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Changing Times | Watchmakers of West Street in Midhurst

Part Two


Last week, we left Joseph Charles Ketterer having taken over the thriving business known as St Johns in West Street, Midhurst, from Mary Ann Lawrence, who had retired having run the business for over 20 years.


Joseph’s German father and English mother had settled in Frome, Somerset, where Joseph and his siblings were all born. By 1891 he had moved to Chichester (Caledonian Road) had married Fanny Millyard and was working as a watchmaker from their home. A few years later, the couple moved to Midhurst.


Joseph became a stalwart of the town community. He was a member of the parish council and a director of the Midhurst Gas Company. He was a trustee of several local charities and a member of


The Midhurst Town Trust. It seems he was also very well respected and well liked. However, with the beginning of the First World War in July, 1914, Joseph felt there was a change in attitude towards him due to his German ancestry.


He suffered, possibly from anxiety and paranoia, tragically committing suicide in the workshop premises in autumn 1914. The West Sussex Gazette featured a long article about the tragedy and put the reason down to “war worry and title tattle”.


Then, as now, mental health was a very real issue and although Joseph had turned to people for help it is evident there was little support available at a time of extreme political unrest.


Despite these exceptionally difficult circumstances, Joseph’s wife, Fanny, carried on looking after their daughter (who had an unspecified disability) and running the business. Having already run a newsagents herself, she extended the lease on the premises for another seven years maintaining it as a successful, viable business until 1917, when Ernest Charles Bannister purchased the shop stock and the lease. Fanny went on to live into her late 90s and by 1956 was celebrated as being the oldest resident living in Midhurst.


E. C. Bannister and Son existed in West Street until 1981 when John Allnutt, also a qualified watchmaker, purchased the leasehold to the business. John had previously worked for J. W. Benson in London, Kingsway Stores in Nigeria and Ghana and had run his own workshop in Tooting, south London, for many years.


His business was built on long tradition, trust and popularity, running profitably but without much change until his retirement in 2001. By this time, his son, Geoff, had joined him first as an apprentice and then, after qualifying as a watchmaker in London and Switzerland, as a business partner.


Following John’s retirement, Geoff continued the business, overseeing a dramatic refurbishment of the shop front and interior to bring the business into a brand new era of sustainability and development.


In 2010, with an aim to keep horological skills alive and flourishing, Geoff Allnutt took on his first apprentice, Jacob Russell. Jacob graduated from the British Horological Institute and became the youngest person to be awarded the title Fellow (FBHI) at that time. In 2015, The Heritage Craft Association commissioned a report into crafts that were dying out which resulted in a document known as “The Red List Of Endangered Crafts”. The Red List included watch and clockmaking, these being re-classed in 2017 as critically endangered.


This means that there are not enough people training and qualifying in the skills required to maintain its survival. To counteract this, Geoff has been involved in apprenticeship schemes and has taken on another apprentice, 21-year-old Patrick Woodward, for five years.


Ultimately, the aim is to continue the traditional skills, building on the past of the former horological occupants in West Street. With younger people coming into the craft, watch and clockmaking has a chance to survive and continue.


A small display “A Shop In Time” about the Watchmakers of West Street, Midhurst can be seen in the First Floor Gallery at The Novium until January, 2020.


By Su Fullwood


Posted in Lifestyle.