The Fusee Chain industry in Christchurch

Fusee chain watch

Fusee chains were used in portable time pieces such as pocket watches, and allowed the pieces to keep time accurately.  For over a hundred years Christchurch was a major producer of fuse chains, until the beginning of the twentieth century.

The need for portable time pieces drove the development of the fusee chain. Once the spring had been invented some gearing system for regulating the release of power was necessary. The problem was solved in the fifteenth century using a cone shaped pulley which incorporated a spiral groove this transmitted the power from the main spring by a cord or gut line. The problem with the gut line was that it was affected by the atmosphere. The invention of a tiny chain to replace the gut line is credited to one Gruet of Geneva who is known to be working in London in 1660.

Robert Harvey Cox, the man who brought the watch chain industry of Christchurch.

There is little information on the early life of Robert Harvey Cox it is believed he was born about 1754 in Wimborne or Holdenhurst, and may have been sent to London to serve an apprenticeship in the watch making business. Whilst in London he would have familiarised himself with the latest designs and techniques of watch making including the manufacturing of Fusee Chains. Once his apprenticeship had been served Robert set up business in Christchurch and he appears in Sadler's Directory for 1784. By 1789 he had acquired a house and workshops in the High Street next to the Ship Inn.

From about 1800 Cox began using children from the workhouse (now the Red House Museum)  to make the fusee chains, after an unpaid probationary and training period any money earned would go to the workhouse. The workhouse accounts for December 1801 reveal that chain making earned £2. 18s 6d and employed 39 people.

These children trained in the manufacture of watch chains became the nucleus of a workforce which would encourage other watch manufacturers to move to Christchurch. Henry Jenkins and son and William Hart became employers and in the 1861 Census 93 people were listed as being employed in the watch chain industry.

Robert Harvey Cox died in April 1815 and is buried in the Priory Churchyard near the Vicarage gate, just opposite the Workhouse.

The Red House Museum has a wonderful display of watch chains and the tools that made them.