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Leeds Town Hall tower showing two Potts’ clock faces
Wikimedia Commons

Potts of Leeds, a manufacturer of domestic timepieces was founded in 1833, and expanded into the production and repair of public clocks. Based in Leeds, Yorkshire, England it was founded by William Potts, and carried on by his sons.

From premises in Leeds the company built and installed public clocks in this country and abroad on cathedrals, churches, town halls, schools, engineering works and railway stations. Many of the public clocks in Yorkshire were made by Potts, most of them in Leeds.


Clock in tower of white building
William Potts Memorial Clock in Darlington
Wikimedia Commons

William Potts was born in December 1809. He was apprenticed to Samuel Thompson, a Darlington clockmaker. In 1833, Potts moved to Pudsey near Leeds to set up his own business.[1] Initially the business was concerned with domestic timepieces and expanded into the manufacture and repair of public clocks.

When working on the clock at Ilkley Parish Church he met Edmund Beckett Denison, an amateur horologist and chairman of the Great Northern Railway. The meeting was profitable and Potts secured work making clocks for the railway. In 1860 Potts took over from Denison responsibility for designing Leeds Town Hall’s clock.[2]

In 1862 the business moved to Guildford Street in Leeds and later opened a workshop for public clocks in Cookridge Street. This heralded the most productive and profitable years of the business when large numbers of public clocks were installed in this country and abroad on cathedrals, churches, town halls, schools, engineering works and railways.[1] Queen Victoria granted the company a Royal Warrant in 1897.[1]

The business was renamed William Potts & Sons Limited when three of Potts’ sons joined the company. After the First World War, two sons started their own clockmaking business, Tom Potts left in 1928 and Charles Potts left in 1930. William Potts & Sons joined the Smith of Derby Group in 1934, but Potts retained its identity and the Leeds base.[3]

It is claimed that there are more than 1600 Potts clocks in existence around England.[4]


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Potts’ clock with letters instead of numbers, Griffin Hotel, Leeds
Wikimedia Commons

Potts’ clocks were installed in public buildings, churches, railway stations, workplaces and other premises. According to Potts’ register, 1,568 new clocks were installed and 54 of them were subsequently transferred to new locations by the company. The total included, 363 quarter-chiming clocks and 510 hour-striking clocks.[5] Many were installed at locations in Yorkshire,[6] and Leeds had the most,[7] including the four-faced clock on Leeds Town Hall, one on the Corn Exchange, the Oakwood Clock, the old Post Office and Leeds Minster.[1] Potts was commissioned to make the Corn Exchange’s clock in 1862. It is set in the parapet above the main entrance below the building’s oval dome and is surrounded by elaborate scrolls.[3]

The clock on the Pierhead Building at Cardiff Docks was installed in 1897, but was removed and sold in 1973. The mechanism was taken to Alabama, USA and returned to Cardiff in 2005. The clock was installed as a piece of contemporary art, encased in glass, in Cardiff city centre.[8]

Other clocks were installed further afield, Lerwick Town Hall’s clock was installed in 1887,{{488Q65RW|395}} and one on the Roman Catholic Church Hall in Melbourne, Australia dates from 1930.[9] Five clocks were exported to India but their locations are not known, two went Russia and there is an example on the post office in Port Lyttleton, New Zealand.[10] Potts provided the mechanism for a floral clock at Belle Vue Zoological GardensLarge zoo, amusement park, exhibition hall complex and speedway stadium in Belle Vue, Manchester, England, opened in 1836. in 1936.[11]