benson catalogue (The “Travellers”, “Heirloom” and the “Superlative” being three such and may be the subject of a later post) these were the only ones I have seen to have the name engraved on the top plate.
Only major changes will be highlighted here, more detailed analysis is probably going to follow for each of the three main types and for some spin off designed, some of very high quality.

Benson between the Wars.

A Tavannes movement for Benson
1940, branded the ""Greenwich" in
my catalogue from the late 30s.
It has been suggested that Benson did not in fact make any watches after bombing in the Great War just selling Swiss made watches, this is not the case, the 1930s catalogue specifically states that some of their “London” made watches were made in their own factory and there are contemporary written sources which confirms the factory was making movements in 1935[i] so the Benson factory survived the first war bombing to be wiped out by the second in 1941. There is more on this in may blog post J.W. Benson inter war period manufacturing
By the late 1930s Benson was one of the few English “Volume” makers still working, Rotherham having ceased production in the mid 1930’s, Williamson in c1932, Ehrhardt had stopped making in the mid 1920s, the LWC back in 1910 and the Coventry Watch Movement Company probably did not make any ebauché or movements after c1915[ii] which would have put a lot of the remaining small makers in Coventry out of business.

Update Feb 2017: Two recent finds and subsequent analysis have enabled me to further tie down the relationship between Benson & Guye, explained in my post J.W. Benson and P & A Guye two London watchmakers, later effectively one?

Update October 2018: A very unusual Benson "keyless Ludgate"

The Evidence.

A few years ago there was a flood of good English movements into the market caused I think by the then very high price of gold, I was frequently buying in job lots of 6 or 8 watches for not very much money and many were fully working, ripped out of their cases by dealers wanting a quick buck for the scrap gold but in doing so destroying a lot of high quality watches which, if the cases were in the correct number of pieces, were certainly worth more than the scrap value – although they would not have been telling those they were buying from that! This piece of research is largely based on these movements and a few more recently obtained at rather higher prices. This causes a bit of a problem as without a case it is difficult to date the movements.
J.W. Benson "Ludgate" (left) and "Field" (right)
However for the purposes of this overview there is one saving grace, Benson were very keep to press their Royal connections so it is generally possible to quickly place a movement to one of three periods:

1.       To Victoria’s reign ending in 1901 when movements were engraved “By warrant to HM the Queen” or “By warrant to HM the Queen and HRH the Prince of Wales”, the later probably only from c 1898 to c 1900.

2.       From the year of her death, 1901 to c 1905 when they were engraved “By warrant to the Late Queen”, or “By warrant to HM the Late Queen Victoria”

3.       No Royal warrant from c 1905.

The Watches.

The original key set "Ludgate"
As a start point I have, or have had, three examples of the “Keyless Ludgate” dated by hallmarks to 1890/91, these have close serial numbers which would indicate that the date is reliable – unfortunately Benson used multiple serial number series so it does not do much else. I have not seen any keyless movements with significantly lower serial numbers. Also the “Keyless Ludgate” movement is not mentioned in a full page advert dating from 1885 on the then newly introduced Key Set “Ludgate” so I think it is reasonable to assume that the “Keyless Ludgate” came in sometime between 1886 and 1890, was still in production (under another name – see below) in the late 1930s and probably did not stop production until the start of WWII or the bombing of the factory in 1941 intervened.
A comparison between early examples of the “Field” & “Ludgate” movements show that they are essentially the same with the “Field” having 15 jewels rather than 13, a Breguet hairspring instead of an over-sprung balance, a diamond end stone and probably closer adjustment to rate and temperature, certainly later “Field” models are described as “half chronometers” meaning in this context adjusted for temperature[iii]. Both have true English lever escapements with “spiked” escape wheel and use Bensons patented wide dust ring and were clearly made in house. 

Advert for "The Field" watch from a Benson Catalogue c 1935.
[Update Jan 2017] My recent discovery of a Benson "FIELD" made by CH Errington of Coventry to a completely different design rather complicates the issue, these Errington movements were probably bought in to cover a surge in demand. Also earlier adverts show that the Field and Bank keyless watches were around c 1890.

