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Time Called on Jewellers Who Once Wound Up the Guildhall Clock

Published on: 14 Apr, 2023
Updated on: 15 Apr, 2023

By Hugh Coakley and David Rose

Jewellers Ernest Jones is winding up its branch in Guildford High Street tomorrow (Saturday, April 15), a shop that has been a jewellers for about 180 years.

Ernest Jones is closing its branch in Guildford after around 180 years as a jewellers on the site at the junction of the High Street and Swan Lane.

Previously, long-standing jewellers Salsbury’s, at the same site, had the contract to look after and wind the iconic Guildford Guildhall clock three times a week.

Today Ernest Jones staff said there were no redundancies but were not able to make any other comments. One staff member said: “It’s sad because it’s been here for so long.”

Of all the shop closures in Guildford over the past few years, this is probably the longest-lasting business in the town selling the same goods or trade.

Staff were packing up today what they could into crates with a desolate air about the place.

The history of the shop goes back a long way. A photo of the shop from the early 1860s from Matthew Alexander’s book Vintage Guildford (published in 1981) shows the occupant as jewellers Busby & Baxter.

Illustration showing the building in the High Street on the corner with Swan Lane when it was the town’s post office. Picture: Guildford Institute collection.

Matthew writes: “This old shop on the corner of Swan Lane stood in front of the Swan Inn itself and was the first Guildford post office.

Jewellers Busby & Baxter, circa 1864. Picture: Guildford Institute collection.

“Busby & Baxter, watchmakers and jewellers, set up here in the 1840s. The firm was taken over by R [Robert] Salsbury, a Worcestershire man, in 1870.”

Salsbury’s shop front circa 1900. Picture: Guildford Institute collection.

Guildford High Street in 1935 at the time of George V’s silver jubilee. Salsbury’s shop is on the far right. Picture: David Rose collection.

Salsbury’s was one of Guildford’s premier independent jewellers for many years. In more recent years it was taken over by Ernest Jones, initially continuing to trade under the name of Salsbury.

The Guildhall and its clock at the time of George V’s coronation in 1911. Note the man standing on the clock bracket. Picture: Guildford Institute collection.

In the book Guildford Our Town (published in 2001) author David Rose writes about the Guildhall clock, noting: “The clock is wound three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Access to the loft [where the clock mechanism is housed] is through a door on the first floor. It leads to a tiny space where directly in front is a steel ladder, bolted to the wall.

“At the top is a small platform and a door that leads to a dark loft full of exposed beams and centuries of dust. Switch on a light and about 30 feet away in the gloom is a raised wooden box in which the clock mechanism is housed. Wooden boards lead to it and you can hear its rhythmic ticking as you approach. Open the door of the box and the wonderful cogs and metalwork are revealed.”

The Guildhall clock mechanism is inside the building’s roof space and not in the clock’s display box that hangs over the High Street.

At the time of writing the book, Christopher Hilliard of jewellers Mappin & Webb had been the clock’s “winder-in-chief” for the past six years. David also spoke to Keith Gates, the previous “winder-in-chief”, who had wound the clock many times, as he had had a long career with Salsbury’s, starting as an apprentice clock-maker.

In 2013, the thrice-weekly winding became unnecessary when the clock was converted to an electric winding system.

The Dragon has asked Ernest Jones for a comment but had not responded by time of publication.

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Responses to Time Called on Jewellers Who Once Wound Up the Guildhall Clock

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    April 14, 2023 at 7:10 pm

    Oh to be in the refurbishment team.

    What has fallen down the cracks in the floorboards and behind the walls. Which scrawled names will appear on the boards?

    A history waiting to be discovered! But will it be?

  2. Alan Cooper Reply

    April 15, 2023 at 5:58 pm

    Is that why the Guildhall clock as stuck at 0830 today?

  3. Roshan Bailey Reply

    April 15, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear this. I have had many years of wonderful service from them, both with new purchases and with repairs and servicing. Very best wishes to all their staff members over the years and I hope all will be well for those now having to move on.

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