Ancestors: Joseph Knowles

Reg Knowles_1Joseph Knowles was my great great grandfather, my father’s father’s father’s father. The photo shows Joseph’s great grandson Reginald Knowles in 1944.

Joseph was the son of a London watchmaker and jeweller, James Knowles. James had been born 08 Sep 1779 in Nayland Suffolk to Joseph and Jane Knowles but had migrated to London where he found work as assistant and apprentice to Edward Goldsworthy, a watchmaker from Exeter, whose business was located in Hospital Row in Chelsea. James married Edward’s daughter Ann 22 June 1801 in Stepney, and when Edward died in 1824 James succeeded to the business. He had two children with Ann, a daughter Ann born in 1809 who died at the age of two and a son, Joseph, born 14 February 1810. The Knowles family were, and continued to be, Catholics. Joseph’s birth was registered at Dr Williams’ Library in Redcross Street near Cripplegate, an area called Little Chelsea, a centre of British nonconformity.

Although there are no surviving records to support it, it is a likely premise that Joseph, as James’ only surviving son, would have been trained in the trade of a watchmaker. In 1834, however, Joseph was resident in the parish of Headbourne Worthy in Hampshire. On 08 May he married Anna Goddard of that parish, one of two daughters of George Goddard, a Winchester bailiff. It seems likely the London business was not sufficient to support two watchmakers, and Joseph would have needed to strike out on his own.

By 1841 Joseph was established in premises in Upper Brook Street Winchester originally belonging to his wife Anna. His son George Joseph had been born in 1835. Joseph may have been working with the Winchester watchmaker Harris Myers, and succeeded him in 1846. Sometime before 1851 Joseph had moved to premises at 54 High Street in Winchester. His daughter Ann was born in 1837, another daughter, Amelia, in 1843, and a second son, Thomas, in 1845. Joseph’s business prospered: he advertised in local directories as a watch and clockmaker, a jeweller and a silver and goldsmith. But things were about to change.

In 1859 Amelia died. Subsequently there appears to have been a rift between Joseph and his wife Anna. Sometime in 1860 Joseph moved to Gloster Place Lambeth, where he had a jewellers shop, and Anna moved to Parchment Road in Winchester and ran a boarding house. The jewellers business in High Street Winchester was transferred to Joseph’s son George Joseph. At about this time Joseph met and then lived with Sarah Willoughby, a widow 20 years his junior. In London Joseph’s father James was in his eighties and might well not have had the eyesight to continue practising his trade. He was to die in Chelsea on 23 July 1862.

Joseph himself was not well. He suffered from heart disease, and sometime in the 60s he retired. Presumably he sold both the London and Lambeth businesses. By 1871 he was living in Trinity Road Southampton with Sarah. Joseph was well known in the area and took part in several popular causes of the day. He was a firm defender of the Tichborne Claimant and had been for several years. On 24 July 1872 he was attending a meeting of the Tichborne Defence Fund Committee at the Stewards Arms in Marsh Lane. During the meeting he suddenly collapsed and died, in the act of taking minutes resolving on how to further the cause of the Claimant.

Joseph’s will left everything to “my friend” Sarah Willoughby. She died in 1874. Joseph’s wife Anna had died in Winchester in 1873. Joseph’s son Thomas died in 1884. The watchmakers business in Winchester Joseph had succeeded so well in was continued by his son George Joseph, who expanded the premises in High Street, dabbled in property development and was very active in civic affairs. Unfortunately George Joseph had eleven children (and his wife Eliza 14 pregnancies) and the property was mortgaged off bit by bit till nothing substantial remained. George Joseph’s eldest son, George Goddard, trained as a jeweller and watchmaker to succeed his father, had to work for other firms as the Knowles business in Winchester did not survive George Joseph’s death in 1886.

Four generations of Knowles watchmakers saw the family fortunes rise, consolidate and disperse.

©2009 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


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