Watts, Hugh (DNB00)

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WATTS, HUGH (1582?–1643), bell-founder, the second son of Francis Watts, bell-founder of Leicester (d. 1600), and sometime partner with the Newcombes, was born about 1582. His grandfather may have been the Hew Wat who in 1563 cast a bell for South Luffenham, Rutland.

In 1600, the year of his father's death, Watts cast for Evington in Leicestershire a bell bearing his own name and the shield with the device of three bells used by Francis Watts. The same device was borne by Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire bells made by a William Watts, and in 1450 by Richard Brayser of Norwich, to whom the original bell-founder Watts may have been apprenticed.

In 1611 Watts was admitted to the chapman's or merchant's guild; in 1620–1 he was elected chamberlain of the borough, and in 1633–4 mayor of Leicester (‘Payed to Mr. Hugh Watts maior for his yearly allowance according to the ancient order, 3l. 6s. 8d.’). A stately reception of Charles I and his queen on their progress in August 1634 marked the year of Watts's mayoralty.

There remain in the county of Leicester many examples of Watts's famous work, including several complete rings, admired for the beauty of their tone. The peal of ten bells for St. Margaret's, Leicester, was said to be the finest in England. His favourite inscription: ‘J. H. S.: Nazareus: rex: Iudeorum: Fili: Dei: miserere: mei:’ caused his bells to be called Watts's Nazarenes. He worked the bell-foundry of Leicester until his death, at the age of sixty, in February or March 1642–3, and was buried in St. Mary's Church, Leicester. Shortly after the death of Watts the business was wound up and partly taken over by Nottingham founders. Watts's son, also named Hugh (1611–1656), to whom the bell-metal and bell-founding appliances were bequeathed, married a daughter of Sir Thomas Burton of Stockerston.

[For a full account of the Newcombe and Watts families and their bells see North's Church Bells of Leicestershire (Leicester, 1876, 4to).]

L. M. M.