The last piece of the jigsaw: a relatable story for researchers

This post was written by Su Fulwood

Research is, of course, interwoven through my work. One long-term project is about women and their roles in horology. This started when I was working with watchmaker Geoff Allnutt in his shop and workshops at 8 West Street, Midhurst. Geoff challenged me to go through lists of watch and clockmakers to note down all the women mentioned. After finding hundreds of women among the men, one name stood out: 'Mary Ann Lawrence, West Street, Midhurst'.

A quest began in earnest to find out where in the street Mary Ann had worked.

The advert for 'Ketterer (Late Lawrence)'
The advert for 'Ketterer (Late Lawrence)', with thanks to David Rudgewick, Midhurst Museum

Years have passed and our research has covered many individual women, including, gradually, lots about Mary Ann. We discovered that she was actually from a well-known family of local watchmakers, the Wrapsons. We found that she took over her brother's premises in West Street following his death. We also discovered that she was close friends with fellow watchmaker, Joseph Charles Ketterer.

Ketterer, we knew with certainty, had run his business until 1914 from the premises Geoff now occupies.

We couldn’t say, however, whether Ketterer took over from Mary Ann or whether she had worked from another shop. It wasn’t uncommon in Midhurst for there to be two watchmakers in the same street at a similar time.

We did know Mary Ann retired around 1895, and that Ketterer was the executor of her will when she died. We just didn't have that last all-important piece that would tell us if she was part of the history of 8 West Street. It was frustrating.

Ketterer standing outside what was previously Mary Ann Lawrence's shop
Ketterer standing outside what was previously Mary Ann Lawrence's shop. Photo: Allnutt Collection

Until now that is ... seven years later, when a chance conversation revealed the existence of a different advert for Joseph Charles Ketterer’s business.

When we saw it we couldn’t believe our eyes. There at the top, unexpectedly, was exactly the information we had been looking for. The words 'J. C. Ketterer (Late Lawrence)' were pure gold for us. It meant that Mary Ann Lawrence (who describes herself as 'Mistress Watchmaker' in the 1881 Census) was running her watchmaking business from the shop before Ketterer. This also meant that the same premises had belonged to her brother Charles Wrapson and, before him, their mother, Mary Wrapson.

The shop today 8 West Street, Midhurst, West Sussex
The shop today 8 West Street, Midhurst, West Sussex. Photo: Su Fullwood

Our research began by looking at watchmaking women across the country. But it has become very personal, as finally we were able to show that two of those women inhabited the exact spaces we work from today.

In the meantime, along with my research about women and horology, I get to work with other women today, as more are attracted back to watch and clockmaking.