Wednesday, October 30, 2019

W. H. Blades, Mount Barker

While there isn’t much left of this 1900s Swiss-made porcelain dial pocket watch, as always, there’s a story to tell.

Walter Herbert Blades (W. H. Blades) was born in Adelaide on October 20th, 1876. He was one of seven children of Frederick James Blades and Mary Blades, and husband to Phemie Marjorie Blades.

However, unlike our other porcelain dial pocket watches reviewed over the past few weeks, it seems unlikely that W. H. Blades was a watchmaker himself. In fact, it seems unlikely that he was a watch retailer at all.

Born in Adelaide, W H Blades lived in Mount Barker, a small town in South Australia. Mount Barker is also a mountain in the Mount Lofty Ranges, and the city lies at the base of the eponymous peak. It has an elevation of 517 metres and the first ascent of Mt. Barker was completed in 1837 by European settlers. The area was traditionally home to farmers, with many lots located just outside of the town actually being farming lots. W H Blades owned three allotments in Mount Barker:

The following information gives details of the early ownership of the individual allotments created for the township of Mount Barker in South Australia.

Application 22841 - corner of Gawler and Walker Sts
14/7/1906 - 5 year lease to Walter Herbert Blades

Application 4598 - frontage to Gawler St, in the middle somewhere
10/6/1911 - McKenzie to Walter Herbert Blades chemist Mt Barker
15/7/1914 - WH Blades to Mary Blades widow Mt Barker

Application 5157 - strip facing Gawler St 24’ long and 50’ in from Stephens St
10/6/1911 - McKenzie to Walter Herbert Blades chemist Mt Barker
15/7/1914 - WH Blades to Mary Blades widow Mt Barker
1/6/1916 - 5 year lease to William Robert Murray and James Reordan
7/6/1919 - Blades to Patrick Fox gent Glenelg

Although it may seem trivial, these allotment records hold a missing piece of information: Walter Herbert Blades is referred to as a ‘Chemist’. Whereas the previous porcelain dials we have seen have all belonged to professional jewellers and clock makers alike, I was not able to find any historical information suggesting the W H Blades was in the watch trade. So, the question stands: Was W H Blades a chemist?

In May 1912, an article declared W H Blades a duly elected member of the boards of advice for Mount Barker:

"The following persons have been declared duly elected members of the boards of advice for the districts specified, from June 1, 1912. Note: In every district where only one person is elected, the term of office is for three years; but in each, district marked * there are two or more persons elected, and the term of office must be  decided by lot, at the first meeting of the board held after June 1."
Chemists played a bigger role in the 1900s than they do today, often providing medical advice as well as drugs. Did Blades' election to the Boards of Advice refer to this?

Clearly, W. H. Blades was an active member of society. Newspaper clippings show that he was part of the Mount Barker football club committee and on a brief departure from Mount Barker in 1904, the community held a social:

“A most enjoyable social took place at Jackson’s Hotel, Mount Barker, on Thursday evening of last week, when a number of friends met for the purposed if bidding goodbye to Mr. W. H. Blades who after a year's residence at Mount Barker is leaving this month for the city. Mr. R. P. A. von Berlonch presided, and, with the vice-chairman (Mr M. J. Skipper) and Messrs H. B Chapman, Jackson, E. G. A. Tyrie, C. L. K. Scott, H. N. Bell, T. R. Bird, and G. R. Paltridge, referred in eulogistic terms to the sterling qualities of Mr. Blades, to the work he had done as secretary of the Mount Barker Dance Committee, to the interest he had taken in the minstrel troupe, in cricket and other manly sports, and in promoting the local walking match, and general regret was expressed at his departure."
Friday 4th March 1904. The Mount Barker Courier

The sterling qualities of Walter Herbert Blades were perhaps qualities which made him worthy of a personalised porcelain dial pocket watch. As we know he was not the jeweller, it was not uncommon for these watches to be given to important members of a community.

Until further discovery that would lead me to conclude otherwise, I believe that the watch dial was simply a personalised, one-off piece. 

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