Oliver Cromwell’s silver pocket watch that he had with him in 1650 during his New Model Army’s campaign in Ireland has been rediscovered.
Antique expert Martyn Downer, who has unearthed a series of historic gems, picked up the small watch for £18,000 at a sale.
During the lockdown he researched the timepiece and is now offering it for £180,000 at the Chelsea Antiques Fair that is running this week.
It was at the siege of Clonmel when Cromwell gave the watch to John Blackwell, deputy treasurer-at-war and an officer in the cavalry, known as the ‘Ironsides’.
The mid-17th century Puritan 1.5 inch long fob watch stayed in the same family until it was sold in 2019 at auction.
It was made by William Clay whose business was in King Street, Westminster, where Cromwell moved to in 1647.
Two years later he was one of those who signed King Charles’ death warrant and embarked on his campaign in Ireland.
His success ultimately led to him being invited to become Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, a role he performed from 1653 until his death five years later.
Being a Puritan he had few possessions and after the restoration of the monarchy his name was mud so items relating to him were dispersed or destroyed.
Martyn Downer, who lives near Cambridge and has previously discovered Lord Nelson’s watch and Samuel Pepys silver, said: “The watch has been mentioned over the years but no one knew its whereabouts.
“Cromwell gave it to Blackwell because he was a relation by marriage and an enthusiastic Puritan ally and a highly regarded officer.
“The watched stayed in the ‘Bagwell’ side of the family and in 1808 it was sketched for the Gentleman’s Magazine.
“The only other time it appeared was in 1914 when it was displayed by the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society at Taunton Museum where it was photographed for The Connoisseur Magazine.
“It is on display this week at the Chelsea Antiques Fair – the first time it has been seen by the pubic for more than a century. It has been rediscovered.
“There are almost no possessions of Cromwell that remain. He lived like a Puritan until later in life when he adopted elements of the lifestyle of a monarch and moved into Hampton Court.
“After the restoration the Cromwell name was disgraced so those possessions that he did have were scattered.
“It has been said that ‘personalia with a robust provenance associated with Cromwell is so rare as to be virtually non-existent’.
“This timepiece is a terrific object; watches are highly intimate things – probably more so than any other possession.
“They were kept about the person and referred to many times during the day. This one tells you a bit about Cromwell and his tastes.
“It might well have been about his person when he signed the death warrant that led to King Charles I being beheaded.
“That Cromwell gave it to John Blackwell shows how highly he regarded him, but also means he had other watches. We know of a near identical one in gold which was given to the British Museum in 1786.
“Cromwell does have a strong following and there are individuals and institutions who would love this in their collections.
“I saw it at an auction in the north of the country and it seemed to go unnoticed; what I bought it for was low even if it hadn’t had the Cromwell connection – these sleepers are out there.
“After I bought it we went into lockdown so I had time to research it and discovered its full history and provenance.”
The watch measure 1×1.5 inches and still ticks. It has a verge movement and contains Roman numerals and a 15-minute chapter within an outer gilt-metal calendar ring.
Cromwell was descended from the sister of Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell.
He led armies of the parliament against King Charles I during the English Civil War before becoming Lord Protector, when he acted as head of state and head of government of the new republican commonwealth.
His Son Richard was weak and ultimately the monarchy was restored and the country’s dalliance with republicanism ended.
For more information contact Ed Baker at Deep South Media on 07788392965