Part 2 of the Gatwards Beginnings in Hitchin
18th May 2011
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And so the Gatwards story continues beginning with James Gatward ....  Part 2

James Gatward 1710 - Unknown

The family are generally thought to have descended from Oliver Gatward, described as a gentleman, who was born in Coveney, Cambridgeshire in 1534.

The business, however, was founded by James Gatward, who opened his shop in Hitchin as a watch and clockmaker in 1760 when George II, the last British monarch to personally lead his troops into battle, was in the last year of his reign.  Catherine the Great was touring Europe.  Closer to home, Louis XV of France was still enjoying the splendours of Versailles and the horrors of the French Revolution were still twenty years away.  Unfortunately, very little is known about those early years of the Gatward's in Hitchin.

Benjamin Gatward 1736 - 1837

Benjamin Gatward was the first member of the family to serve a formal apprenticeship, probably in London, before returning to Hitchin to take over from his father.  A strict Baptist, he was the 1st Minister of the Bethel chapel in Hitchin Hill and the family still have the chalice and goblet presented and inscribed to his memory.  Despite this, he was a notorious smoker and was often to be seen with his churchwarden pipe in the doorway of his shop!

He must have been a well-known figure in Hitchin - a contemporary description on him reads as follows: "From his watchmaker's shop came Benjamin Gatward, a short, thick-set man, rather knock kneed, with very large calves and a round bald head.  He was of a very grave countenance, as befitted a Baptist lay-preacher and the father of seventeen children.

He was married 3 times and fathered the 17 children by his first 2 wives.  Four of his sons followed him into watch and clock making, but it was his eldest son, John, who followed him into the Hitchin business, the other three setting up businesses in Saffron Walden, Welwyn and Huntingdon. Both father and sons are mentioned in G.H. Baillie's Watch and Clockmakers of the World and/or Loomes.

The clock in the coach house at Ickleford Manor constructed and installed in 1807 is one of the earliest examples of a Gatward clock still in existence.
Some 50 years ago, an old silver verge pair case pocket watch was found in a dry stone wall in Wales bearing the name B.Gatward, Hitchin.  When wound up, it still went perfectly and was sent back to Hitchin.  The family purchased it, but it was later stolen and has never been recovered which is very sad.

Across the water, America was fighting for Independence and Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette went pt the guillotine - not that that would have impinged on a small rural market town such as Hitchin.

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.


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