Over the years the Field and then the Ludgate got smaller dust rings and some years after the key set Ludgate was dropped the “Keyless Ludgate” became the “Ludgate”.

"Ludgate" watches with rocking bar setting (left) and
later "Field" type setting.
"Field" type setting, this type only
allows winding clockwise with
no reverse "click" to allow "shuffle"
The setting mechanism is an important factor in identifying the maker of a movement and time period or sequence in which it was made, with the in-house Benson it is a little complicated.
·         Early models of the “Ludgate” were rocking bar, then they changed to the same system as the “Field”, then back to rocking bar.

·         The “Field” initially had a unique system than moved to the early “Ludgate” type rocking bar, this was before the “Ludgate” had returned to this system.

an early  type "Bank" 1893.
The first two versions of the “Bank” watch are of completely different design and construction and were inferior to the other two, initially it had 9 jewels increasing to 11 in about 1901. Early versions of this movement were also being sold, without the Benson or “Bank” name, by various other “makers”.

All three movement used a “slow train”, working at 16,200 vibrations per hour (VPH) and retained this long after the American and most of the English trade had moved to the fast train working at 18,000 VHP.

Changes to the line-up.

An unrestored "New Ludgate"
Sometime after WW1 there was some major changes although it is unclear how long it took to implement the changes;
·         The “New Ludgate” was introduced, this was a fairly standard English three-quarter plate pin set design, albeit about 20 year out of date, in my late 1930s catalogue this is described as inferior to the “Bank of England” or “Bank” watch whereas previously the “Bank” had been the lower of the three.

·         The “Bank” watch of old was replaced by a movement very similar to the “Ludgate”.

1893 "Bank" under dial.

Who made the bank?

In a previous post I explained how it was probable that a minority view was correct in thinking the “Bank” watch was not made by Benson but by another possibly P & A Guye, from the above we can see that both camps are probably correct.
There are a number of possible scenarios but I suspect that the most likely is that initially the “Bank” movement was made by P & A Guye. In 1902 P & A Guye were no longer listed as watch makers but were known to be still involved in some way, it may be that at this time they were working exclusively for Benson as sub-contractors making the “Bank” movement.

1901 watch signed by Bennett, parts
are interchangeable with a contemporary
"Bank" watch.
Alternatively and possibly more likely, as all of the “Bank” type watches sold under other names that I have seen are from before 1898/1900, the making of the “Bank” movement may have been bought in house at around this time.
Sometime after WW1 with the “Bank” watch now a rebranded Ludgate it was certainly made in house as is stated in my Benson Catalogue.

The 1935 version of the Bank is somewhat different as explaned in my later post The last version of "Bank" watch.

Origins revisited

Max Cutmore[iv] states that the three movements all started out as key set, I have only seen the Key Set Ludgate, and lots of them which would suggest either that

·         The key set “Bank” and “Field” watches were either made in very small numbers, or

·         The “Ludgate” and “Field” movements both derived from the key set “Ludgate” and the “Bank” watch was initially either a completely new design or derived from a watch not branded as the “Bank”.
In my view the second option is more likely or why else would there not be a “Keyless Field” and I have examples of the “Field” from as early as the “Keyless Ludgate”.

[i] “High grade Watches made in London”, Horological Journal Issue 77, April 1935.
[ii] “Watches 1850-1908” M. Cutmore, David & Charles 1989
[iii] McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
[iv] Ibit.


John Matthews said...

John - the Field watch appeared in an advert in April 1893 - which is reproduced here -
It contains a reference to the article in the Field magazine from 'Mar 22' which I suspect could have just preceded the advert. This puts the first production of the Field at least back into 1892, given the Hunt Editor had been wearing it for four months.


John Lashbrook said...

Interesting, thanks. The advert shows it to be London made so at some point in 1898 they had two different "Field" watches.

John Lashbrook said...

Looking through the other adverts shown both the "Bank" and the "Field" are mentioned (as Ladies watches)in the advert from June 1890.

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