And so the Story About Gatwards in Hitchin begins. Part 1
From the beginning, Gatwards was about time. What is time? In the early days, only churches, great houses and a privileged few owned their own watches and clocks. In 1797, Parliament event saw fit to tax those private individuals who did own their own timepieces and watch and clockmakers and those who dealt in such things were obliged to pay a licence fee to do so. The tax nearly destroyed the watch and clock making industry, but it was so unpopular tha tit was repealed after only nine months.
In the mid eighteenth centrury, none of today's nanotechnolgy was available, so how did anyone know the correct time? In the area surrounding Hitchin, it was almost certainly "Gatward time".
When someone said "I'll meet you this afternoon", they would have meant when the sun was past its meridian - there was no way of knowing the precise time unless you were within earshot of a church, although sun-dials and the stars undoubtedly played their part.
The early Gatwards would go out to the great houses in a pony and trap - St. Paul's Walden Bury, Brocket Hall and Hitchin Priory among others - to wind and, perhaps more importantly, to se the correct time of all their clocks, maintaining and repairing them as necessary. Perhaps it was at St. Paul's Walden Bury that the Gatwards first met the Bowes-Lyons family. The late Queen Mother often came into the shop with her two young daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, accompanied by her own mother, the Countess of Strathmore.
With the advent of Kershaws Coach in the early 1800's, time would have been brought down from London by way of carriage clocks. The arrival of the railway in Hitchin in the mid-1800s made time even more accessible, but although the clock winding tradition was only discontinued after the first world war, Gatwards continues to supply and maintain fine timepieces.
(This information has been taken from the Gatward book celebrating 250 years 1760-2010 with the permission of the Gatward family). Acknowledgements to Susan Robinson (nee Gatward), Hitchin Historical Society and Hitchin Museum.