Masters, John Neve Ltd., of Rye, Sussex.

Masters, John Neve Ltd., of Rye. This Retail Jeweller, born in Tenterden, Kent on the 13th March 1846. He was the son of watchmaker – John Masters (1818-1892) and Elizabeth Neve of Tenterden. He was educated at Tudor Hall, Hawkhurst in the 1850’s and started working as a journeyman for Whitehead in Sevenoaks, Kent in June 1863 until 1866 and in 1869 he took over the business of Mr. E. K. Lewns of 21 High Street, Rye, Sussex which his father had purchased for him. The company sold clocks and English and imported watches as well as jewellery.

In the 1851 census a 5-year-old John Neve Masters was living with his family at High Street, Tenterden; - John Masters (33) watchmaker and silversmith, his wife Elizabeth Neve Masters (35) and John Neve (5), Fanny (3), Anne Neve (1), James Clair (28) journeyman watchmaker, Ann T Millines (18) general servant and Elizabeth Dunster (18) nurse maid. 

John was still living at home at High Street, Tenterden now age 15 in the 1861 census; - John Masters (42) watchmaker and jeweller, wife Elizabeth N. (44), John N. (15) watchmaker’s son, Fanny (12), Henry (8), Elizabeth (6), Thomas (4), Catherine R. (2), Thirza A Burden (17) nurse maid and Harriett E Burden (14) house servant. In 1869 he set up the watchmakers, jewellers and general merchants business of J. N. Masters which was incorporated in in 1898.

The 1871 census shows John had left home and moved to Rye. He was living at 21 High Street with his sister as housekeeper; - John N Masters (25) watchmaker Master employing 1 man and 1 apprentice and sister Marie W Masters (19). 

John advertised in the 1868 the Sussex trade directory as trading as a watchmaker at 21 High Street, Rye, then in 1890 and 1891 as a watch and clock maker at 95 High Street, Rye.

In 1881, according to the census, John (35) unmarried, living at High Street, Rye (number 21) His trade is Watchmaker Employing 1 Assistant & 2 Apprentices, with him are Rosa Bradford (50), Housekeeper and Augustus J. Whitehead (19), Watchmakers Assistant. From 1884 John was an Alderman of Rye Town Council.

By the 1891 census John has moved to 95 High Street, Hope House (he actually moved in 1884) and has married Kate Fuller. Listed at the address are; - John N Masters (45) watch maker and proprietor of Hope magazine, wife Kate (42), Herbert J. (7), Kate F. (2) and domestic servant Jane Tillman (22). In June 1892 his father died and in 1893 he became Mayor of Rye.

Other than his horological activities John was also a published author and magazine proprietor and he employed an editor for his magazine. One of the editors was James Wood who sometimes wrote under the pen name ‘Lionel Yexley’.   

In 1899 he was listed as J. N. Masters Lim of 95 High Street, Rye as a watch and clock maker and also as a jeweller but the abbreviation changed to J. N. Masters Ltd. and this was used for the 1905 listing when he occupied numbers 8, 9 and 95 High Street, Rye. The 1911 and 1915 directories show the address as 8 and 9 High Street, Rye under watch and clock makers but no listing appears under jewellers. 

In the 1901 census the family have moved to Hastings and are listed at “Craigholme” Baldslow Road. John N. Masters (55) Governing Director, wife Kate (52), Herbert J. (19) Articled Accountants Clerk, Kate F. (12), Winnifred N. (9), Kate Fellows (37) housekeeper (companion), Kate E. Eade (18) housekeeper. In 1921 and 1924 he published his ‘Reminiscences’ (although I have not found any copies of them yet!).

The 1911 census shows the family living at; -  Clifton House, East Street, Rye and those listed are; - John Neve Masters (65) Widowed, Jeweller Manager of Masters Ltd, Herbert John (27) accountant, Kate Fuller (22) engraver, Winnifred Nove (19).

