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The murky past of the British watch industry

The origins of things can be surprising. I’ve been digging around in the murky past of the British watch industry for my – shameless plug alert – talk at Salon QP on Saturday.

I always imagined the British watchmakers in 19th century London through a Disney-influenced prism. In my mind it was a place populated by small
rickety houses in which pink-cheeked old men worked in sparse but clean houses. A situation Slumdog director Danny Boyle would no doubt refer to as poverty that isn’t abject.

The reality, as I found out this week, was something else. Clerkenwell was a dive. It was the home of prostitutes, pickpockets and highwaymen. The air was thick with the stench of sewerage from open sewer known as Fleet Ditch and a black putrefying sludge that was formed when the chemicals from tanners combined with offal from the local butchers and the slaughterhouse of Smithfields meat. Basically if you were an unsavoury sort then
Clerkenwell was the place where everybody knew your name.

How you can produce something so beautiful in an environment that disgusting is incredible. Though James, who is an absolute neat freak, would no doubt argue that I managed to produce RJ everything month in spite of the state of my desk.

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