Industrial Heritage Online

Industrial Heritage Online

Potts of Leeds

William Potts founded his domestic clock and watch making business at Chapletown, Pudsey near Leeds in 1833. By 1862 he had moved his business, and his family, to premises in Leeds town centre, 13 Guildford Street, between Butts Court and Green Dragon Yard. It was typical of a Leeds town centre trade premises of the mid 19th century, with a shop on the ground floor, substantial cellar and living accommodation above in which William lived with his wife Elizabeth and sons. Elizabeth had a keen business brain and was acknowledged by William as having consulted her on many occasions. With the move to the new location, William was taking the business away from domestic clocks and into turret clocks for churches and public buildings. William Potts and Sons would become one of the largest turret clock makers in Britain. There are nearly 1600 public clocks identified in the Potts directory to date detailing their location, both in Britain and further afield such as Australia. In Leeds, Potts installed clocks in the Corn Exchange, the Oakwood Clock (originally installed inside Kirkgate Market), the Old Post Office, Leeds Minster, Griffin Hotel, Grand Arcade and Thornton's Arcade to name but a few. Often a public clock can be a Potts clock but is not immediately obvious because the makers were not always allowed to put their name on the clock face so the shape of the hands, particularly the hour hand, was his signature and referenced by pattern numbers i.e 'Potts Standard' Pattern Number 1 as used on the Griffin Hotel clock. A new turret clock works was established at 19 Cookridge Street, Leeds close to the Guildford Street headquarters. Mass produced wall clocks for schools, offices, railways, particularly the GNR, were made in the workshops behind the Guildford Street shop in Butts Court. By 1872 further expansion took place into 21 Guildford Street and then again as demand increased, expanding into nearby Basinghall Street off Butt Court, the workforce now 21 men and 4 boys,. The shop at 13 Guildford Street sold watches and jewellery along with alarm clocks, carriage clocks and barometers according to a William Potts advertisement in Robinson's Leeds Trade Directory of 1898 which also promotes their making of Lincoln and Newcastle Cathedral clocks. Guildford Street became the present day Headrow after widened and modernisation in the 1930's, William Potts shop premises was cleared away and a new building stands in its place today, however Butts Court is still evident, the entrance way into it too, albeit not arched over now, also Green Dragon Yard is still extant.

1809 - William Potts was born 22 December 1809. 1830 - William was apprenticed to Samual Thompson in Darlington as a clockmaker. 1833 - William moved to Pudsey near Leeds and set up in business as a clock and watchmaker. 1847 - He was living with his Pudsey born wife Elizabeth above the retail shop in Chapletown, Pudsey. 1847 - Whilst tendering for the new church clock in Ilkley, William met Edmund Denison, later to be Lord Grimthorpe, who was advising the vicar, in his capacity as a Horologist, as to who should get the commission. An advantageous meeting as Denison was Chairman of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) and would lead to Potts becoming official clockmaker to the railway at a later date. Edmund Denison (who was heavily involved with the design of the Palace of Westminster clock) was in later years allocated part of William Potts workshop space to enable him to conduct horologic experiments whilst visiting Leeds. 1857 - Potts became involved in the maintenance of major turret clocks in Leeds. 1860 - 8th June William Potts started work on the Leeds Town Hall clock, made by Dent of London, and which was causing endless problems, such as stopping whilst chiming. Potts formally took charge on 30th June for a period of one year. At one stage Potts and two workmen worked on it continuously for two months. The modifications continued including fitting steel support beams under the clock to further support it. By the time the problems in the clock had been ironed out in 1861, it was said that the clock was more Potts than Dent as a result of the extensive repair. 1862 - The business moved from Pudsey to 13 Guildford Street, Leeds with the family living above the retail shop and workshops. 1865 - The firm is appointed by GNR as official clockmaker to the railway. 1866 - William Potts suffers a bad fall from height leaving him weakened for years after. He appointed his son Robert to the partnership, now called William Potts and Son. 1871 - The largest clock in Britain outside London at the time, made for Bolton Town Hall by Potts. Another son, James was admitted to the partnership, now William Potts and Sons. 1887 - William Potts dies on 7th January. A new turret clock works was established nearby at 19 Cookridge Street, Leeds. Eighteen churches commissioned Potts to build new clocks commemorating Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. 1895 - Newcastle Cathedral clock installed. It was linked to Greenwich Observatory and the daily strike at 13.00 hrs became the symbolic firing of the 1.00 pm gun. 1897 - The firm became the last clockmaker to be awarded a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria. Thirty seven churches commission Potts to build clocks to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. 1906 - Joseph Potts left the partnership and set up in business in Leeds with his son Cecil. William Potts and Sons was Incorporated with James Potts it's first Chairman. 1910 - James Potts died in August aged 63, Robert Potts became Chairman of the company. 1911 - Thirteen churches commissioned Potts to build new clocks to commemorate the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. 1917 - Robert Potts died 7th November aged 74. 1922 - The company sold it's turret works in Cookridge Street and moved the department back into 13 Guildford Street. 1928 - The company moved from Guildford Street to Bankfield Terrace, Burley, Leeds. Tom Potts left the company to operate on his own. 1930 - 31st March, Charles Harold Potts left the Directorship of the company and set up as a turret clock maker in Marshall Mills, Leeds, taking many key employees with him. 1933 - The last traditional quarter chiming clock made by William Potts and Sons Ltd was made for Bradfield Parish church. C.H.Potts became a limited company. 1934 - John Smith and Sons of Derby acquired control of William Potts and Sons Ltd in November but maintained the name and continues trading with it to the present day (2019). 1958 - The Synchrome Company Ltd acquired control of Charles Potts and Co Ltd. Charles Potts died 10th October.

Potts of Leeds - Five Generations of Clockmakers. Michael S Potts. Mayfield Books 2006. p6-7 p1 31 pp30-32 pp37-38 p55

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Key Words :- clockmaker
Linked Sites :- ,
Address :- The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 5JW
Grid Ref :- SE 30017 33772
Co-ordinates :- Lat - 53.799391 , Long - -1.545753
Local Authority :- Leeds Council
Pre 1974 County :- Yorkshire - West Riding
Site Condition :- Site redeveloped to industrial / commercial use
Site Status :- Site demolished or no longer extant