Whitakers Red Book of Commerce or Who’s Who in Business, 1914 edition has an entry for Masters, J. N. Ltd., which reads; - Watchmakers, Jewellers and General Merchants, Hope Stores, Rye, Sussex. Hours of Business: 8.30am to 6pm. Established 1869 by J. N. Masters. Incorporated as a Limited Company in 1898. Five directors are named and it adds that originally they were watchmakers and jewellers, now Clothiers, Boot Stores, Domestic Machinery and General Merchants. They have the honour of supplying Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and receiving the thanks of H. R. H. Princess Adolf of Schaumberg Lippe, for the Victorian Watches supplied to her command, which gave entire satisfaction. It goes on to describe the premises as workrooms which consist of twenty-two large rooms in an old mansion with a staff of 85.

John N Masters died on the 11th April 1928 at Cannon House, Rye, aged 82 after a few months of failing health which had kept him at home since December of the previous year. The death was registered in Rye, Sussex.

Two brand names used on his watches were Coastguard and Veracity.

Known Trade Directory listings from trade directories that we have currently catalogued

NameAddressSectionCommentsTrade Directory
Masters, J.Tenterden 1855 PO Directory of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex & Surrey
Masters, J.High Street, TenterdenWatch & Clock Makers 1851 PO directory of six counties - Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex

Note: Due to the dynamic nature of the addition of Trade Directories to our library, these results may show additional dates to the text above.

Known Published Photos or articles

Please note that due to British copyright laws, we are not able to show any photos or articles mentioned below. However, the books etc should be available for order from your local library or see Links page for details of places to obtain copies of the sources listed below)

The Clockmakers Of Sussex, pp23, shows a full page advertisement for the company, date unknown.

Pocket Watches 19th & 20th Century;-
pp 103, shows photos of the ‘Coastguard Watch’, hallmarked 1876 and signed ‘JN Masters Rye’ and ‘English Made’.
pp 124, shows a ‘Veracity Watch’ hallmarked 1897 and signed ‘JN Masters Rye’ and ‘English Made’.
pp 125 shows the same advert as in The Clockmakers Of Sussex.

Sources (see Links page for details of places to obtain copies of the sources listed below)

email from Antony Roe

email and family information from Helen Vincent.

Brian Loomes, Watchmakers & Clockmakers Of The World Vol 2 (2nd Edition), Pub NAG Press 1989 ISBN 0 7198 0250 4
Brian Loomes, Watchmakers & Clockmakers Of The World Complete 21st Century Edition, Pub NAG ISBN-13:978-0-7198-0330-7
Michael Pearson, Kent Clocks and Clock Makers, Pub Mayfield Books 1997 ISBN 09523270 7 4
Alan Shenton, Pocket Watches 19th & 20th Century, Pub Antique Collectors Club 1996, ISBN 1 85149 211 9
E. J. Tyler, The Clockmakers Of Sussex, Pub The Watch & Clock Book Society Ltd. ISBN 0 903512 52 1 on line census and genealogy records
1851 PO directory of six counties - Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex
1855 PO Directory of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex & Surrey
1878 PO directory of Sussex
1890 Kellys Directory of Sussex
1891 Kelly's Directory of Kent, Surrey & Sussex
1899 Kellys Directory of Sussex
1905 Kellys Directory of Sussex
1911 Kellys Directory of Sussex
1915 Kellys Directory of Sussex


1898 Verascity watch

photos by

Stephen Horsfall

(photo ref:2030)

The above information and dates are correct to the best of our knowledge based on the current books etc in our library at the time this page was last written or amended. Please be aware that any dates given are not necessarily the start and finish dates of this maker, they are just the dates that it is likely that he was working based on the information we have found. These are taken from trade directories etc and it is quite possible that they were working for longer periods than shown above.

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This web site, was run by Rosemary Harrison-Smith with the help of Tony Harrison-Smith FBHI, was started in 1997 and it held information that we have found about various clock and watchmakers, and has 35,758 records in its database. The information comes from listings published in books and trade directories that we had in our library, giving dates that makers are known to have been working. The database includes 31,947 individual trade directory entries from 363 trade directories and more detailed biographies for 4276 makers and retailers.

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