I’d always fancied seeing Coventry Watch Museum, but could never find the time. Now the worst joke you’ll hear this year is out of the way, read on to find out a bit more about my hometown’s proud watchmaking heritage.
Located inside three derelict cottages on Spon Street, behind The Shakespeare pub, I’d never visited until now because of the museum’s strange opening hours. It’s only open from 11am – 3pm on Saturdays and Tuesdays, but with a free weekend recently, I made time for a visit.
Entrance is free, and as I was the only visitor, I was chaperoned around and given a very personal guided tour from one of the helpful volunteers, wearing traditional watchmaker’s attire, who keep the museum ticking along.
Firstly, I was invited to watch a ten-minute video on the history of watchmaking in Coventry, which was full of interesting stats.
For instance, did you know that demand for reliable pocket watches in the UK coincided with the growth of the rail industry in the 19th century? Passengers needed to know the correct time so they could catch their trains.
Coventry soon became one of the three great watchmaking cities, along with Liverpool and London. The skilled workforce enabled the city to become a major player in motorcycle, car and plane manufacture when the watchmaking industry declined, and this was why it was targeted by Hitler in WWII.
After the video, I had a look around the cottages which are reputed to be haunted. Séances are held, and some strange people pay to spend the night inside.
The cottages are full of watch and clock making memorabilia including tools and a display of pocket watches kept under lock and key, some being worth £20,000.
The traditional watchmaking areas of Coventry – Chapelfields, Earsldon and Spon End – have blue plaques outside properties to mark where watchmakers’ houses and factories once stood. There are plenty of pubs in these areas, especially Craven Street – thirsty work was watchmaking in the old days.
The museum’s pride and joy is a working Congreve clock – a rolling ball bearing travels in a zig zag groove from one end of the clock’s base to the other every thirty seconds, moving the hands at the top of the clock.
As the museum is not funded by the council or the lottery, it relies on donations and the efforts of volunteers. I was happy to put a couple of quid in the donation bucket at the end of my trip which was well worth 45-minutes of my time.