At The Little Yellow Watch Shop
John Lloyd, Watch Repairer
When you step into The Little Yellow Watch Shop in the Clerkenwell Rd, you discover yourself among an eager line of customers clutching their precious timepieces patiently and awaiting the moment they can hand them into the safe hands of John Lloyd, the watch repairer who has worked in Clerkenwell longer than any other. With his long snowy white locks, John looks like a magus, as if by merely peering down critically over his long nose at a broken watch and snapping his fingers, he could conjure it back into life.
While John works his charm, his wife Annie Lloyd fulfils the role of magician’s assistant with consummate grace, taking down all the necessary information from the owner and keeping everything moving with superlative efficiency. Together they preside over a hundred watches a week arriving for repair, and thereby maintain the tradition of clock-making and repair that has occupied Clerkenwell for centuries.
John has worked in the Clerkenwell Rd since 1956 and remembers when every shop between St John St and Goswell Rd was a watch repair or watch materials supply shop. Today, although his business is now one of just a tiny handful remaining in Clerkenwell, it is apparent that there is a healthy demand for his services to sustain him for as long as he pleases.
“I’m from Shepherd’s Bush originally and my stepfather had a watch repair stall in Romford Market,” John admitted to me, “I was only eleven when I started to work with him, but I quickly took to it.”
“I first came to Clerkenwell in the nineteen-forties, when I did a three year course in Instrument Making at the Northampton Polytechnic, now known as the City University. Then I joined A. Shoot & Sons in Whitechapel at seventeen years old, was conscripted for National Service at eighteen and returned to my job again in 1956. Shoot & Sons supplied watch materials from a tall thin building at 85 Whitechapel High St next to the Whitechapel Gallery, but in that year we moved to Whitworth Buildings in Clerkenwell and then to the corner of St John St & Clerkenwell Rd in 1959. At Shoot & Sons, I used to go to the manager Leslie Lawson at weekends and we stripped down antique watches together – not many people these days know the inside workings of a watch.”
In 1992, when Shoot & Sons Ltd closed after more than thirty years on the corner, John moved to the kiosk fifty yards away at 60 Clerkwenwell Rd which was even smaller than the current Little Watch Shop. He opened it in partnership with his colleague Barry Benjamin but, when Barry became ill after just three years, John continued the business alone until his wife Annie came in one day a week and then later joined him full time. What was once a miniscule kiosk has expanded into a tiny shop where John presides happily from behind the counter, surrounded by photos of old Clerkenwell and his step-father’s sign from Romford market where John started out in the nineteen-forties.
“People ask me when I ‘m going to retire,” John confided to me gleefully, “but I’m already past retirement age – I’m having too much fun here.”
John Lloyd – Clerkenwell’s longest-serving member of the watch business
John’s mother and stepfather in Brighton, 1954
At Shoot & Sons Ltd
Maurice Shoot, John’s boss from the early fifties until his retirement in 1989
Phil, John and Barry at Shoots
Shoot & Sons Ltd on the corner of St John St & Clerkenwell Rd in the eighties
The interior of the shop at Shoot & Sons Ltd
60 Clerkenwell Rd in 1900, note the watch and clock shops
Clerkenwell Rd in the sixties
Barry Benjamin outside the original Little Yellow Shop
Signs uncovered in the expansion of the Little Yellow Shop
John & Annie Lloyd
New photographs © Colin O’Brien
The Little Yellow Shop, watch service centre, 60 Clerkenwell Rd, EC1
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