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The Little Yellow Watch Shop

May 4, 2018
by the gentle author

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

Portraits © Estate of Colin O’Brien

The Little Yellow Shop, watch service centre, 60 Clerkenwell Rd, EC1

You may like to read these other Clerkenwell stories

In Old Clerkenwell

At Wyvern Bindery

At Embassy Electrical Supplies

A Dead Man in Clerkenwell

Colin O’Brien’s Clerkenwell Car Crashes

At Clerkenwell Fire Station

Adam Dant’s Map of the History of Clerkenwell

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Loften permalink
    May 4, 2018

    What an absolute gem of a story thanks GA and John . Where have all the old shops gone? Gone to graveyards every one. Except one or two thankfully

  2. May 4, 2018

    How good to see that one of these old shops has survived! Good luck to John and Annie! Valerie

  3. Jenny Lewis permalink
    May 4, 2018

    I used to work next door in the 90’s and had so many watches fixed by John and bought some great 70’s watches off him that are still going. Loved popping in there john was always smiling and happy to help. So glad to see the little yellow shop still standing amongst all the changes on that street. X

  4. Paul Loften permalink
    May 4, 2018

    following the poor showing for all parties in yesterdays local election results local politicians need to focus on the decline of the high street and generally how they have become souless and without interest to most people. Betting shops , amusement arcades , fried chicken parlours and far too many food outlets have led to the decline of high streets all over the UK. If we could only have some more Little Yellow Shops and people like John and Annie the world could be a much more interesting place.

  5. May 4, 2018

    A handsome couple. Beats Timpsons hands down

  6. Helen Breen permalink
    May 4, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great story of perseverance, skill, and continuity. John and his wife Annie make a lovely couple. May they continue in their work as long as they wish …

  7. May 4, 2018

    A very fine shop with a most interesting history!

    Love & Peace

  8. Jamie Surman permalink
    May 4, 2018

    And isn’t Mrs Lloyd gorgeous!? So chic with the long silvery hair…

    An amazing story YET again… Thank you so much TGA for keeping us all enthused every day.

  9. Roger Tiller permalink
    May 5, 2018

    My Father had a shop very close to you called W J Burts Cabinet Makers from the 1920s – 1960s, so he must of known you’re shop very well, I remember him telling me about all the clock shops everywhere around that area.

  10. Chris Webb permalink
    May 5, 2018

    I’ve walked past this shop many times but never really took much notice, and would never have guessed it is a bit of an institution.

    I feel there will always be a demand for this shop’s services because good quality watches of any age will always be things people want to keep and have in good working order.

    I agree with Paul Loften – new housing developments have to have a proportion of “affordable” housing and I think there should be similar regulations for affordable small shops.

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    May 10, 2018

    How wonderful to know these skills still survive, and sounds like John’s expertise is very much in demand. I was saddened when the old clock and watch shop closed in Windsor; distinct with the clock under glass set in the pavement outside. There was also watch mender in Tavistock’s pannier in market in Devon. He was always talking about retirement, but so much in demand that he continued year after year. He may well still be there! I also remember coming across a similar business in the market hall in Durham many years ago.

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