A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #239 - A Bit More Family History, and a Small Coincidence

Today I started on the mammoth task of sorting out my mother’s house prior to selling it. This is not so bad as it might have been, since she and my dad moved to Scotland only 15 years ago, and the ground has been recently disturbed, so to speak.

In the box room is an absolute horror of an old cupboard, which contained a pile of accumulated junk belonging to my late father – art materials, tools and a bewildering assortment of ironmongery, and spares for things that most people wouldn’t have thought of owning in the first place. In there I found my grandfather’s old watch, which I haven’t seen since I was eleven. I know I was eleven because I had just started at the grammar school when it was given to me. I regret to say that I took it to school, dropped it on the stone floor of the basement cloakroom and broke the glass. The watch was taken back into safe-keeping, apparently repaired, and I never saw it again until today.

My granddad was a foreman in the electrical workshops at Liverpool Docks, and as such he used to go to work each day (on his bicycle, by the way) wearing a suit with a waistcoat, and a bowler hat. A bowler hat was the mark of the foreman. On his waistcoat he sported chains for his two watches (he was a bit flash, my granddad). One of the watch chains had a little silver match-case, with original wax Lucifer matches in it (lost years ago). This is the other one.

Yes, this is the one I had, if only briefly. It's good to see it again. It is a Swiss-made military style watch imported by Morath Brothers, of Liverpool. I believe the case is of gunmetal, with nice brass detailing. I would guess it dates from about 1910 or thereabout – it still works beautifully, I can tell you. The chain is silver, and the attached coin is a very worn silver Queen Victoria fourpenny piece dating from 1838 (is that a groat, then?).

I don’t imagine it is especially valuable in cash terms – I might have a look later. What I did was find out a little about Morath Brothers. It seems their shop was at 71 Dale Street, Liverpool, and they specialised in imported clocks (especially cuckoo clocks) and watches. Typically, the pocket watches were made by Omega or Zenith. The Moraths originally came from the Black Forest area of Germany, and Fedele Morath was listed as having a business at the Dale Street address in 1848. I don’t know how long they survived, but I know for a fact they were certainly open in the late 1950s. I know this because, I now discover, their shop was right next door to the old Top Hat record bar, which opened in 1957, and where my Auntie Barbara was manageress until she went to work for NEMS and then Beaver Radio, in Whitechapel. Some of my very earliest dalliances with popular music were in the pegboard listening booths at the back of the Top Hat – Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy and all that exotic American stuff. Great, actually. My aunt must have been one of the most patient women on the planet, since my cousin and I used to hang around the shop during school holidays, and we never actually bought anything.

The Top Hat was locally famous for having record-signing days when big name stars (well, quite big) would sign autographs and so on – there were queues right down the street, sometimes.

I was interested to see these old photos online – if only to prove that it really did happen.

Queues waiting to meet Frankie Vaughan at the Top Hat, circa 1958 - note
Morath Bros next door at no. 71
And here's Frankie himself signing autographs for the fans - he was a bit of a
star, but I think he only came from Granby Street, which was not very international...
...other celebrities included the Texan recording artist, Mitchell Torok (no - me neither)
 - note here that he is signing 78rpm discs!...
...and Lonnie Donegan
This remarkable picture, borrowed without permission from "A Liverpool
Picture Book", compares the Frankie Vaughan queue scene with the
current state of the site. The jewellers' has disappeared, and the rest
of the block lies empty. By the mid 1960s, the Top Hat had evolved into
a branch of Radiospares (the Leeds-based hobby-electronics store) and may
have later been a joke shop. Urban decay, you see.


  1. That's a handsome watch Tony.

    Must have been a very poignant moment seeing it again after all those year. And how apt that it's a timekeeper.

  2. Love that pocket watch! And Lonnie Donegan. Rock Island Line and all that.

    Best Regards,


  3. A lovely family piece, Foy, in more ways than one.

  4. I rather like pocket watches and carried one for years. Still works but I don't carry any watch anymore. More to the point, my maternal grandfather was a matchmaker in England.

    1. Matchmaker as in "Fiddler on the Roof"?

    2. #$%@# watchmaker - which was the point.

  5. Replies
    1. Disappointingly, Beaver Radio was a store owned by the Beaver family (who were people, in fact), which sold gramophone records and portable radios (the original version of "Trannies") and so on. They had the misfortune to be about 3 doors along Whitechapel from Brian Epstein's NEMS, which must have been the most successful record store in the North of England in the early-to-mid 1960s.

      Also disappointingly, the Beavers paid my aunt no pension at all when she retired - she was with them for many years, too. Her son grew up to be quite a famous recording engineer - he has worked with a number of well-known artists and studios, including Coldplay (of whom I know very little, which is OK, since they don't know me either).

  6. A lovely little piece of history.